Study Guide

The Island of Dr. Moreau Rules and Order

By H. G. Wells

Rules and Order

Who are you to tell me what I'm to do. I tell you I'm captain of the ship—Captain and Owner. I'm the law here, I tell you—the law and the prophets. (3.33)

Captain Davis points out he makes the rules on the ship, and he does so by making himself into a prophet, adding a religious implication to his boast. Talk about ego.

They swayed their heads and shoulders from side to side. The speaker's words came thick and sloppy, and though I could hear them distinctly I could not distinguish what he said. He seemed to me to be reciting some complicated gibberish. Presently his articulation became shriller, and spreading his hands he rose to his feet. (9.9)

These Beast Folk could simply recite the rules, but that would be too easy. Instead, they have a religious ceremony full of pomp and circumstance to pass them on. And there are rules about how the ceremony is performed. So, like human society, there are rules governing the rules. Kind of hurts your head thinking about it, huh?

I realised I had to repeat this idiotic formula. And then began the insanest ceremony. (12.17)

All ceremonies have rules that must be followed. When it's your ceremony, you think it's perfectly natural. When it's someone else's, it can seem, well, insane. Or at the very least confusing. Ever been at a friend's house when they celebrated a holiday that wasn't part of your upbringing? Then you totally know the drill.

A horrible fancy came into my head that Moreau, after animalizing these men, had infected their dwarfed brains with a kind of deification of himself. (12.23)

The thought never occurs to Prendick that maybe these Beast Folk deified Moreau on their own. They might have done this to give their rules a context greater than themselves. He does, after all, kind of act like a God for them.

Punishment is sharp and sure. Therefore, learn the Law. Say the words. (12.47)

The message is pretty simple here: learn the rules or you're going to get it good. Any questions?

There was one among the boys a bit of a missionary, and he taught the [Ape Man] to read, or at least to pick out letters, and gave him some rudimentary ideas of morality, […]." (14.32)

The Ape Man does not come up with his rules on his own. Instead, they're passed down to him from the Kanakas boy, and then the Ape Man makes them his own. Have you ever thought about the fact that many rules that seem perfectly natural were in fact taught to you? It's actually quite a staggering revelation when you think about it.

[The Beast Folk] were really hypnotised; had been told certain things were impossible, and certain things were not to be done, and these prohibitions were woven into the texture of their minds beyond any possibility of disobedience or dispute. (15.4)

Sometimes we see rules as completely natural when in fact they aren't. We think, "of course, that's the way it should be." However, as Prendick has discovered, it only seems natural because we've been raised to think that. We've been "hypnotised," so to speak.

"Not to suck your Drink; that is the Law. Much the brutes care for the Law, eh—when Moreau's not about?" (16.28)

Okay, to be honest, Montgomery's rhetorical question has a point here. If society's rules were naturally a part of us, then wouldn't we follow them regardless of who was around or what the punishment was? Wait, did we just answer a rhetorical question with a rhetorical question?

"You cannot see [Moreau]. But he can see you. Fear the Law." (18.16)

Moreau becomes a true god in the eyes of the Beast Folk. So long as they think he's always watching, they'll obey the rules. Of course, he isn't, but that doesn't make the idea any less powerful. The whole point here is that fear, not morality, is what keeps these guys in check.

"We have no Master, no Whips, no House of Pain any more. There is an end. We love the Law, and will keep it; but there is no pain, no Master, […]." (21.10)

So deeply ingrained are the rules that even after the threat of punishment has passed, the rules still stick. It's even worse when it's your mother's rule—you can still hear her disappointed voice in the back of your head when you mess up as an adult. Seriously, those are the worst.

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