Discussion: The Island of Dr. Moreau
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About the author
About the Play
About the Themes

About the author

Herbert George Wells, better known as H.G. Wells, was born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1866. His family was poor and he was the youngest of four children. Though he received only a very basic elementary education, young Wells became a voracious reader while he healed from a serious leg injury. When the familys financial situation worsened, Wells was apprenticed to a draper, work he despised. He was able to land a teaching job at Midhurst Grammar School, during which time, he won a scholarship to Londons Normal School of Science. There he studied under the prominent Darwinian biologist Thomas Henry Huxley who helped inspire his strong interest in biology. Wells developed some problems at university and left before he earned his degree, but went on to teach and write. He returned to the Normal School in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree with first class honors in zoology. While at the university, Wells founded and edited a publication called the Science Schools Journal, where some of his early writings were first published.

In 1893, he began his career as a novelist. His early scientific romances (a term used around 1900, before science fiction became popular), including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and The War of the Worlds (1898), explored scientific fantasy and challenged social and political notions of the time. Wells had a remarkable gift and great interest in anticipating science and technology and exploring the future of humanity. These imaginative novels were extremely successful and many consider Wells to be the father of science fiction.

Wells' other works delved more into politics, social commentary and humanity. He wrote comic social novels, such as The Wheels of Chance (1896) and The History of Mr. Polly (1910). His non-fiction works, which explored history, politics and future technology, included The Outline of History (1920) and The Science of Life (1929), written in collaboration with his son G.P. Wells and Julian Huxley. His progressive ideas gained him membership into the Fabian Society, a group comprised of prominent social philosophers. Late in his life and career, Wells became extremely critical and pessimistic about the state of the world as is evident in his final work Mind At The End Of Its Tether (1945) which foretells the ruin of civilization. Wells was a teacher, novelist, sociologist, historian, and political philosopher among many other accomplishments. Having written over 100 books and articles, he left a legacy of brilliant, forward thinking that is still relevant now and continues to appeal to audiences today. Wells died in London in 1946.

About the play

Adapted from Wells novel for the stage by Taproot Theatres Sean Gaffney, the story finds young scientist Edward Prendick shipwrecked on an isolated island in the Pacific. The island is the home of secret experiments being performed by a mysterious Dr. Moreau. Moreau is a brilliant scientist whose goal is to create human beings from animals through surgery. The doctor has had some measure of success and the island is filled with these human-like creatures who can walk upright and speak, but whose intelligence is limited. They fear the doctor and his House of Pain, Moreaus laboratory which they know causes suffering. As Prendick learns more about the experiments, he questions the morality of Moreaus experiments and longs to go home to London. It's Moreaus masterpiece, Kate, the daughter he created from a puma, who leads the island creatures back to their true nature and brings Moreau to his eventual downfall.

About the themes

Being Human.
What is it to be human? Many people believe that humans are the only beings that possess a soul, an emotional and spiritual core. Another opinion is that humans have a conscience, a voice inside that tells right from wrong, and animals have no conscience. Moreau even comments that emotion is something that makes humans better than animals. Opposing views believe that humans are creatures, just as whales and gorillas are. The ideas about how and why human beings differ from other animals is an ever-evolving question. These issues are debated today in connection with such topics as diverse as bioengineering and animal rights.

Nature vs. Nurture. Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men? Not to suck up drink, that is the law. Are we not men? Moreau tried to civilize the island creatures by giving them laws to live by. He thought that making animals walk upright, giving them speech and cognitive ability would make them human. The Nature vs. Nurture controversy explores whether your biological makeup or your environment determines who you are. The villagers did abide by Moreaus laws for a while, but inevitably go back to their animal ways, their nature. Kate, though, is nurtured and does go on to become human.

Respect. The story explores different kinds of respect. Respect is defined: To feel or show deferential regard for. The villagers respect their master, Moreau, but the respect is more based on fear than earned admiration or esteem. The villagers feared the house of pain and the fire that kills and obey Moreau to avoid these things. Kate meanwhile earned the respect of creatures and became their leader.

Some would say that Moreau lacked respect for life. He experimented on innocent animals without regard to the pain he caused. Kate recalls the pain and eventually kills Moreau in retaliation. Even today, people still debate whether it is ethical to conduct experiments on animals.

Things to do

Interview your friends and family to see what they think makes them a human being. Compare and discuss your answers with them.

Read H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Compare the differences between play and the novel. How do some of the changes in the play version enhance the drama for the stage?

Do some research on the concept of Nature vs. Nurture. Consider the following projects in your research: The Gorilla Language Project, or Project Koko; Keiko the killer whale and the Free Willy project; Klondike and Snow, the polar bears raised by humans at the Denver Zoo.

Write down the names of some of people that you look up to. Below each name, make a list of the reasons you respect these people. What kind of activities or traits earn respect?

Think about any pets you have or know. When you pet them or give them attention, do you think they feel anything? If they do something wrong, do you think they know?

Draw a picture of your favorite animal as if it were human.