Professor Michael Delahoyde
An Examination of Montgomery from The Island of Dr. Moreau
H.G. Wells is best known for creating worlds that have their roots in our present one but spawn into something completely new and different. In War of the Worlds he rains aliens down upon us; in The Time Machine he whisks us off thousands of years into the future of Earth; in The Island of Dr. Moreau, Wells takes us to perhaps the most far away place we can go, not in geological time, but in our minds. The story is set in 1887, but the island that Prendick, our protagonist, lands on contains creatures so eerily horrifying that no man could believe them to exist anywhere in history. The island is populated, with the exception of its human founders, by animals that have been vivisected, reassembled, and had their brains mysteriously rewired in an attempt to make them resemble “Man.” The concept of mutilated animals considering themselves human is meant to scare and disturb an audience, but Wells does not leave them entirely open to criticism. In the beginning of the novel, Prendick is rescued by Montgomery after his ship capsizes, assistant to Dr. Moreau who is the “creator” of the “Beast Folk.” Throughout the progression of the novel, the reader learns to understand Montgomery and how his past, present, and his view of the future have led him to become more than sympathetic to the animals he helps to destroy.
Montgomery is undeniably of human origin and serves as the antithesis of the Beast Folk in that they were once animals who have turned slightly human and he is a man with a hint of beast. In brief moments, he confides in Prendick pieces of his history. He seems to have been convinced by Moreau, one dark and stormy night ten years prior to the beginning of the novel, to come with him and lend a helping hand in Moreau’s experiments. It is no small secret that Montgomery is an alcoholic, and he admits to having been under the influence when he agreed to depart from London on a ship headed for some obscure island in the Pacific. Alcoholism, while clearly not an animalistic trait, is at least looked down upon by society. In this way, Montgomery is contrasted to Prendick, who is an abstainer (46) and serves as almost the idyllic Man within the novel. Even when Prendick is forced to live amongst the Beast Folk, he retains his intelligence, form, and a desire to be far away from the island of horrors and in the arms of proper society once again.
Montgomery denies the innate goodwill that all proper men supposedly possess within the first five chapters when he explains to Prendick that had he been “jaded that day,” he would have been perfectly capable of not taking an interest in whether the cast away Prendick lived or died despite Montgomery being presumably the only able medic on board (29). Immediately following this revelation is Montgomery’s statement that he is “an outcast from civilization” (30), which can be interpreted as his own acceptance that his ideals no longer lie with those of the social norm and also that they are irreversible. Prendick seems to disagree with this statement when he says, “I will confess that then, and indeed always, I distrusted and dreaded Moreau. But Montgomery was a man I felt I understood” (105). The question is whether Prendick was more trusting of Montgomery because he participated less actively in the experiments or because he was merely more animalisticly simplistic. The answer comes a few pages later when Prendick tells the reader, “My first friendship with Montgomery did not increase. His long separation from humanity, his secret vice of drunkenness, his evident sympathy with the Beast People tainted him to me” (152). This statement seems to indicate that Prendick was repulsed by the lack of indifference that Montgomery treated the creatures with. It is clear that Prendick understands Montgomery’s motives at all times despite disagreeing with him, whereas he does not attempt to analyze Moreau, who is easily a more complex character.
There are certain behavioral patterns and idiosyncrasies that make Montgomery the most bestial of the three men. Montgomery has a habit of referring to people, when they do not seem to be engaging the human characteristic of logic, as silly “asses.” This phrasing is interesting because an ass is another term for a donkey; therefore, he is calling irrational people animals. It is important to note that this phrase is used most commonly in reference to himself, though also to the other main characters to a lesser extent. He also uses the slang term of ÒmanÓ when speaking to Prendick as in, “Prendick, man! Stop!” (78). The emphasis here is interesting, considering that when talking to M’ling (his bear-man servant), he does not say, “M’ling, man, serve the food.” This usage shows an intentional differentiation between true men and Beast Men. Montgomery has not prescribed to vegetarianism the way that Moreau has. The eating of flesh is denied to the Beast Folk because it seems to revert them back to animalistic behavior. In this way, being a vegan has become associated with being human.
Montgomery spends the majority of the novel following Moreau’s orders with a doglike mixture of loyalty and fear despite being obviously disturbed by Moreau’s experiments. When Moreau is murdered and his blood sampled by his own creations, Montgomery’s inability to think for himself leaves him unable to maintain the hierarchy of man above beast considering that he is so nearly a beast himself (160-165). Montgomery’s appearance even lends him to comparison with the Beast Folk who are described as looking crippled or deformed and having an intellectual capacity equal to that of an idiot. Early in the novel, Prendick states that Montgomery “stared at [him] with his nether lip drooping, and looked so willfully stupid” (18). The lack of intelligence here may have been intentional, but the ugly drooping lip makes for an easy contrast to Moreau who is a man of incredible size and considerable masculine beauty.
The reader is first introduced to Montgomery’s sympathy for the Beast Folk when he defends M’ling against the crew of the ship that is taking Prendick and Montgomery back to the island. At this time, M’ling has only been referred to as a “black-faced cripple,” not the bear-dog-ox that he really is (130), therefore it seems natural for Montgomery to demand equality for his attendant (23). “Montgomery had trained it [M’ling] to prepare food, and indeed to discharge all the trivial domestic offices that were required,” as Moreau had taken special care to make him look more human and have a higher intelligence than most the rest of his creations (130). Prendick notices that at times Montgomery seems to have an unnatural affection for M’ling and other times treats him as the basest of creatures, which after the reader discovers what he is, seems more natural. The bipolar nature of this relationship seems to be an outward manifestation of Montgomery’s struggle between man and beast. His desire to like M’ling and treat him as a human is his natural tendency, but he sees that even Moreau regards the Beast Folk with disgust, despite being their “Maker,” and so attempts to reconcile his affection with abuse, bringing him back into the realm of natural humanity.
Montgomery’s view of the Beast Folk in general is that they are deserving of his compassion. At one point he and Prendick are eating together, and in the background the screams of an animal being worked on by Moreau can be heard. Prendick states that, “All the time he [Montgomery] was in a state of ill-concealed irritation at the noise of the vivisected puma” (58). Montgomery actually connects himself to the Beast Men after Moreau’s death when he and Prendick are discussing their options. Montgomery says, “We can’t massacre the lot. Can we? I suppose that’s what your humanity would suggest” (167). The emphasis placed on “your” by Wells suggests that Montgomery does not have humanity. Or it may mean that his type of humanity is sympathetic toward nature running its course and allowing the almost-humans to revert back to their animal states. The second option, however, would mean letting the carnivores devour the rabbits, beast-children, and herbivores until dying of starvation, which does not seem humane. Prendick’s idea, or rather what was suggested would be Prendick’s idea, does seem to be the better example of humanity in this situation. Later in this conversation, Montgomery “wander[s] into a maudlin defense of the Beast People and of M’ling [stating that] M’ling […] was the only thing that had ever really cared for him” (168). He then decides that the only living beings he can reconcile with are not Men, but Moreau’s created Beast Men. In order to do so, he brings to them the very vice that lead to his downfall from humanity-alcohol-claiming that rather than making them less human, it will make them more so. To this Prendick replies, “You’ve made a beast of yourself. To the beasts you may go” (168).
Strangely enough, it was Moreau who died a beast-like death through mauling and Prendick who, after both his companions are deceased, lives like a beast until managing to leave the island, yet it is these two people who never seem to revert into true animalistic tendencies. Why is it, then, that Wells chooses a poetic ending for Montgomery and not the other two? It is true that he too was mauled to death by feral Beast Folk carnivores, but he gets to speak a few unimportant, but relevant last words: “‘The last,’ he murmured, ‘the last of this silly universe. What a mess–‘” (174). Some time is then taken from the narrative to describe the scene at the time of Montgomery’s soul’s departure. “He was dead; and even as he died a line of white heat, the limb of the sun, rose eastward beyond the projection of the bay, splashing its radiance across the sky, and turning the dark sea into a weltering tumult of dazzling light. It fell like a glory upon his death-shrunken face” (176). What is Wells trying to tell us about Montgomery and the overarching theme of this grotesque tale by ending a fallen man’s life in such a way? It could be that Montgomery’s fall was not from, but toward humanity. Moreau had built souls into his experiments even though they were souls that could and did deteriorate. Moreau professed to not worry about this, the ethics of his experimenting (115), but Montgomery surely did. Prendick was too worried about his own survival to bother about doing right by those trying to kill him. Montgomery, however, turned from the world of Man because of a drunken illusion of a better life, but finding none made a feeble attempt at improving the situation of those half-humans he felt responsible for. Despite all his other vices, this at least is not the mark of a beast.
Wells, H.G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. New York: Signet, 1988.