H. G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau: Plot and Character Summary
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells was written in 1896.
Edward Prendick a man of comfortable means is traveling aboard a ship that is wrecked and finds himself adrift in a life boat. He is subsequently picked up by a schooner with cargo bound for Dr. Moreau’s Island. He is the narrator of the story through his memoirs which were found upon his death by his nephew.
Montgomery is Dr. Moreau’s right hand man and lackey. It is Montgomery who rescues Prendick from his life boat and again a second time after he is refused access to the island by Dr. Moreau. Montgomery has some medical training and has been on Moreau’s island for ten years. It is not revealed how he came to be there and it is clear that he longs to return to civilization.
Dr. Moreau is the owner of the island and operates what he calls a “biological station of a sort” He has an intense demeanor and is vague about what he does. He has obvious authority over his little island compound and the very strange looking workers on the island fear him and obey him. He is very careful about not saying too much and is careful that all doors are locked.
After a ship wreck leaves Edward Prendick adrift in the ocean, he is rescued by a schooner transporting animals to a small island in the Pacific. During the voyage he meets Montgomery who nurses him back to health and convinces Dr. Moreau to allow him to stay on the island.
During the voyage on the schooner Prendick is alarmed by the unusual creature that looks like a man but is disturbingly ugly. This strange man is directed and controlled by Montgomery.
Upon arriving on the island it is made clear to him that he is an unwelcome visitor and is locked out of certain areas of the compound. Dr. Moreau tells him that it is a “biological station”. He tells Prendick that he cannot take him into his confidence.
It is shortly after his arrival that he hears wild painful cries of an animal coming from inside the compound and realizes that Moreau is performing vivisection on animals, a barbaric and yet not uncommon practice. He begins to recall that he has heard of Moreau and his experiments in London where his work was not approved among his peers.
The painful howling of the animal drives Prendick out of the compound. He begins walking about the island and soon discovers disturbing looking creatures that he thinks may be men but is unable to reconcile what he sees to any ordinary looking man. He is aware that he is being stalked.
Prendick wanders too far and becomes disoriented and begins to see more of the island inhabitants. He can make no sense of what he is seeing. He becomes increasingly anxious and eventually he is rescued by Moreau and Montgomery and returned to the compound.
Dr. Moreau comes to the decision to reveal his experiments to Prendick. He is altering animals to resemble and behave like humans. He has not only changed their physical bodies but has additionally implemented a Law by which the new creatures are to live. They can recite the Law and do so ritually. The Law is intended to prohibit animal behaviors such as predatory instincts and walking on all fours. Breakers of the Law are returned to Dr. Moreau’s house of pain.
Keeping the Beast People in a state of compliance is unsuccessful and eventually Dr. Moreau is killed by them.
Prendick and Montgomery are terrified and do not quite know how they will control the Beast People without the fear of the master whom they just killed. In a drunken stupor Montgomery goes to the Beast People and gives them alcohol and incites them to wildness. In the midst of the drunken revelry Montgomery is killed by one of the Beast People leaving Prendick alone on the island to fend for himself.
Prendick is unable to find a way to leave for many months and observes the Beast People reverting to their natural behaviors and instincts. He makes an effort at first to befriend them and fit into their community the best he can but the situation rapidly deteriorates.
The story ends with Prendick’s escape on a small skiff that floats to shore with two dead sailors apparently from the schooner that originally rescued him. It is ironic that the sailors are the very ones who refused to allow Prendick to continue with them on their voyage to Hawaii insisting that Prendick disembark on Dr. Moreau’s island.
We are given insight into Prendick’s mental state and musings after his return to London. He continues to feel insecure and frightened and recognizes the beast in humanity.
In his journal he writes: “I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or 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; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. They seemed no more my fellow creatures than dead bodies would be.”
He does not lose all hope as he finds a sense of “peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven.”
Additional Book Summaries