The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Just the Facts
In our section on "Narrative Technique," we discussed how Wells' narrator often takes an objective point of view on the story – just the facts. This definitely creates a detached, almost journalistic tone. Other than the one poor-Griffin-he-got-betrayed comment, we don't get too much sympathy for the Invisible Man.
Think about it: when the Invisible Man tells Kemp how he attacked people and left the costume shop owner tied up in his own house, the narrator holds back his judgment (Shmoop doesn't). Do you think it makes it harder to be emotionally involved as readers when the narrator is so detached? Is that the point?
(We could note that when Griffin tells Kemp his story, the narrator doesn't need to respond because Kemp does the responding. Kemp keeps interrupting Griffin to point out that Griffin has been a terrible neighbor: burning down houses, robbing people, beating people up – bad, bad, bad. The narrator doesn't need to tell us what he thinks about this: Kemp's got it covered.)
And a Few Laughs
After Wells wrote The Invisible Man, the idea of a dude being invisible became kind of a staple in comedy. There's just something about floating clothes that seems funny, we guess. But when you think about it, even Wells' novel is pretty funny, largely because the narrator doesn't take things so seriously.
Example: when the Invisible Man is trying to recruit Marvel, he says "An invisible man is a man of power" – and then the narrator chimes in: "He stopped for a moment to sneeze violently" (9.70). That's a pretty effective way to burst someone's bubble. An Invisible Man may be powerful, except when it comes to catching the sniffles.
Another example (we like comedy, sorry): The Invisible Man threatens to kill Cuss and Bunting, a pretty tense moment if you ask us. But in the end, all the IM does is steal their clothes and leave them trying to cover up: "The face of Mr. Cuss was angry and resolute, but his costume was defective, a sort of limp white kilt that could only have passed muster in Greece" (12.40). And "Mr. Bunting was standing in the window engaged in an attempt to clothe himself in the hearth-rug and a West Surrey Gazette" (12.44).
Throughout the book, moments of detached seriousness suddenly become moments of ridiculous comedy. (This aspect seems to have been emphasized in the 1991 stage play.) We're certainly not complaining.