The Human Nature in H.G. Wells’ Novel The Island of Doctor Moreau
The question about the true nature of human beings has always been a popular theme in the literature of all epochs. Writers and poets have thoroughly studied this question and explored different interpretations in various novels, stories, poems and other works. One of the most interesting and multidimensional analyses of these issues can be found in H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. The author shows that the human nature is influenced by certain conditions. Therefore, it is basically good, but the environment and other people may influence it in a negative way. The essay will explore what Wells suggests about the problem and compare his view with modern social and scientific understanding.
In the video titled Are People Born Good, Dennis Prager argues that those who believe that people are born good are obviously wrong. He adds that the supporters of people’s “natural goodness” have simply made a decision to believe in it ignoring evidence that proves the opposite. However, his arguments do not take into account many important issues. For example, Prager asks why states always have so many laws if people are naturally good. The Island of Doctor Moreau gives an answer to this question. Wells shows that circumstances and the environment can have a huge impact on the development of human personality in particular and on the concept of humanity in general. Moreau “creates” people from animals using various technologies such as vivisection and others. He is an outstanding scientist, but he does not care much about the ethical aspects of his experiments and pays little attention to the feelings of animals. As objects of his medical experiments, they have to endure constant pain that damages their nervous system. As a result, Moreau obtains his half-animal half-human hybrids that come into life with painful memories of terrible things that a person, such as the main character, can do to them.
Wells argued that pain and suffering do not only affect individuals who feel them, but also people who have to face them on a daily basis. He writes, “Suddenly the puma howled again, this time more painfully, Montgomery swore under his breath” (Wells 49). Montgomery is likely to have been a more sympathetic and kind person before he meets Moreau, although he was certainly engaged in troublesome activities. However, when he comes to the island and starts helping the scientist, the level of his morale drops much lower than it has been before. Therefore, it proves that the basically good nature of a human being is worsened by negative circumstances.
Modern life offers plenty of various examples supporting the idea that even seeing cruelty can negatively impact person’s psyche. People returning from wars, for instance, some American soldiers who came back to their homes from Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, could not sometimes forget the horrors of the war that continued constantly torturing their mind. Society also did not pay enough attention to their problems and was not supportive enough, so they were quite likely to become aggressive or, on the contrary, close themselves from the outside world and look for relief in alcohol or drugs. However, it does not tell anything about their “basically bad” nature, but only proves that the fact that pain and suffering are very powerful negative factors significantly damaging the human psyche. Wells shows that when the narrator returns to England, he cannot recover from shock and becomes afraid of people, so he goes to the countryside where he may devote his life to science and experiments (161).
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The idea of the law that serves for Pragner as a proof of basically selfish and narcissist nature of human beings is also thoroughly studied by Wells in his novel. Moreau makes his monsters regularly repeat the law, and one of them is appointed as the keeper of the one. It may be interpreted as a proof of basically bad human nature that needs to be limited and controlled by the law. However, the reality is very complicated, and the answer to the problem of human nature cannot be straightforward and univocal. The law in Well’s novel can be evidence of a lasting and devastating impact of sufferings experienced by hybrids. Moreover, here Wells focuses more on the question whether it is possible to turn an animal into a human being, but not on the basic characteristics of the human nature.
The description that Wells gives to inhabitants of the islands and the way he connects these characters to broad and important philosophical and ethical dilemmas makes The Island of Doctor Moreau a very truthful and realistic novel despite numerous fantastic elements in it. The author writes that all the hybrids were an “amazingly ugly gang” when Prendick saw them for the first time (Wells 36). However, when he later knew some of them better he understood that they could be very loyal and helpful. I can easily relate this situation to my own experience. I do not mean that when I meet people for the first time, they seem “ugly” to me, but usually the goodness and kindness of people are quite difficult to see during the first encounter. It can be explained both by the way people are used to behaving in society where showing their true nature and weaknesses can badly affect the person and by the natural fear of “others” that evolution has added to human behavioral patterns for the purpose of protection. In other words, all new people seem, to a certain extent, hostile at the beginning, but when I start communicating with them and learn them better, my opinion usually gets better. Personally for me, it serves as an important proof of the basically good human nature that almost always exists, but is often hidden.
This idea is not only supported by my personal experience and observations, but also by recent scientific findings. It is necessary to highlight that recent studies by researches from Harvard and Yale prove that “we are fundamentally “good” creatures after all” (Ward). The researchers argue that when people do not have time to reflect upon the problem they tend to help others. On the contrary, when they may think their actions over and consider various outcomes, they tend to choose more selfish options. It proves that human intuition always prompts people to help others and express their good nature. However, what is connected with nurture, not nature, offers selfish variants of behavior as more suitable ones.
To conclude, the nature of human beings is, in my opinion, basically good. I believe that Wells also supports this idea, but it is obvious that The Island of Doctor Moreau is not a straightforward narration, and some episodes can be interpreted in different ways. However, Wells shows that the nature of human beings is at the beginning rather good, and they are not likely to do harm to others. The author highlights that some of Moreau’s hybrids are prone to aggression and cruelty since they cannot overcome the suffering and pain caused by the scientist. Therefore, the novel can serve as a proof to the thesis that the basically good nature of people can be easily worsened by outside circumstances and the influence of other people.