Critical Context

The Invisible Man has an honored place as one of the first works of modern science fiction. H. G. Wells, a science student and teacher, was keenly interested in how the twentieth century would develop its technical knowledge. Yet, he was equally concerned with the scruples of the scientific experimenter.

In a sense, with The Invisible Man Wells has rewritten Mary Shelley’s science-fiction classic Frankenstein (1818). In that novel, Victor Frankenstein tries to improve humanity by using parts of human bodies to create a perfect being. Frankenstein also isolates himself from his community, allows his enthusiasm for scientific discovery to outweigh moral considerations, and consequently produces a monster. He reacts to his terrible invention with horror and contrition, realizing that he has cut himself off from humanity. Griffin, on the other hand, is the model of the disinterested scientist. He is solely concerned with his experiments. He will destroy anything that impedes his scientific progress. He is the modern professional—cool and self-contained. He has no emotional involvement with anything but his experiments.

The Invisible Man is also about the struggle of Wells’s characters to cope with new scientific attitudes. For this reason, his novel generated enormous excitement when it first appeared. Unlike previous science fiction, Wells’s work combined a vigorous narrative and action-packed scenes with sharp dialogues about ideas and the direction in which civilization was headed. His economical and sure grasp of dramatic structure ensured that his work was read by a broad audience with varying degrees of education.

The Invisible Man remains a classic. Reprinted countless times, it is often taught and analyzed. It has lost little of its fresh, documentary-like form, as if Wells were writing as much like a journalist as a novelist. A keen observer and a seer, he allows the story its own momentum, never holding scenes or characters hostage to his vision. His manner and his message fuse, and this union of thought and feeling, structure and point of view, account for the novel’s longevity.