The Island of Dr.moreau: Top Ten Quotes
- “It dawned upon me to what end the puma and the other animals—which had now been brought with other luggage into the enclosure behind the house—were destined; and a curious faint odour, the halitus of something familiar, an odour that had been in the background of my consciousness hitherto, suddenly came forward into the forefront of my thoughts. It was the antiseptic odour of the dissecting-room. I heard the puma growling through the wall, and one of the dogs yelped as though it had been struck.”P. 25The sensory details that envelop Prendick as he realizes who Moreau is not only intensify the suspense that underlies the “Blue-Beard’s chamber” on the island but also foreshadow the dreadful things Prendick is soon to witness.
- “The emotional appeal of those yells grew upon me steadily, grew at last to such an exquisite expression of suffering that I could stand it in that confined room no longer. . . . It was as if all the pain in the world had found a voice. Yet had I known such pain was in the next room, and had it been dumb, I believe—I have thought since—I could have stood it well enough. It is when suffering finds a voice and sets our nerves quivering that this pity comes troubling us.”p. 28Prendick’s initial response to the puma’s cries of pain presents him as a compassionate man, but his comments on pain in general show that he is not in principle opposed to Moreau’s work—at least, not when he first begins to guess at what that work might be.
- “Though it was faint and low, it moved me more profoundly than all I had hitherto heard of the abominations behind the wall. There was no mistake this time in the quality of the dim, broken sounds; no doubt at all of their source. For it was groaning, broken by sobs and gasps of anguish. It was no brute this time; it was a human being in torment!”p. 38The “it” in this quote is the sound of a man’s moans of pain, which Prendick hears from his little room. These sounds convince him that Moreau is experimenting not only on animals but on humans and has crossed a boundary that, to Prendick’s mind, should be unassailable.
- “Some want to follow things that move, to watch and slink and wait and spring; to kill and bite, bite deep and rich, sucking the blood. It is bad. . . . Some want to go tearing with teeth and hands into the roots of things, snuffing the earth. It is bad. . . . Some go clawing trees; some go scratching at the graves of the dead; some go fighting with foreheads or feet or claws . . . . Punishment is sharp and sure. Therefore learn the law. Say the words.”pp. 48–49The Sayer of the Law explains to Prendick, at his first encounter with the beast-folk, the temptations with which various beast-folk must contend. He is warning Prendick and reminding the others that they are “Men” who must not behave like beasts, regardless of their inmost desires. Prendick assumes that they were once humans and that Moreau “animalised” them. The need for the Law and the dire warnings of punishment suggest that Moreau’s work has not been entirely successful, however.
- “The human shape I can get now, almost with ease, so that it is lithe and graceful, or thick and strong; but often there is trouble with the hands and claws,—painful things, that I dare not shape to freely. But it is in the subtle grafting and shaping one must needs do to the brain that my trouble lies. The intelligence is often oddly low, with unaccountable blank ends, unexpected gaps. And least satisfactory of all is something I cannot touch, somewhere—I cannot determine where—in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst forth suddenly and inundate the whole being of the creature with anger, hate, or fear. These creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you . . . but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It’s afterwards, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another creeps to the surface and stares out at me. But I will conquer yet!”p. 62Moreau explains to Prendick the challenges of his work in this quote. In twenty years of work, he has not been able to make a man—“they revert,” he laments. It is to prevent or at least forestall this reversion that Moreau invented the Law and imposed punishments for breaking it, but in doing so, he is clearly requiring of “[t]hese creatures of mine,” as he calls them, behavior of which they are not capable. His cruelty to them extends past physical contortions into moral contortions.
- “I must confess that I lost faith in the sanity of the world when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island. A blind, Fate, a vast pitiless Mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence and I, Moreau (by his passion for research), Montgomery (by his passion for drink), the Beast People with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels.”p. 78 The events of the island leave “permanent scars” on Prendick’s mind and rendered him no longer capable of seeing Nature as a benevolent force tending, despite its inherent death, toward a higher type. This view—that the natural world and its inhabitants, and by extension humanity, were improving gradually—was cherished by many in Wells’s day but was coming under fire and would be shattered in the modern period by the experience of World War I. Here, Wells’s narrator expresses a bleak but pragmatic view captured by fellow Victorians Thomas Hardy, in his novels, and Alfred Tennyson, in his poetry, to name just two examples.
- “I began to see how things lay with them. I suddenly stepped in front of Montgomery and lifted up my voice:—‘Children of the Law,’ I said, ‘he is not dead!’ M’ling turned his sharp eyes on me. ‘He has changed his shape; he has changed his body,’ I went on. ‘For a time you will not see him. He is—there,’ I pointed upward, ‘where he can watch you. You cannot see him, but he can see you. Fear the Law!’I looked at them squarely. They flinched.”p. 84After some of the beast folk see Moreau’s body and question whether the Law prevails, Prendick quickly acts to extend their obedience to the Law. His show of authority works, for now, but clearly the danger to him and Montgomery is rising.
- “A dreadful thing that I was only beginning to realise 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. 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. I went back to the beach, and turning eastward past the burning enclosure, made for a point where a shallow spit of coral sand ran out towards the reef. Here I could sit down and think . . . . I tried to review the whole situation as calmly as I could, but it was difficult to clear the thing of emotion.”p. 95Moreau, Montgomery, and M’ling are dead; the enclosure is in flames. Now is the moment when Prendick must act to secure his safety, and he knows it, yet he lapses into passivity. This quote draws readers’ attention again to the flaw in Prendick’s nature: He seems to lack initiative, to require direction. He can momentarily muster his energies to face a brief crisis, but unlike Moreau, he lacks the assertiveness to impose his will on circumstances. In fact, as the beast folk begin to become less human and more like their original species, Prendick seems to sink into beastly behavior himself. He stops shaving or caring for his appearance; his clothes become rags; he eats on the run, whatever he can find. Despicable Moreau may be, but he is at least a man not only of science but of action, a man who knows and applies his abilities.
- “It would be impossible to detail every step of the lapsing of these monsters,—to tell how, day by day, the human semblance left them; how they gave up bandagings and wrappings, abandoned every last stitch of clothing; how the hair began to spread over the exposed limbs; how their foreheads fell away and their faces projected; how the quasi-intimacy I had permitted myself with some of them in the first month of my loneliness became a shuddering horror to recall.”p. 102This quote describes the gradual reversion of the beast folk to their original states. Ironically, readers later learn that Prendick himself has experienced parallel changes. When he is rescued at sea, his clothes are in tatters, his hair is long and matted, and his beard is extensive. Moreover, he has taken to living much like the beasts, hiding and snatching what food he can, a “strange brightness” in his eyes and a “swift alertness of movement.” Yet neither transformation is complete: The beast folk retain odd “dwindling shreds of humanity,” and of course Prendick retains his reasoning abilities. He also retains, mingled with his disgust and fear, some pity for what has become of Moreau’s victims.
- “Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull and dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them . . . I know this is an illusion; that these seeming men and women about me are indeed men and women,—men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct and the slaves of no fantastic Law,—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk. Yet I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone.”pp. 107–108This quote, from the last pages of the novella, reveals the deep and lasting changes that Prendick’s experiences make in his understanding of the world. It also points readers to a theme of the novella: What is it to be human? How much of humanity—or at least civilized behavior—is a veneer, a façade?