The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance by H. G. Wells

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The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance begins on a wintry day in February. A mysterious, oddly dressed stranger arrives at the Coach and Horses pub in the town of Iping in rural Sussex. His entire body is covered: Even his face is swathed in a muffler, and his eyes are hidden behind dark glasses. Although the landlady and her husband, the Halls, are curious about his bizarre appearance, they readily agree to rent him a room because it is the off season. The next day, the stranger’s luggage arrives, consisting of several crates of chemicals and books. Because of his furtive and solitary nature, the stranger quickly becomes the object of local gossip.

Mrs. Hall, who believes he has been in a horrible disfiguring accident, soon perceives unbelievable things in her guest’s eccentricities. It appears that he has no lower half to his jaw, for example, and as his brusqueness becomes more violent, she suspects that there is more to his behavior than can be explained by mere physical deformity. After he runs out of money, a rash of petty thefts in the village point to the strange lodger as the culprit. His invisibility finally is discovered when Mrs. Hall calls in Jaffers, the local constable, to evict him for not paying his bill. The village inhabitants panic.

Naked and on the run, the invisible man coerces a tramp, Thomas Marvel, to aid him in his escape. Marvel retrieves three scientific notebooks from the Coach and Horses and steals money for the fugitive. As news of the invisible man spreads around the countryside, he makes his way to Port Stowe, where he finds refuge with an old university mate of his, Dr. Kemp. Kemp harbors his friend, who is revealed to be named Griffin, and is fascinated by the achievement of his former classmate. Kemp becomes alarmed, however, as Griffin describes in gruesome detail the scientific experiments he carried out to perfect his invisibility and how, in his single-minded pursuit of his discoveries, he stole money from his father, causing his bankruptcy and eventually his death, events for which he seems to feel little remorse. It is apparent that the process has unhinged Griffin’s mind as well as transforming his body.

As Griffin begins to rail about his newly found power over others and proposes a reign of terror to be visited by him on the general population in retaliation for the general neglect of his achievements, Kemp decides to turn him over to the authorities. Griffin, however, escapes once again and in a gratuitous act murders a man in broad daylight. Because of his betrayal, Kemp now becomes the object of Griffin’s wrath. In cooperation with the police, he sets himself up as a decoy. The invisible man finally is cornered and killed by a smashing blow from a worker’s spade. In death, he loses his invisibility and reappears.

The novel ends with a strange epilogue. The tramp, Marvel, with the money he stole for Griffin, buys a pub, which he names The Invisible Man. He regales his customers with tales of his exploits. After hours, Marvel peruses Griffin’s notebooks, which contain his scientific notes. Marvel has hidden these notebooks from the police and Dr. Kemp. In the solitude of his pub, he dreams of rediscovering the formula for invisibility and achieving the power and wealth he assumes that such a state would afford.

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man begins with several mysterious scenes involving a stranger who keeps bundled up and will not leave his lodgings. He is irascible and contemptuous of other people’s curiosity about him. He tells his landlady that he wishes to be left alone to conduct certain experiments. His behavior is somewhat understandable because people do try to pry into his affairs, and they are far less intelligent than he is. He believes that he has no one in which to confide because everyone treats him as a curiosity.

Only gradually does the stranger’s plight make itself known. He has somehow made himself invisible, and he is desperately trying to reverse the...

(The entire section is 3,356 words.)