Issues to Consider While Reading The Island of Dr. Moreau [1896]

1.      As we noted earlier this semester, Wells was influenced by the ideas of T.H. Huxley, especially the notions of cosmic and ethical evolution.  According to Huxley, survival of the fittest and cruel nature accelerate intelligence and ultimately cause technology and our ability to control the natural world to progress more rapidly than moral philosophy.  In the most extreme possibility, accelerating cosmic evolution so far outpaces development of our ethical and moral philosophy that devolution of our ethical capacities occurs.  Some critics argue that in The Time Machine the Eloi and the Morlocks illustrate devolution and the ultimate atrophying of our ethical capabilities.

         Do these concepts also apply to The Island of Dr. Moreau?  In what ways?  How specifically do science and research exist in opposition to ethics or to moral philosophy in Wells' novella?  What passages in the text foreground these issues?  Is this yet another SF address to how science exhausts human knowledge by demonstrating its limits?  If so, what role does religion play in Wells' story?

2.      The Time Traveller [TT] demonstrated how Wells sometimes represents the struggle between cosmic and ethical progress as a war within the individual as well as a commentary on broad cultural forces.  We saw this when the TT felt the urge to smash the faces of the Eloi after his machine disappeared, or to crush the skulls of the Morlocks as they ran blindly in circles when confused by flames and were no direct threat to him.  How is the conflict between technology [science applied] and ethical or moral values depicted as an internal struggle in this story?  Do we see this struggle in Moreau?  In Prendick?  In Montgomery?

3.      Does this novella, like The Time Machine, ultimately depict a deterministic universe?  Or can the characters function as causal agents, directing their own fates?  Does Prendick ultimately survive because he remains ethical and makes rational, meaningful choices, or because of chance occurrences?  What role does chance play in the novella?  Is Montgomery's statement, "What's it all for, Prendick?  Are we bubbles blown by a baby?" (82), important to our understanding of chance and fate in the novel?

What specific examples of chanced events can you identify as you read The Island of Dr. Moreau?

4.      How do specific chapter titles direct our attention to some of the issues raised above?  To other issues that you feel are central to the novella?

5.      How do stars function as symbols in this story?  Stars receive considerable emphasis in a number of descriptive passages.  Consider the debate between Wells and Conrad over how to describe a boat.  Wells argued that he uses description to create a relation between the object described and "something else--a story, a thesis...and so ultimately to link it up to [his] philosophy and [his] world outlook."  Review his descriptions of the stars in Moreau  and consider how they might link to a larger philosophical statement.