The Human Beast People

I won’t argue that, in H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, animal cruelty runs rampant. Dr. Moreau performs vivisection on animals without anesthetics to create human-like chimeras. If that’s not twisted and wrong, I don’t know what is.  However, I don’t consider the creation of chimeras to be inherently wrong.  I mostly agree with the writers of “Moral Issues of Human-Non-Human Primate Neural Grafting” that, for instance, scientists are not crossing a line by mixing species: “fixed species boundaries [are] not well supported in science or philosophy”. Indeed, chimeras have significant potential in the medical field as a source of organ transplants, the study of disease, and more.

So it’s not the scientific idea of creating chimeras that instills horror in me when I read The Island of Dr. Moreau, nor is it only the terribleness of animal cruelty. No, the lingering horror of the book comes from the idea of creating what is basically a human by forcing an animal to have human thought and emotion, and then slowly, inexorably taking away that awareness.  First, Dr. Moreau brings the Beast People to life screaming:  “The emotional appeal of those yells grew upon me steadily, grew at last to such an exquisite expression of suffering that I could stand it in that confined room no longer” (59). The article mentioned earlier cites four main things that would identify moral status: “the ability to feel pleasure and pain, language, rationality, and richness of relationships”. Already, we know the chimeras can feel pain, as they’re brought screaming into the world.  They experience joy, as Prendick realizes when a simian chimera happily compares the number of digits on their hands and finds them equal.  They speak their own language, they are rational enough to follow a system of laws and feel remorse when they break the laws, and they form a community in their jungle home. For all intents and purposes, the Beast People are human.

Their humanity and consciousness of self makes the Beast People’s devolvement into animals again all the more appalling.  The main thing I can think to compare the degradation of the Beast People to is a person experiencing Alzheimer’s disease. You can’t remember little things, at first, and maybe your behavior and mood begins to change. Then you can’t remember where you, who you are, maybe only remembering in rare lucid periods. And if you’re a chimera in H.G. Well’s story, you slowly lose your humanity (perhaps gained only months before) and revert back to your animal self, but this time you know and can think about what you are losing.  And the Beast People try to fight that reversion, try to maintain their humanity: “the dwindling shreds of the humanity still startled me…an unexpected dexterity of the forefeet, a pitiful attempt to walk erect” (195). It’s pitiful, certainly: we should be full of pity for the Beast People, physically tormented, and emotionally and mentally conscious, only to lose their humanity once more.

-Saraswati

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~ by wisdomtooth13 on February 24, 2012.

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