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Study Guide: The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells - BookNotes

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THE INVISIBLE MAN: CRITICAL ANALYSIS / LESSON PLANS

OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Griffin

Griffin is the model of science without humanity. He begins his road to decline in college when he becomes so obsessed with his experiments that he hides his work lest anyone else should receive credit. When he runs out of money, he kills his own father-a crime that makes the rest of his crimes pale in comparison. He goes from scientist to fanatic when he begins to focus all of his attention merely on the concept of invisibility and neglects to think about the consequences of such a condition. He may not have had any intention initially of trying the potion on himself, but the interference of his landlord and prying neighbor lady motivate him to cover his work and remove himself from further confrontation. The evil that he could commit does not occur to him until after he has swallowed the potion and seen the reaction of the landlord and others. The irony is, that his invisibility is good only for approaching unseen and for getting away. Any gains from his crimes are useless to him. He cannot enjoy any of the normal comforts of life-such as food, clothes, and money. He cannot eat without hiding the action, as the food in his system will render him visible. Clothes, when he is able to wear them, must be used to cover him from head to foot in order to conceal his real “concealment”--hardly a comfortable state in the heat of the summer. He can steal money, but cannot spend it on his own accord. Thus the condition that would make him invulnerable also renders him helpless.

In spite of his predicament, Griffin at no time expresses any remorse for his behavior or for the crimes, which he merely describes as “necessary.” His only regret is frustration over not having thought about the drawbacks of invisibility. For nearly a year, he works on trying to perfect an antidote; when time runs out for that activity, he first tries to leave the country, and then, that plan failing, tries to find an accomplice for himself so he can enjoy his invisibility and have all the comforts of life as well. He goes from obsession to fanaticism to insanity.

Marvel

Mr. Marvel is the local tramp. He is harmless, eccentric, fat, but not nearly as stupid as Griffin thinks he is. He is smart enough to know when a good thing has happened to him; the stories he tells to the press bring him much attention and sympathy. In the end, he gets to keep all the money Griffin stole, and he contrives on his own to keep the books of Griffin’s experiments. He becomes the owner of an inn as well as the village bard, as it is to him that people come when they want to know the stories of the Invisible Man. In spite of his earlier torment, he is the only one who actually benefits from Griffin’s presence.

Kemp


Kemp is referred to as “the doctor,” but his degree seems to be an academic one rather than a medical one. He continues his own study in hopes of being admitted to “the Royal Fellows.” His own experiments and fascination with science enable him to listen sensibly to Griffin, but in spite of being rather contemptuous of his fellow citizens, his common sense and decency prevent him from being a part of Griffin’s schemes. Kemp is also the only “cool headed” person in the town once the final attack begins. He runs to escape Griffin, but as soon as Griffin catches him, he has the presence of mind to turn the capture around. He is also the first to realize that even though Griffin is invisible, he is injured, and, ultimately, dead.


PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The plot of the story is very straightforward. It begins in third person as the narrator introduces the Invisible Man midway through his experiences. Once the Man is revealed, Griffin himself takes over and tells how he began his experiments and what happened to him after he had taken the potion. At the end, the point of view once again changes to that of an objective narration.

As Griffin tells his story, one can see that his behavior becomes increasingly reprehensible. In a very logical way, people first in Iping, and then in surrounding towns, become aware of the strange being in their midst. The people are curious, frightened and then determined in their attempts to bring him down and to find out who and what he really is.

The climax of the story occurs when Griffin returns to take revenge on Kemp for betraying him. The plot is resolved with the Invisible Man’s death.


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Corruption of Morals in the Absence of Social Restriction

The narrator uses the Invisible Man to experiment with the depth to which a person can sink when there are no social restrictions to suppress his behavior. When Griffin first kills his father, he excuses it away by saying that the man was a “sentimental fool.” When he takes the potion himself, he endures such pain that he “understands” why the cat howled so much in the process of becoming invisible. Nevertheless he has no compassion for the cat, for his father or for any of the people he takes advantage of in the course of trying to survive invisibility. On the contrary, he descends from committing atrocities because they are necessary to his survival to committing them simply because he enjoys doing so.

This theme of corruption in the absence of social law has become a motif that is explored in other literary works. H. G. Well created his story with very little psychological elaboration or character development. Other writers, however, have taken the idea much farther; we are thus blessed with novels such as Lord of the Flies, and Heart of Darkness, along with short stories by Poe and Melville.

Science without Humanity

Although Wells does not have his characters elaborate on this idea, the concept is represented in the character of Kemp as well as in Griffin himself. Kemp wants to stop Griffin more out of fear for himself than out of concern for the community, but he is nonetheless fascinated by the accomplishment of this misguided college student. The problem with the entire experiment is that Griffin pursued the idea of invisibility without regard to whether or not there would be any real benefit to society because of it.


POINT OF VIEW

The point of view is third person dramatic for the first half of the book. Then it is a blend of third person and first person while Griffin tells his own story. Chapters 25 through the Epilogue return to third person.



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