Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476
The Island of Dr. Moreau opens with a brief introduction by Charles Edward Prendick, who explains that the narrative that follows was written by his uncle, Edward Prendick, and was found in his papers at his death. The papers reveal that the late uncle had been shipwrecked and stranded for nearly a year on a tiny island off the Sumatran coast. On January 5, 1888, Edward Prendick was rescued from a small open boat, presumably from a missing schooner, the Ipecacuanha. Prendick’s incredible account of his eleven-month adventure was attributed to dementia and discredited. The introduction by the nephew, Charles Edward Prendick, sets up the fantastic first-person account that follows.
Prendick recounts a terrible story. After his ship, the Lady Vain, goes down from a collision with a derelict, he and two other men are left stranded in a small dinghy. When his companions fight over who is to die so that the other two may eat his flesh, they both fall overboard to their deaths. Prendick eventually is rescued by the schooner Ipecacuanha. The Ipecacuanha is carrying a cargo of wild animals in the charge of a brutish red-haired captain accompanied by a former medical student named Montgomery. When the Ipecacuanha unloads its strange consignment at a lonely island, the captain forces Prendick ashore.
What Prendick discovers on the island shocks him. The white-haired Dr. Moreau, assisted by Montgomery, presides over a colony of anomalous beasts shaped into some semblance of humans by Moreau’s pitiless scalpel. A Dog Man, a Wolf Woman, and a Hyena-Swine are some of the gruesome denizens of the forest. The cruelty of Moreau’s surgical work haunts Prendick through the suffering screams of the puma that arrived on the Ipecacuanha with him. Shock and fear overwhelm the exhausted Prendick when he realizes the extent of the pseudoscientific nightmare that has overtaken him.
Moreau explains to Prendick that he has been on the island for eleven years, continuing with the alcoholic Montgomery the unholy work on which he had spent eleven years in London. He has given all his creatures a rudimentary human speech, and he has indoctrinated them with certain ideas that keep their behavior malleable. This set of improvised religious commandments is reinforced by their numbing fear of the “House of Pain” where they were created in blood and agony.
Moreau’s authority crumbles when the Leopard Man and the Hyena-Swine break the commandment against tasting blood. Moreau dies from the teeth and claws of one of his own creations. Montgomery then lapses into drunken heedlessness and soon suffers the fate of Moreau, leaving Prendick to witness alone the brute’s gradual reversion over several months into a bestiality that is near complete. When a tiny sailboat drifts into shore carrying the desiccated carcass of the Ipecacuanha’s red-haired captain, Prendick jumps aboard and sails away to eventual rescue.
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