The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

1 January 2017

The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells is a science fiction classic written in 1897. The novel was first serialized in Pearson’s Weekly the same year it was published. Probably Wells’ third most well-known novel, after War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, The Invisible Man is famous more for its protagonist that its story – the bandage-clad figure of Griffin, complete with trench coat, hat and sunglasses, has stuck far better in the public consciousness than Wells’ actual story has. Griffin was a medical student who changed fields to physics.

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He had been fascinated with the way things refracted and reflected light. He theorized that if an item was subjected to a certain compound, the item would change its refractive and reflective properties so it could no longer be seen. The physical properties of the item would not change its weight, shape, physical needs, etc. It only could not be seen. The scientist uses himself as his first experimentation subject but fails to reverse the process. After his friend betrays him, Griffin decided to murder him and begins his own personal “reign of terror”.

The story contains both external and internal conflict. In either case, both the protagonist and the antagonist is Griffin himself as he has made himself his own worst enemy. The external conflicts that Griffin causes are between Griffin and various members of the town as his invisibility is gradually discovered. People react with fear and then with terror as Griffin aggravate the situation by lashing out against people as soon as they figure him out. Griffin ultimately sees Kemp as an enemy although he had at first believed that Kemp would be both sympathetic and cooperative.

The most important conflict is internal as Griffin himself struggles to live with his situation. He rationalizes his crimes rather than making any sane attempt to get people to understand his predicament. He uses force to get people to help him and goes from bad to worse in his attempts to replenish his research materials for experiments in reversing the process that rendered him invisible. There is no real depth of character. Griffin simply runs from place to place trying to survive by increasingly decadent methods.

The climax occurs when Griffin returns to Kemp’s house intending to make an example of Kemp for having betrayed him. Kemp escapes out the window but is soon followed by Griffin who can see him although he can’t see Griffin. The entire town is soon involved in the chase. The mood is generally distant as that of a newspaper reporting telling about a strange event. In the sections where Griffin is telling his own story, the tone is one of self-justification, lack of conscience, and even a certain amount of arrogance. Though he may have felt alone throughout his life, his isolation as a true invisible man takes a mental toll on him.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is to be careful what one wishes for. He did not stop to consider the negative aspects of being unseen. Perhaps if he had used his abilities for good, he would have had an easier adjustment to his new life. He could have even become a superhero. Instead he let his grudges and biases, his fears and paranoia, get the better of him. He did not foresee that he still would be vulnerable, which ultimately seals his fate. However, one could certainly tell that Wells is a master storyteller, and I find myself engrossed in the story for several chapters.

Wells writes best in first person rather than the rambling reportage style employed here, and his attempts at comedy, mainly involving silly provincial accents, falls badly flat to a modern ear. The Invisible Man is the ultimate story of an insane anti-hero, before insane anti-heroes became popular. Griffin himself becomes more and more pathetic as the story progress and from the comical start Wells moves away to a darker, subtle satire of small minds in small towns can be just as dangerous as any psychopath.

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