The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells
The Invisible Man (a.k.a. Griffin, the Stranger)
The Invisible Man is everything we don't like about ourselves (minus visibility, plus science). Now, we don't mean to say that Griffin is a blank canvas for us to project our issues on; he has a full history and is a very precise character. Still, he's also got a lot of qualities that just about everyone has, but turned up to a cartoonish level. After all, we all give in to selfishness sometimes (at least we hope you do, too, or else you're going to make us feel bad). Griffin's selfishness, though, is exaggerated. He steals from whomever he wants to, and he doesn't feel any sympathy for the people he hurts. Like, say, his own father.
So, Griffin's emotions and frustrations may be common, but he takes all of those feelings and turns them up to the max. No matter how invisible we may feel at our jobs or schools or with our families or friends, very few of us decide to become supervillains. (That's not a term that Wells would be aware of, but we think it's pretty easy to imagine The Invisible Man as a comic book: Superman vs. the Invisible Man. Spoiler alert: Superman wins.)
Griffin is like an exaggeration of emotions that we all know well. In some ways, that makes The Invisible Man easier to read. Whenever Griffin does something evil, we can say "we would never do that." In other ways, though, we can read Griffin's character as a warning: we can't let our negative feelings get out of control.
It's Literally a Metaphor
Here's one reason why we dig science fiction and fantasy: because this rockin' genre can take metaphors and make them literal. And then bonus, it can explore that literal thing. Let's explain. We all feel invisible sometimes – like our work is unappreciated, like people don't understand us, like people are ignoring us. Now, Wells could have written a book where a guy struggles with these feelings. Lots of good books do explore those feelings, in fact.
Instead, Wells writes a book where he takes one character's feelings of being invisible and he makes those feelings into the literal reality. Instead of feeling invisible, Griffin is invisible. Now we can explore those feelings in a different form. So what happens to a character who feels – er, is – invisible?
The Invisible, Angry Man
Aside from being invisible, Griffin's most notable quality might just be his anger. Quickly flipping through the book, you will see many examples of Griffin either trying to keep his temper or losing it really quickly. This book is full of his "painfully suppressed rage" (2.30), "uncertain temper" (4.2), and "evil temper" (18.33). Chapter 12 is even named "The Invisible Man Loses His Temper." This guy could benefit from some anger management strategies.
Griffin felt invisible before he ever was invisible, and the literal invisibility just makes everything worse. On top of being invisible to the scientific community (remember, he wants to publish his results when he's done with his experiments), he's invisible to the community of people all around him, both in London and in Iping. No wonder he's so angry: the thing that's supposed to get him recognized (an invisibility formula) is actually making him harder to recognize. (This is why we think The Invisible Man really is a tragedy: whatever he does to make himself happier actually makes him less happy. Lose-lose.)
The Invisible, Angry Man with a Lot of Names
Here's a funny little thing: a griffin is a mythological monster, a mix of lion and eagle. So maybe Wells is signaling to us that his Griffin is something of a monster.
Let's keep in mind, though, how many names Griffin has in this book. For most of the earlier chapters, he's just called "the stranger," which reminds us of how strange he is. Think about it: he's living at Iping for several months, and he's still "the stranger." Shouldn't he at some point become "the neighbor"? No, not Griffin – he's not the neighborly type. After that, he's called "the Voice" a few times, as if that were a name or a title. The book is more than halfway over when we learn that his name is Griffin. And that's just his last name – we never learn his first name.
Here's a question: how are we supposed to identify with a strange character who doesn't have a name? Is it possible? Does Wells even want us to?
How to Do Science for Fun, Profit, and Murder
Griffin is a scientist, an "experimental investigator" (2.17). (Just a quick note: "scientist" didn't really become a popular word until the twentieth century. In fact, Wells starts his 1904 book, The Food of the Gods, by noting how scientists don't like the word "scientist." So don't worry that this word doesn't show up in The Invisible Man – Griffin is a scientist even so.)
How do the other characters respond to his profession? Well, Mrs. Hall is "much impressed" by the term "experimental investigator" (2.18) and even uses it to impress others. But you know what? We're more interested in how you feel about him. After all, in some ways, this is a book about how science affects people. So do you feel like science is a positive force in this book? Or is this a book about how science is dangerous? And how does Griffin's character help us make this decision?
Before He Was Invisible
One last thing about Griffin: he's an albino (or very close to one). This makes his experiment easier. Because Griffin has less pigment, it's easier to make him disappear (or so Wells tells us.) Did you notice that all of Griffin's previous experiments involve white things? – white wool and a white cat. More importantly, being an albino probably made Griffin feel even more isolated from the world, even before he was invisible.Timeline