Insights on the “Thing in the Forest”

In The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, the chapter titled “The Thing in the Forest” particularly caught my interest.  Granted I have not read the whole novel, up to this point Wells’s chapters have been short and relatively straightforward narration, but in this slightly confusing and illustrative chapter, I believe Wells captures why and how society has begun placing limitations on current research in particular fields (such as stem cell research).  In particular, Wells’s imagery and wording in this chapter correlates Prendick’s desire to escape the darkening forest to society’s motivation to restrict a previously limitless field of research.

            First of all, the manner in which Prendick fears the mysteriousness within the forest parallels the way members of society are apprehensive concerning the unknown territory that research explores.  Prendick also alludes to the outcome of such qualms – a return to familiarity.  Although Prendick at first seeks to leave the premise of his captivity due to the painful cries of the puma, when nightfall comes and shadows lurk he desires to return to the comfort of his empty, restrictive, yet secure chamber. 

“Unless I would spend the night among the unknown dangers of the mysterious forest, I must hasten back to the enclosure.  The thought of a return to that pain-haunted refuge was extremely disagreeable, but still more so was the idea of being overtaken in the open by darkness and all that darkness might conceal.”(59)


Through this quote, Prendick conveys the extent to which the unknown manifests fear within people; for “unknown dangers” make Prendick “hasten back to the enclosure.”  Furthermore, the “enclosure” portrays not only the restrictions imposed upon Prendick by Dr. Moreau and Montgomery, but also suggests those self-imposed by Prendick’s fear.  Wells highlights the enclosure’s undesirability through the clause “that pain-haunted refuge was extremely disagreeable” to draw attention to the power fear holds.  His following clause – “but still more so was the idea of being overtaken in the open by darkness and all that darkness might conceal” – insinuates why fear exerts such power over humans.  The inability to predict the extent to which fear may or may not inflict harm upon Prendick versus his knowledge of the discomfort of his previous lodgings result in his pursuit of manageable pain rather than exploration of a different outcome.  This parallels the manner in which society will accept a present situation or practice rather than allow exploration of an “idea” “in the open” field of research merely due to the comfort of known versus unknown or the “darkness and all that darkness might conceal” in unknown territory.

            As Wells uses the darkness to capture the extent to which fear drives Prendick to seek captivity and correlates to prejudices present society holds towards research concerning unknown territories such as cloning, the chase underwent by Prendick that night similarly corresponds to the current manner in which the pursuit for scientific truths haunt a conservative society.  The endless manner of the chase becomes evident through Prendick’s descriptions. 

“I saw nothing, and nevertheless my sense of another presence grew steadily.  I increased my pace, and after some time came to a slight ridge, crossed it, and turned sharply, regarding it steadfastly from the further side.  It came out black and clear-cut against the darkling sky; and presently a shapeless lump heaved up momentarily against the sky-line and vanished again.” (60)


Wells descriptive development of Prendick’s chase suggests the ability of “nothing” to “gr[o]w steadily” into something.  This outgrowth correlates to the manner in which societal prejudices premised on “nothing” “nevertheless” develop.  Prendick’s responsive “increase [in] pace” and “cross[ing]” of a “slight ridge” captures how Prendick’s fear escalates into action.  Wells conveys his apprehensive manner through Prendick’s “cross[ing]” of a “slight ridge” and “sharp turn[ing],” “steadfast” “regard” “from the further side.”  This ridge nicely correlates to the barrier between acceptable research as deemed by society and experimentation that goes beyond this comfortable zone such as cloning.  Moreover, Wells’s phrase “regarding it steadfastly from the further side,” further reinforces the loyal manner in which outsiders to such research, in particular those completely unaware of the scientific principles being tested, are even more judgmental towards more liberal experiments.  Also the manner in which “it came out black and clear-cut against the darkening sky” depicts the strong, opinionated stance that society holds towards undiscovered territory.  Furthermore, the cyclic illustration that the phrase “heaved up momentarily against the sky-line and vanished again” evokes, insinuates the inescapable, haunting manner in which the quest for scientific truth remains within a conservative society – discontent, worried citizens impose limitations which new research later evades, that in turn perpetuates troubled citizens to take action.  Therefore, through such a powerful and detailed description of Prendick’s chase, correlation between Prendick’s fleeting behavior and society’s attitude towards unconventional research can be seen.

 -Nicole Shen

~ by shennt on February 18, 2008.

One Response to “Insights on the “Thing in the Forest””

  1. Beautiful post, Nicole.

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