The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells

2012 Book 128: The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells (9/1/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera fantasy and science fiction course


My Review

In H. G. Wells’ classic novel, a scientist turns himself invisible and wreaks havoc in rural England. This book is a versatile classic because it could be read by someone who is young or who simply wants to read fluff, but it can also be appreciated by more careful readers who are looking for undercurrents of meaning. It’s a tragi-farcical romp in 19th century England, but it’s also a warning about what people might do simply because they can get away with it. This is a classic that anyone interested in science fiction should read.

Essay on The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction. May contain spoilers!!!

In his 1897 novel The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells portrayed a tragic anti-hero, a trend which had become popular among romantic writers following in the footsteps of Milton. Well’s character Griffin isolated himself from humanity at first because he wanted all the glory of his discoveries. Later, he was driven to isolation by a fear of discovery. Finally, he was driven mad by the effects of his self-imposed isolation. 

Wells used two narrative styles for this novel. One style was Griffin’s first person narrative. This style not only established Griffin as the protagonist of the story, but it also painted him in a tragic light: he was naked, hungry, and alone; facing the unforeseen difficulties of invisibility. He had striven diligently for success only to have it wrenched away as he recognized his own impotence in isolation. Only upon this dreadful realization did he seek out compatriots. However, he faced rejection not only from the general populace, but also from his chosen companions. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, Griffin had rebelled against the social order, and been mortified by his own failure. Like Satan, he failed to recognize his own fault in his fall, and instead sought revenge.

The other narrative style used in The Invisible Man was that of a semi-omniscient reporter/observer who told the story as seen through the eyes of individual characters. This style was distanced from the motivations of characters, resulting in the farcical effect of watching people rushing after flying objects and thrashing wildly at thin air. This narrative style made Griffin’s plight seem pathetically silly. It is reminiscent of the comic debasement of Satan at the end of Paradise Lost. It suggests that Griffin doesn’t deserve the tragic grandeur of a real hero–because he’s just a sad little man with poor morals and no friends.



9 thoughts on “The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells

  1. Your essay makes me feel sad for Griffen whereas reading the book I just wanted to smack him and his delusions of grandeur 🙂

    I think that if the book had started out with a first person narrator I could possibly have empathised with him a bit more, but I'd already come to know him as a grump and so was predisposed to dislike him. And then of course his own admittance that he cared for nothing but the power and the glory meant I was never going to like him

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  2. Fence: I probably should have pointed out in my essay that he was made farcical BEFORE he was made tragic. I thought about it while I was writing…perhaps I was just too lazy. 🙂 There's time to revise for the assignment, though!

    Arenel: 🙂 My mind has been sort of stuck on Paradise Lost since I've been studying it recently. I see its influences everywhere now.

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  3. And of course that should have been Griffin, not griffen!
    Ah well 🙂

    Laziness must be going around, I had loads of ideas for essays this week round, but they seemed to require so much thought and I went with a much easier option. Ah well.

    And Paradise Lost is well worth getting stuck in

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