illustrated portrait of the Invisible Man, whose features are obscured by black cloth

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance

by H. G. Wells

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Invisible Man Analysis

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Griffin is so absorbed in his own views that he does not detect the revulsion that Kemp feels for his colleague’s murderous plans. Griffin means to use science as an instrument of coercion; the scientist will become a dictator, deciding who shall live and who shall die. He sees no irony in the fact that his great discovery has made him invisible to humanity. His breakthrough literally separates him from the rest of the human race, which treats him as a frightening alien. He, in turn, no longer feels any bond with his fellow human beings.

That Kemp should triumph over Griffin suggests natural limitations to the damage that a scientist like Griffin can inflict on society. Intelligence without moral vision runs amok. To be smart without also being sensitive to others virtually guarantees that Griffin will not be able to find a partner for his studies. Kemp triumphs because he recognizes that ideas in isolation from society can prove lethal.

Wells’s work is prophetic not only about the dangers of the single-minded pursuit of science but also about the need for cooperation and the sharing of knowledge. Griffin’s instinct is to hide what he knows, and only when he is desperate does he seek a confederate. Even then, he shuts out the possibility that Kemp might have a different view. Such authoritarianism, in itself, constitutions the defeat of the very scientific quest that Griffin initiates.

Griffin fails to gain Kemp’s allegiance precisely because he does not recognize Kemp’s humanity. Griffin has turned against human values, and thus he guarantees his own doom. Society will have to crush him just as he has planned to crush it.

There is something heroic in Griffin’s dedication to science, but his quest has become perverted. Science offers the possibility of specialized knowledge, of improving the human condition, and of learning more about nature. Scientists must realize, however, that they are part of what they study and that they cannot divorce themselves from it. Wells shows that Griffin becomes a criminal as soon as he becomes invisible. Invisibility increases his sense of isolation from society and intensifies his sense of uniqueness; invisibility does not contribute to Griffin’s understanding of nature.

Wells also emphasizes Griffin’s youth. That he is only thirty suggests that no matter how brilliant a scientist he may be, he must mature as a human being. Without considering the context of society, of history, of ethical considerations, the young scientist is lost. In this sense, he knows far less than the simple people whom he arrogantly dismisses. In Griffin’s hands, science becomes a tool of tyranny—a way of denying all individuality, a way of blending all of humanity into the mad scientist’s vision of carefully controlled experiments. People become test subjects. He sees society as merely material that he can manipulate.

The Invisible Man is a novel of grim realism, with a unique sense of the apocalyptic framed by a profoundly authentic, panoramic view of English society. Wells presents vivid, rounded characters, with colorful accents and personalities. Equally impressive is his depiction of middle-class English society, which sturdily organizes itself to capture Griffith and to reinstate order. In addition, he rightly forecasts a future of frightening inventions that society must learn to control.

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Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy The Invisible Man Analysis


Critical Context