The Island of Dr. Moreau
by H. G. Wells
Let's get the basics out of the way, shall we? Prendick is the narrator and protagonist of The Island of Dr. Moreau. This dear British chap comes from the upper-middle class of Victorian society and is well educated if somewhat stiff. So, he's the character designed for the reader to relate to the most. Well, the Victorian reader at any rate.
But even for us modern readers, Prendick's terror becomes our horror; his struggles our struggles. As a result, we learn a lot about Prendick—not from what he says, but from what he does and how he relates to the other characters.
All right. Now that the basics are checked off our list, let's get into the nitty gritty of Prendick's character.
The Love Boat (of Death)
We first meet Prendick aboard a small dinghy, The Old Man and the Sea style. He has two other guys with him, Hemlar and an unnamed sailor. The three are adrift with limited supplies and even less hope of rescue. When their supplies finally get low, Helmar "[gives] voice to the thing we all had in mind" (1.4).
Prendick initially refuses, but he fears the other guys will gang up on him, so he eventually agrees. Straws are drawn, and when the sailor decides losing isn't for him, he attacks Hemlar. Both men plummet to their death into the icy Pacific abyss, leaving Prendick laughing at their fate.
Yikes. While perhaps not the most cheerful of beginnings, the opening scene tells us a lot about Prendick. For starters, he is quite the gentlemanly gentleman. Even though we all know he is talking about cannibalism in the quote above, his civilized mindset refuses to give name to such a ghastly concept. He's also the last to give into to the idea, and he doesn't join in the fight with the others either.
All this wouldn't make Prendick a model gentleman in-and-of itself. It's cannibalism after all, not exactly good eats. But we shouldn't forget this entire scene all takes place in a wee-tiny boat lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Prendick keeps it together when the other two—one a professional sailor, mind—freak out. This is a testament to Prendick's strength and belief in the rules of civilization. Of course, this is just the beginning, and that laughter is a hint of what is to come….
Prendick has an interesting relationship with the Beast Folk, and by interesting, we mean he changes his mind more often than our grandmas picking out curtains.
Take the Leopard Man. At first, he finds Leopard Man interesting, a mystery to solve Scooby-Doo style. Of course, that's before the Leopard Man chases him through the forest and tries to kill him. Then he gets a little peeved at the guy.
When Moreau and the Beast Folk actively hunt the Leopard Man, Prendick has another change of heart. After Leopard Man's death, Prendick understands that the Beast Folk "[stumble] in the shackles of humanity, [live] in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand" (16.90). Clearly, he pities them and their fate. But turn the page to the next chapter, and there's Prendick saying he wants "to get away from these horrible caricatures of my Maker's image, back to the sweet and wholesome intercourse of men" (17.1). Come on, man, get off the fence and chose a side already.
Prendick's back and forth relationship with the Beast Folk helps establish the theme of the novel: you can't separate the humanity from the beast nor the beastly from the human. When Prendick is able to recognize the humanity in the Beast Folk, so are we. When Prendick sees the beasts in his fellow Londoners, so do we.
Paging Dr. Moreau
Prendick and Dr. Moreau have a lot in common. Both have studied biology. Both see vivisection as a legitimate way of increasing scientific knowledge. But the two don't really see eye-to-eye on much else. It might have something do with the fact that Moreau's creations have tried to kill Prendick from time to time, but there's more to it than that.
Moreau seems to thrive on the soulless regularity of the universe. He is interested not in the silly little concerns of us humans or the wants and needs of the animals around us, but in the grander laws of science. Actually make that 'Laws of Science'! He sees earth as nothing more than "cosmic dust" (14.23). Earthly concerns like pain and pleasure are tiny, meaningless parts of the universal mechanism. Why shouldn't he be able to do he wants on his even tinier island? After all, he's getting at some deep insights here. Let's not put him on any ethics boards, shall we?
Prendick sympathizes a little with Moreau's scientific ambition, but not with Moreau's giddy joy of a vivisectionist in a pet shop. He is disgusted by Moreau's blind irresponsibility and carelessness; disgusted by the fact that Moreau throws 'the Things' out "to live a year or so, to struggle and blunder and suffer, and at last to die painfully" (16.91). In Moreau's actions, Prendick loses "faith in the sanity of the world" (16.92). Commonsense beliefs about what's right or wrong are completely abandoned on this island.
Instead of such a kind and benevolent force, Prendick sees "a vast pitiless Mechanism, seem[ing] to cut and shape the fabric of existence" (16.92). For Prendick, the world that Moreau has created on the island is the empty and meaningless one of a machine—a machine in which we all are just cogs… Pretty grim stuff.
But Moreau does influence Prendick. At the novel's end, Prendick takes to studying chemistry and astronomy in the English countryside. Perhaps he is trying to unlearn the lessons Moreau taught him and to rediscover the meaning of the universe he lost faith in on that island.
Montgomery is Prendick's best friend. The bromance starts off strong on the Ipecacuanha, but then begins to cool once they actually get to the island. What happens? What did Montgomery say or do to push Prendick away like he did? Let's get gossipy and find out.
Well, the biggest problem is that Montgomery just spends too much time with his other friends, the Beast Folk. (Although his trusty friend booze is second only to these folks.) See, for Prendick, the Beast Folk represent everything that's wrong with the island. And as long as Montgomery is thick as thieves with the Beast Folk, he's tainted by them in Prendick's eyes. Toward the end of the book, Prendick even says he can't rely on Montgomery since "he was in truth half akin to these Beast Folk, unfitted for human kindred" (19.23). And that kindred includes Prendick himself.
Of course, Prendick discovers at the end that it's not only Montgomery who, amongst humans, is "half akin to these Beast Folk" (1923). Unfortunately, by then, it's too late to reconcile with his dear, dead BFF.Timeline