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Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
The Persecuted becomes the Persecutor
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is told in the voice of an initially horrified interloper into Dr. Moreau's created society. The narrator is a young diplomat who is at first delightfully rescued by Moreau's helper from a shipwreck, only to find himself in an even more dangerous and terrible world than the open sea. Dr. Moreau has created a world where he is God and king of a self-created tribe of "beast people." Yet Moreau's world is so corrupt that it not only corrupts the souls of the creator and his progeny but also that of Montgomery, his aide and abettor in his nefarious and demented scheme to meld the bodies of humans and animals. Finally, Moreau's project even corrupts the narrator himself, as the narrator must assume a deified persona in an act of self-defense.
The narrator in Chapter 20, entitled, "Alone with the Beast Folk," finds himself in the role of unwitting and horrified potential victim and then potential master of the creatures that initially terrified and repelled him in Chapter 9, when he first met one of their tribe. However, in Chapter 20, now alone and abandoned by the island's initial creators, designers, and controllers, the narrator must find a way to survive the Beast People's eventual onslaught. His methodology of doing so, in imitating the persona of Moreau, underlines the significance of the theme of Wells' novels of the dangers of humans playing God upon the soul and body and world of both the created and the creators. Beyond mere plot or even character development, Chapter 20 shows the moral impetus of Wells' work of fantastical science fiction, taking it to the level of other classics such as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.
At the beginning of Chapter 20, H.G. Wells creates an intense drama by first rendering his narrator a kind of wounded animal himself. The narrator relates, "I faced these people, [the Beast people] facing my fate in them, single-handed now, - literally single-handed, for I had a broken arm." The man's body is broken, more broken than the animals themselves. This wounded status, like an animal, makes the diplomat feel afraid and more willing to resort to physical violence than he was before. Now, as opposed to his original peaceable status, the man now has only the mechanical tools of power to protect his life, once wielded by Doctor Moreau on the island alone. "In my pocket was a revolver with two empty chambers." But even this mechanical tool of power is empty of force and firepower, showing the fragility of even the weapons of civilization to protect his life.
The man's emotional status is fragile, too, because the boats that could have taken him to freedom are destroyed. Wells even uses a kind of gambling or poker-like metaphor to delineate this, as he states, "Among the chips scattered about the beach lay the two axes that had been used to chop up the boats." Freedom and tyranny are laid out side by side on the beach, like scattered chips on a poker table of bad fortune. In the chance game played on the island, the axes of violence and hate have temporarily won, and civilization and order appears lost and empty.
The narrator is not simply wounded like a beast, but is cornered like a beast, physically and by the pressures of time. Time is of the essence as the narrator notes, "the tide was creeping in behind me." Nature is ebbing in on him in the form of the water and in the form of the beasts. Humans cannot escape nature on this island, even though Moreau attempted to overcome nature and natural constraints by making himself like a deity. The narrator realizes he has been reduced to his own basest elements, by default of landing on the island. Thus, "there was nothing for it but courage. I looked squarely into the faces of the advancing monsters. They avoided my eyes, and their quivering nostrils investigated the bodies that lay beyond me on the beach."
The narrator has a choice -- either become like a beast or a master. He can allow himself to be attacked and quartered and hunted down, like he was the victim of one of Moreau's favorite sports. (Only this will be worse, because he will be the human quarry, rather than the hunter.) Or, the narrator can protect himself by striving to become a master like Moreau. He of course must at least attempt to choose the latter. Thus, "I took half-a-dozen steps, picked up the blood-stained whip that lay beneath the body of the Wolf-man, and cracked it." Now he has a new weapon, as opposed to the nearly empty revolver. The whip has the added advantage of being bloodstained, an important 'intimidating' aspect, as well as the fact it is found lying near the corpse of one of the dead animals.
This tactic of intimidation seems to work, as "they [the beasts] stopped and stared at me." Once the narrator gains the beast people's attention, he takes on Moreau's grotesque, pseudo-God like persona as a form of defense. "Salute!' said I. 'Bow down!' They hesitated. One bent his knees. I repeated my command." Although he does so, "with my heart in my mouth," not entirely sure of his newly intimidating dictatorial persona within himself, as it is so alien to his initially civilized character, he allows himself to advance "upon them. One knelt, then the other two." The animals are so used to being submissive, rather than having a will of their own, they even believe a man who does not truly believe in his own Godlike authority, who is not truly their creator.
This passage from Chapter 20 shows how easily that falsely created, human created religion, can be enforced, even by a nonbeliever, when the individual will of the subjugated is supplanted by lies and falsehoods from the creature's birth. This falseness of the narrator's new, false, and essentially corrupt deified persona is created spontaneously by his fear. It is explicitly stated and characterized by a theater metaphor. "I turned and walked towards the dead bodies, keeping my face towards the three kneeling Beast Men, very much as an actor passing up the stage faces the audience."
The narrator does not wish to take on this deified persona, of course, but he must do so in self-defense. He even takes on a kind of Old Testament like authority, as he bellows, "they broke the Law'" said I, putting my foot on the Sayer of the Law. [Moreau] 'They have been slain, - even the Sayer of the Law; even the Other with the Whip. Great is the Law! Come and see.'" The dead body of the 'Sayer' becomes a testimony to the new power of the narrator in the extemporaneous theatrical performance he creates for his audience. But what can he do? With Moreau dead, he has the choice of acting like Moreau or like the beasts, and to act like the beasts means to be hunted down and killed. Moreau's island has effectively stripped away all of the advancements of civilization, such as law and respect outside of individual power and authority of a King.
Rather than advance humanity through science, Moreau has brought back humanity into its most elemental political and religious phases of development by creating an island with a singular, dominant authority and attempting to act like an ancient god. After asserting his authority in religious terms of law, the narrator even deploys metaphors of political oppression as well, using a word from tsarist Russia. "I dismissed my three serfs with a wave of the hand, and went up the beach into the thickets. I carried my pistol in my hand, my whip thrust with the hatchets in the sling of my arm."
But this new political and religious status, however necessary Moreau's corrupt project may have rendered it on a temporary basis, provides the narrator with no comfort, not even a transient state of security, much less pleasure. "A dreadful thing that I was only beginning to realize was, that over all this island there was now no safe place where I could be alone and secure to rest or sleep. I had recovered strength amazingly since my landing, but I was still inclined to be nervous and to break down under any great stress." The status of deity and lawgiver to a human is not really a comfortable or a desirable one for any human person, nor is it a sustainable state. "I felt that I ought to cross the island and establish myself with the Beast People, and make myself secure in their confidence. But my heart failed me."
Even Moreau admitted the limits of the human spirit to weather such unnatural form of idolatry and control, "I felt sure that if I did not kill that brute, he would…[continue]
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