The Beast People
The Island of Dr. Moreau raises many, many questions, but the one that really interests me is that of the humanity (or not) of the Beast People. The first inkling we get of the People labels them as humans who have been given animal characteristics–in fact avoiding this fate is what prompts Prendick to run away from the compound, and where he first learns about the Law. At first, it seems the Beast People are trying to hold onto their humanity–their repeated refrain of, “Are we not men?” seems sad and desperate, and Prendick pities them. I, as a reader, definitely pitied them too–could you imagine being dragged to an island and having your fingers surgically altered, your joints re-shaped, your mind twisted?
However, there’s a definite shift in attitude towards the People after Moreau’s speech in Chapter 14. When Prendick finds out that they are “monsters manufactured”–that is, not men turned animals, but animals brought as close to the edge of humanity as Moreau can bring them, there is a shift in the attitude both Prendick and by extension the reader takes towards them. Though Prendick is still pretty horrified, I feel that somehow Moreau’s experiments start to fit into the normal pattern of scientific inquiry, which is that animal experimentation is OK. This is definitely true today; even in my own lab we regularly sacrifice mice to feed our mosquitoes so that we can keep raising fresh broods to experiment on. This is really where the story hit home for me. See, the mice we bring in for the mosquitoes to feed on don’t survive the feeding (we literally have that many mosquitoes….the mice die from blood loss). It’s a terrible way to die, isn’t it? And yet, we keep sacrificing mice, and an infinitely greater number of mosquitoes, to do our research. In my lab it’s definitely a question of cost/benefit analysis. Our research is aimed at stopping the diseases mosquitoes vector so efficiently, and if stopping malaria (or cancer, or any disease, really) means killing a few mice, no one bats an eye. So what is so wrong about the Beast People? I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. It’s something more than the pain, and more than the pointlessness of Moreau’s experiments that make the Beast People so wrong to me. After all, if Moreau found some great cure for polio or muscle paralysis during his experiments, wouldn’t that make it all worth it? In theory, all research is valuable for advancing our knowledge, and for advancing “science” in general.
What’s really wrong with the creation of the Beast People is this: they are given a measure of humanity–intelligence enough to speak, to know and follow the Law; to fear and revere Moreau, etc; but they do not have any of the richness of life as a human. I know this is pretty species-centric, but I think we can all agree that if given the choice of any species, we’d all decide to be human. But for the Beast People, all of the things that make our human lives worth living (and here I recall both arguments from Brave New World, since I appreciate both instant gratification and Shakespeare) are denied them. They live empty lives, made all the worse by their continual psychological struggles against the animal natures rearing up against Moreau’s modifications. Whether this is a valid ethical argument, the kind that would stand up in one of those committees, I can’t say. But I do know this: the Beast People are obviously intelligent enough to deserve rights–their use of language is a clear indicator that they have become pretty complex creatures. But unlike clones, which at their most basic level are human, the Beast People can lay claim only to bits and pieces, chemical treatments done by Moreau which begin to wear off as soon as he turns them loose. However, despite their genetic makeup, I would like to claim a measure of true humanity for the Beast People. Their high level of comprehension–however twisted their worldview–grants them this.