If we began as animals, we will revert to our animal nature, even if we have been temporarily transformed into something else. That is a conclusion to be drawn from Wells’ 1896 science fiction fantasy of Dr. Moreau and the beast men he creates. It’s a moral that begs a question: if there any significant difference between being an animal and being a human? Aren’t we all animals also, fully partaking of an animal nature?
Wells doesn’t answer this question clearly. The Dog Man becomes a friend to the narrator because he still has characteristics of a dog, not because he is a failed man. The Leopard Man and the Hyena-Swine are untrustworthy, as one would expect. Are Moreau and his assistant any better? The animals hunt to secure food, but Moreau torments for his own intellectual pleasure. Tellingly, near the end as the modified animals revert to their true characters, Prendrick, the narrator, also joins them as “an intimate of these half-humanized brutes.” Of this he says that “I prefer to make no chronicle of that gap of time.” He does not want to speak of a period of which he appears to be ashamed.
Some of the themes Wells effectively dramatizes in The Island of Dr. Moreau had already been explored by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein where, for example, the creation becomes a threat to its creator. The idea of a created being returning to his true nature is echoed in the recent Jurassic Park, where the supposedly-sterile cloned dinosaurs revert to two sexes. The arrogance of the scientist is familiar also. Moreau explains,
To this day I have never been troubled about the ethics of the matter. The study of Nature makes a man at least as remorseless as Nature. I have gone on, not heeding anything but the question I was pursuing….
Moreau experiments without regard to pain or consequences because of the knowledge he gains and his pride in his creations.
When the Greeks imagined a chimera like the Sphinx, part animal and part human, they did not give it a benign nature. The one who menaced ancient Thebes destroyed those who could not answer her riddle. When Pendrick returns to London, he forced to recognize that we are all chimera, and he is troubled by a riddle no one can answer.
I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another, still passably human, Beast People, animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert, to show first this bestial mark and than that…. Then I look about me at my fellow-men. And I go in fear.