The Island of Dr.moreau: Metaphor Analysis
The Law that Moreau teaches the beast folk to follow, and which he enforces, stands in for social conformism and constructs, among other meanings. It is ironic that Moreau, who sees himself as above and outside social laws and sets up his island enclosure to escape the pressure to conform, finds it necessary to force the Law on his creations. He believes that it is because he has not yet succeed in making a real man, but in fact his creatures behave very much like real people, despite “their instincts and mental restrictions.” The beast folk learn the Law and abide by it for two reasons, neither of them shining examples of human behavior. First, they fear punishment. Lawbreakers must be reshaped in the House of Pain, a threat so terrifying that even the strongest among them tremble at the thought. Second, they are proud of their humanness and ashamed to acknowledge the instincts that still prompt them to claw bark or go on four legs rather than two. In a sense, the beast folk are childlike in their understanding of the law. They obey—they do not act ethically. Taken in combination with Prendick’s ability to see beneath the civilized veneer of Londoners, the Law suggests that social conformism, even in a great and advanced city, rests on the same foundation: fear and pride. The Law suggests that perhaps people’s animal natures are only barely held in check by social conformism and, by extension, that Moreau’s hope that people will evolve past the twin motivators of pain and pleasure is bound to be disappointed.
Moreau’s lab may be seen as representing science and technology, human endeavors that question, explore, and in some cases push against the natural world. The animals that enter the lab in their natural state must be confined by fetters and cages to hold them in place while Moreau conducts his vivisection and grafting. The lab forces the question: How far can an experimenter ethically go before he or she resembles the iconic “mad scientist”? What is legitimate research, even if it causes pain to its subjects, and what is not? “Where is your justification for inflicting all this pain?” Prendick asks. Where is the “application”—that is, the use of this pain to better human existence? That is the unstated assumption underlying his questions: that scientists work for a nobler goal that renders ethical actions that would otherwise be perceived as unethical. The lab forces readers to put that question to themselves, and readers today, who know much more about the processes of scientific advancement than Moreau’s readers did, may find the metaphor of the lab even more painful to contend with.
The puma represents, among other things, the chaotic and vital natural world. This is the world that Moreau tries to contain, reshape, and exploit in his lab. Why a puma? Moreau has experimented with various creatures and found that he requires creatures that have “a spark of pugnacious energy to face torment.” This spark is necessary for “man-making,” which suggests Wells’ optimistic view of humanity at this early stage in his career; humans will advance because they can endure and overcome torment, because they have the will to do so. But the puma is not human and never becomes human; rather, it represents a force of nature that Moreau cannot subdue. It has more than a spark; it faces its torment with terror and enmity and, stronger than the man-made fetters that fasten it to the lab walls, frees itself from Moreau’s egocentric quest. Moreau claims to be a “religious man” whose laws are those of nature, but he flaunts those very laws by vivisecting the puma. His demise is symbolically rich: The puma, still trailing its fetters, defends itself against Moreau and crushes its tormentor’s head with the chains. Some critics point out that the puma is female and note that a stereotypical representation of nature is feminized (Mother Earth, Mother Nature). These critics suggest that the puma is nature’s revenge against Moreau for his intellectual rape. Yet Prendick is not against scientific exploration at all. It is a question of degree and limits, of knowing which technologies are beneficial and which breed danger—a common conundrum in science fiction writing.
London, in this novel, is a microcosm that represents all civilized communities. Its judgment of Moreau’s work drives him to the isolation of the island and shames Montgomery’s weakness so that he cannot return to his studies there, much as he wants to. In this sense society both guides and limits human achievement, for better or worse. Whether London’s approbation of Moreau is a positive or negative act depends on what readers think of Moreau’s scientific and philosophical beliefs. Since the novel has a satirical edge, the disgust of Londoners when they learn of Moreau’s experiments is probably to the city’s credit (and thus to the credit of civilized communities in general). Yet Prendick’s perception of London after he returns points to the fragility of civilized communities. They may rise up in moral indignation (as indeed the actual London did in the late nineteenth century in the case of what today we would call animal rights), but each reveals “the animal surging up” to eyes that know what to look for.