The Closed Door in The Island of Doctor Moreau and In Memoriam
In presenting the concept of the closed door, it advocates the very opposite idea that, once, the door was open. With this knowledge there comes a possibility that perhaps a closed door can be opened again, suggesting that there are two sides to a doorway. If this metaphor is continued, the ‘closed door’ can be seen as the boundary, a common theme among 1890’s writers. Both texts – Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’ and Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau –challenge this ‘closed door’ staying as it is. Tennyson’s poetry almost seems as if, through the power of language, he wishes to open this door that separate the living and the dead, himself and Hallam. Wells uses this idea of the ‘closed door’ less philosophically, and more as a metaphor to suggest a permanently open door; this is one that bridges the otherwise separate gap between beast and man, epitomized in Dr Moreau’s vivisection. Whilst each writer explores crossing this boundary through their words, they both fail to realize the responsibility that accompanies their actions. Whether it is reaching for the dead, or attempting to turn beast to man, all actions have consequences. And this is what epitomizes both texts as fiction of the 1890’s; a sense of the progressive yet fatal that comes with opening the door to a new century.
H.G Well’s opening quote presents an image of the ‘closed door’ as physical. Yet, in the context of Tennyson’s poetry, it becomes symbolic of a boundary between past and present. James Spedding suggests Tennyson to be ‘a man always discontented with the Present till it has become the Past, and then he yearns toward it and worships it.’ In Memorium presents an obsession with the boundary between these two binaries. As Spedding suggests, Tennyson can neither exist in content in the present, nor fully reach the ideals of his past. This creates a self-inflicted purgatory as part his grief, enhanced by his physical return to Hallam’s house, mirroring the mental journey he takes in to this past memory:
Dark house, by which once more I stand […]
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
Alongside the suggested metaphor, the spiritual is shown also in a material door, that leads to the dark house. As the speaker is physically unable to pass through the door, Tennyson is unable to fully enter the boundaries of the living. In refusing to fully exist, this almost suggests a willingness to sacrifice his own life in order to drag the past to the present that he is so discontented with. This concept is fostered by the detachment from Tennyson’s mental and physical state. In stating his heart ‘used to beat’ within these boundaries, it suggests that in all other locations, that are not active representations of Hallam’s life, his heart cannot. In this yearning for the past, the narrator also actively rejects the present. He ‘[stands]’, whilst others continue moving through life around him, suggesting an inability to also move emotionally beyond his grief. Therefore, this ‘closed door’ becomes one that Tennyson both yearns to reach back through, yet simultaneously cannot.
As previously explored, the symbol of the ‘closed door’ is multi-faceted. In H.G. Wells’ fantastical novel, it comes to represent the boundary between beast and human. After centuries of debate, one of the defining features that separate man from animal is language. However, Wells’ science fiction challenges this in suggesting the boundary –in essence, the closed door –between language and communication is not as set as previously portrayed. As Dr Moreau continues his vivisection, the Beast-Folk are introduced to the human language. Yet, as they start to recede, as does their understanding. Can you imagine language, once clear-cut and exact, softening and guttering, losing shape and import, becoming mere lumps of sound again? (Wells, p.93) This ever-developing image presents the reader with a further metaphor; the ‘closed door’ between realism and science fiction is emphasized by the inquisitive. Wells implies that this is a world full of creatures that one can only ‘imagine’; the readers themselves cross a boundary from the realistic to the imaginary in the act of reading. Additionally, this literature alludes to the fear of degeneration. With a new century approaching, this implies the fear that the human language will recede to a beast’s ‘mere lumps of sound’. This fear means that ‘[imagining]’ could fast become reality. One must then consider if language is connected to understanding. Garner suggests that ‘a man cannot think without words’. This implies that one cannot reach the intellectual level of humanity without the ability to form words out loud. Yet, it perhaps also suggests that if a creature, such as Dr Moreau’s beasts, were to speak words, it could achieve this intelligence, and thus become more human. This concept begins to bridge the gap between man and beast, and the door is flung open through these experiments, whether humanity is ready or not. Yet, the degeneration of language to mere ‘softening and guttering’ ‘lumps of sounds’ perhaps suggests otherwise. Moreau has given these creates the ability to speak, but that is all. As beasts, they cannot reason or think independently, and mind remains separate from voice. Therefore, what is seemingly a process that will unite beast and man in understanding only separates them further. Despite Moreau’s best efforts, the door between the animal and human realms remains shut.
Thus far, the ‘closed door’ has been considered as an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual barrier. Yet, it must also be considered a construct that forms a social barrier, between the wider world and the culture that each writer creates. Tennyson creates an enclosed experience of grief, and Wells’ presents the reader with a perverted Eden. Both of their environments are closed off from the outer world, yet also come to represent larger experiences. For example, Dr Moreau’s island, seemingly separated from reality of by a ‘closed door’ can be seen as a metaphor and of the critical and strict Victorian society. I had before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form. (Wells, p.77) Wells claims that Dr Moreau’s island, and the struggle between man and beast, can represent ‘the whole balance of human life’. This suggests that vivisection, whilst not physically, is perhaps more prominent in our everyday lives than ever previously thought. A civilized person must conduct a type of perverted vivisection in their own lives; they must fight against brute instincts, and choose reason in order to adhere to the ideals of a Victorian society. Yet, perhaps the most interesting point to note is perspective. Thus far, each protagonist has been considered as on either side of a ‘closed door’, yearning to reach the other side. In this instance, Prendrick is wholly detached, and viewing a concept as one, rather than separated by this boundary. Additionally, this suggests a difference in Wells’ narrative perspective. Prendrick’s extended vision almost suggests an elevated, God-like status. It could then be argued that whether this boundary remains or not, is based upon the individual, and their assumed power. Therefore, in this context, the ‘closed door’ becomes about familiarity, or lack of. The island’s physical separation from society allows a detached, and subsequently more critical, view of society. And this is a commentary that seems not only sophisticated, but familiar, as if a piece written in a newspaper. Yet, despite this, it cannot be forgotten that there are many ‘closed doors’ still separating Moreau’s island from civilization; not only the boundary between fiction and reality, but that of science and reason.
Wells’ statement addresses this metaphorical door as ‘closed’, a binary that suggests it’s opposite as ‘open’. And it is suggested by both texts that perhaps the natural order would either be an open door –a complete epiphany of knowledge –or closed, where all mysteries remain untouched. However, it is arguably not important whether this boundary is metaphorical or physical, and in what scenario. Perhaps what both Wells and Tennyson imply is the need for this ‘closed door’ to in fact remain partially open. Without this possibility of discovering the hidden –whether it be scientific, emotional, or social –then existence would certainly be mundane. Therefore, to achieve this ‘balance’ in our lives, one needs to accept that we cannot entirely shut off what we fear. There will always be the beast within man, and grief in the everyday existence; the door will never fully be shut, and this should be wholly accepted.
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