The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells
Where It All Goes Down
All Over the Place in England (in the 1890s)
Where does The Invisible Man take place? Let's see: in Iping at the Coach and Horses Inn; in London at the boardinghouse on Great Portland Street and the costume shop in Drury Lane; in Burdock at the Jolly Cricketers and Dr. Kemp's House; and... did we miss anything? Oh yeah, Port Stowe. Yeah, that's a big list of places, but we can basically boil down the settings to a few ideas.
(Side note: although Wells uses some fake place names, they're probably based on real places, so we could probably trace the Invisible Man's trip through England. Check the "Shout-Outs" for more on that.)
The 90s (1890s, That Is)
The Victorian period saw a big jump in technology and science, all over the world. This included the discovery or explanation of how certain forms of light were invisible to us. For instance, in 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered (and produced) X-rays. (Yes, awesome dude.) So when Wells was writing, invisibility wasn't such a crazy thought.
At the same time, this is also a time when people can't just check Wikipedia to learn all about invisibility. No, the major source of communication here is the newspaper. And not the Kindle version of the New York Times – the actually hard-copy paper. So people are surprised by the Invisible Man when he first reveals himself, but, pretty soon, they read about him in the paper.
There's more to the 1890s than that, but for Wells, a sci-fi guy who published a lot of his work in the paper, technology and newspapers were what mattered most.
We're in England, Blokes
The mariner at Port Stowe says it best: "You see we're right in it! None of your American wonders, this time" (14.40). That is, characters in this story aren't just interested in this story because it's about an invisible man, but because the Invisible Man is right here, in England. So we have this crazy thing (an Invisible Man) happening in a totally realistic setting that everyone can recognize. (Wells uses this trick often, as when he has the Martians invade England in War of the Worlds.)
Iping (You Ping, We All Ping for Iping)
As we noted in our "Character Analysis" for the Iping villagers, in Iping, everyone knows everyone else. It's a very sociable, tight community. While they might know what to do with some strangers (like the artists that come in summer [4.1]), this little community doesn't know what to do with the Invisible Man, who remains isolated. The narrator even notes that some of the difficulty between the Invisible Man and the villagers might have to do with the difference between the city and the village. The Invisible Man's "irritability, though it might have been comprehensible to an urban brain-worker, was an amazing thing to these quiet Sussex villagers" (4.8). Iping is a place where a big-city stranger stands out, invisible or not.
At the other extreme is London, where nobody seems to know anyone else's name. Seriously. Many critics and sociologists have noted how you might feel more alone in a city because, while it's full of people, it's also full of strangers. Makes sense, right? For instance, in Iping, Teddy Henfrey fixes the Halls' clocks, but he also knows them as a friend. If he lived in the city, he might fix the clocks of people that he doesn't know in any other way. This is why some people argue that invisibility is a typical urban problem (which leads to all sorts of problems, like taxis not noticing people crossing the street). So London is the place where the Invisible Man can disappear – both figuratively (no one really knows who he is) and literally (when he turns himself invisible).
Or is it? We should note that the part of The Invisible Man that takes place in London is told by the Invisible Man himself. So he might feel really isolated and alone when his landlord and the old woman with the cat talk to each other in a language he doesn't understand (20.51), but they probably don't feel isolated from each other since they're speaking the same language.
So which is it: is London is a big place full of strangers? Or is the Invisible Man so anti-social that he can't meet any friends even in a giant city? Or maybe a bit of both? What do you think?
Just Right in Burdock
Burdock is kind of a happy medium between Iping and London. There are strangers and new people here, like the American with the black beard at the Jolly Cricketers (16.1), but Burdock isn't a large city like London. In Burdock, people seem to know each other. For instance, Kemp's neighbor Heelas knows exactly who he is. (Although he does lock him out, practically leaving him for dead. Maybe in Iping, the neighbor would've helped?) If Iping is too small and London is too big, then Burdock might be just right. (Or is that "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" we're thinking of?)