Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Griffin, the Invisible Man. He arrives at a village inn and takes a room. Wearing dark glasses and bushy side whiskers, and having a completely bandaged head, he causes much curiosity in the village. Later, it develops that these are a disguise for his invisibility. Getting into trouble over an unpaid bill, he escapes and begins to terrify the people with his mysterious thefts. Wounded, he flees to a former acquaintance’s rooms. He reveals that, to get money for his experiments in invisibility, he robbed his father of money belonging to someone else; as a result his father committed suicide. Going thoroughly mad, he sends his former friend a note announcing that he plans to kill a man each day; his friend is to be the first victim. After a grotesque struggle, the Invisible Man is held by two men and struck with a spade by another man. As he is dying, his body slowly becomes visible.
Dr. Kemp, a physician. Griffin knew him when both were university students. To Kemp, Griffin reveals his story. Later, he says that he plans to use Kemp’s rooms as a base for his reign of terror, and he threatens Kemp’s life. Kemp goes to the police, with whose aid he finally succeeds in destroying Griffin.
Mr. Hall, the landlord of the Coach and Horses Inn, where Griffin takes a room.
Mrs. Hall, his wife. The Halls are the first to be puzzled by unexplainable activities on the part of their guest. Unintimidated, however, Mr. Hall swears out a warrant for Griffin’s arrest after the lodger becomes abusive because of ill feeling over an unpaid bill. After a struggle, Griffin at last unmasks and escapes in the ensuing horror and confusion.
Colonel Ayde, chief of the Burdock police. Kemp goes to him with his information about Griffin. Ayde is wounded by his own revolver, which Griffin has snatched from his pocket.
Marvel, a tramp whom Griffin frightens into aiding him. Griffin’s turning on Marvel is the occasion for some eerie scenes of pursuit.
Mr. Wicksteed, who is found murdered. A weird manhunt for Griffin follows.
The mad and foolish Griffin is the main character of The Invisible Man. A poor man, he seeks wealth and power. Although his motivation is understandable, he is a scoundrel who invites little sympathy. Gifted with a wonderful intellect, he degrades it by making it serve his baser nature. Capable of great achievement, he narrows his world to one no larger than that of the tramp Thomas Marvel. The other characters are primarily stereotypes who populate a country village. Incapable of understanding the significance of Griffin's achievement, they respond to his deviltry as they would to a maddened animal. Dr. Kemp serves as a listener to Griffin's explanation of the secret of invisibility and as the enlightened intellect who can understand the marvel of Griffin's accomplishments while also recognizing that Griffin is a menace who must be controlled by society.
Critics have sometimes been puzzled by the popularity of a novel that in the main presents unsympathetic characters. The Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges may penetrate the mystery of the popular success of The Invisible Man when he notes that the story is "symbolic of processes that are somehow inherent in all human destinies. The harassed invisible man who has to sleep as though his eyes were wide open because his eyelids do not exclude light is our solitude and our terror." Griffin's experience represents the stripping away of illusions when technological progress does not live up to expectations and the old verities of society cannot cope with what such progress brings. The narrative is full of tension, and The Invisible Man's end is moving, even as it is mystifying: "His hair and beard were white," notes Wells after Griffin has died and become visible, "not grey with age, but white with the whiteness of albinism, and his eyes were like garnets. His hands were clenched, his eyes wide open, and his expression was one of anger and dismay." A man cries, "Cover his face!"