To discuss the relationship between the arguments of the nineteenth-century English biologist Thomas Henry (T. H.) Huxley and H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, review Huxley’s thoughts on evolution and civilization and compare them to the themes in the novel.
One of Huxley’s main arguments has to do with ancestry. Huxley mainlined that humans and animals were related. His belief that humans descended from animals (apes, specifically) came to the forefront in 1860 during a debate that would attract lots of attention. When Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce, the person that Huxley was debating, chided Huxley by inquiring if he came from an ape on his grandma’s or grandpa’s side, Huxley reportedly responded that he’d rather be the spawn of apes than a person who can’t face the truth.
In his book Man’s Place in Nature, Huxley furthers his arguments that living creatures are inexorably related. At one point, Huxley compares the “silk-worm moth to the school-boy.”
Huxley’s conflation of animals and humans links to Dr. Moreau’s attempts to forcefully turn animals into human creatures. In a way, Dr. Moreau tries to cause the evolution that happened naturally in Huxley’s work.
In The Island of Dr. Moreau, Wells provides hints that these animals are not meant to act like humans. Think about the chant that Prendick witnesses. The human-animal creations have to remind themselves not to go on all fours or chase people (among other things). They must deny what is natural to them.
When it comes to ethics and morals, it’s possible to argue that Huxley would not have been opposed to Moreau’s experiments. As with Moreau, Huxley appeared unwilling to place limits on pursuits of knowledge or scientific inquiry. Huxley was open to the idea that someone might come along and “modify the conditions of existence.”