The Invisible Man was H.G. Wells’ fourth novel. It was followed by the equally well-known (albeit for slightly different reasons) The War of the Worlds. The novel blends science, fantasy, and reality into what is considered to be one of the early masterpieces of science fiction novel writing. Without a doubt, the short novel is an exciting accomplishment, one that has entranced and entertained readers of all ages for over 100 years.
But, there are some areas where it’s lacking. Most clearly in its few characters and limited setting. Rather than see Griffin’s invisibility play out, readers are left with memories of the past and a very limited timeline of events.
Characterization and Setting
Throughout the novel, Wells’ narrator does not shy away from mentioning how brilliant Griffin, the Invisible Man is. He’s the smartest physicist of his age, Wells writes at the end of the book, something that went to waste when mixed with Griffin’s narcissism and self-destructive actions. He is a multi-dimensional character in what I’ve always found to be a two-dimensional world.
Unlike depictions of the “Invisible Man” in film and television, in H.G. Wells’ original novella, Griffin is an ill-intentioned person from the start. His invisibility and loneliness do not bring out his worst qualities. In fact, these qualities are his defining features prior to his accomplishing the impossible. Once invisible, Griffin’s personality gets worse. His loneliness exacerbates his lack of empathy.
The Invisible Man is a short novel that spends the majority of its time discussing Griffin’s eccentricities, actions, and the reactions of the townspeople (although it can also be argued that more time should be spent on Griffin, his past, his family, and how he came to be the person he is today).
Everyone in the novel is relevant only because of their connection to Griffin. It’s his actions that drive how much one finds out about the minor characters, such as Mr. and Mrs. Hall, who own the inn Griffin stays at initially.
Iping is a real place, and while Wells does mention a vast array of men and women in the novel, the only ones to whom he dedicates any amount of detail are Griffin and, secondarily, Thomas Marvel and Dr. Kemp. Some readers may think that a broader world of characters and places would take this novel to the next level, showing readers what it would be like to see Griffin operating as the invisible man on a larger scale and with more diverse characters.
The Novel’s Ending
The novel ends in what I find to be a rather predictable way. Rather than all his plans coming to fruition, or even part of them, Griffin meets a gruesome end, beaten to death by the villagers of Iping. While it’s unusual for novels to kill off the main characters, the fact that Griffin was such a clear antagonist makes his death feel like the obvious ending for the novel.
There is a moment at the end of the novel that’s worth mentioning, which is the narrator’s description of Griffin after death. H.G. Wells wrote:
And there it was, on a shabby bed in a tawdry, ill-lighted bedroom, surrounded by a crowd of ignorant and excited people, broken and wounded, betrayed and unpitied, that Griffin, the first of all men to make himself invisible, Griffin, the most gifted physicist the world has ever seen, ended in infinite disaster his strange and terrible career.
There is an amount of pity, or at least disappointment, in these lines that suggest the narrator feels readers should understand Griffin’s death as a waste. He was incredibly talented and could’ve put those talents to use in a better manner, but he didn’t.
Although short and less impactful than the end of the final chapter, there is an epilogue to discuss. In this section of the novella, Thomas Marvel is described as going every night to the three notebooks he stole from Griffin and seeking out the secrets that Griffin used to make himself invisible. The books are “Full of secrets,” he says. “Wonderful secrets!”
The final line of the novel does indicate that there could be more to come in the future from Griffin’s secrets. Wells wrote, “And none other will know of them until [Marvel] dies.” Perhaps, the notebooks will come into more competent hands in the future, and another story similar to Griffin’s will unfold. Readers are left feeling uncertain about the necessity or wisdom of hanging onto a scientific discovery like that which Griffin made. It may be for the greater good to get rid of such knowledge, as men like Griffin are only going to use it to nefarious ends.
Scientific Advancement and Its Dangers
This gets at one of the most important themes of the novel, the dangers of scientific advancement. Wells asks readers to consider how dangerous jumping before one looks into scientific achievements can be.
In an age when technology is becoming more and more prevalent, The Invisible Man is a clever, entertaining reminder that new advancements aren’t necessarily going to make the world a better place. This is seen to no greater degree than in contrast between science and wealth-consumed Griffin and the simple villagers who live without the benefits of technological advancement. They form a strong community full of supportive and kind people, attributes that Griffin (as a symbol of technological advancement) lacks.
The Invisible Man Review: H.G. Wells Early Masterpiece
Lasting Effect on Reader
The Invisible Man Review
The Invisible Man is one of H.G. Wells’ first novels. It’s been adapted into numerous television shows and films, with literary and film allusions scattered throughout modern literature. The book asks readers to suspend their disbelief and accept that one man achieved the impossible–he turned himself invisible. Rather than using his new-found power to make the world a better place, he sought out invisibility, and used it, in order to create chaos and benefit himself.
- Creative plot
- Griffin is an interesting character
- Still relevant today
- Characters are limited
- Setting barely changes
- The ending is expected