Review: “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells

For the love of books

H.G. Wells was definitely a pessimist.  Although he was a “Father of Science” like his colleague Jules Verne, Wells was as unlike his optimistic counterpart as he could possibly be.  Every single work he ever wrote analyzed the negative effects of new scientific discoveries and inventions, a warning to future generations about the world’s increasingly unwholesome desire for advanced technology.  Science fiction is a genre that has countless ideas for writers, the concept of invisibility being no exception to this ocean of curiosity.

The ability to become invisible at will is very attractive per se, considering the limitless possibilities that such a tool would provide for someone with either good or bad motives to use it.  However, invisibility has remained part of science fiction mainly because the human body would never be able to “disappear.”  Chemically, it is impossible.  That is why fantasy authors try to find a way to make the body invisible with outside help, e.g. J.K. Rowling’s “cloak of invisibility” (which effects the wearer and his/her garments) in the Harry Potter series.  However, the scientific problem of rendering a person’s eyes invisible was given a chance at a solution in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.  Despite his practical introduction about the paradox of invisibility for humans and animals, Wells’ novel is more or less a scientific treatise with a hypothetical explanation of a scientifically achieved state of invisibility absorbed into fictional circumstances and plausible, realistic experiments.

However, the main strategy of The Invisible Man is a story similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, fixated on the sad truth that great knowledge brings destructive, dangerous power.  One of Wells’ main themes is that unless humans become altruistic, their development of advanced technology and science will only contribute to the annihilation of the earth and all its creatures.  Griffin, the scientist who single-handedly discovers a method to overcome the physical obstacles of becoming invisible, refuses to use his achievement for any noble purpose and instead turns to a life of crime and terror.  He insists that the duality of human nature justifies his actions, not admitting that the power he has found in his new ability has corrupted him.

The author constantly demonstrates through his main character how science and its wonders are to be admired, feared, and explored with appropriate moderation and caution.  Griffin’s later insanity and his desire to be a tyrannical dictator arises not so much from his “ability” but more from his selfish motives to find a formula for invisibility.  He seems to be brilliant and intelligent, but his mad lust for total control has consumed him.  This is made quite evident when he stays temporarily at a village inn at the beginning of the novel.  Ironically, Griffin only wants to become visible again because complete, unalterable invisibility proves to have its disadvantages.  The author logically describes that clothing and the consumption of visible food and beverages would not be accounted for during a period of physical invisibility.

For example, Griffin realizes later on how close an invisible person is to being killed when he is forced to lose his clothes.  During this change of status quo, he is almost trampled on by unsuspecting passersby due to the fact that being invisible does not eliminate the physical matter of one’s body, only the appearance.  The same complication occurs when he tries to eat without being seen and is shocked to see his food being visibly digested in thin air.  Although invisibility sounds like a grand scheme of self-protection and new authority, Wells knew better.  The Invisible Man is a cynical approach to the title’s topic, and Wells was undoubtedly a cynic.  His doctrine of how advances in science will lead only to misfortune is credible as he narrates the downfall of a selfish and cruel scientist who used invisibility for evil.

Even though the author stops his creation from starting a “Reign of Terror,” the ingenuity of The Invisible Man lies not in whether invisibility itself would be a blessing or a curse but in the stealthy portrayal of the cause and effects of science when directed by a human.  Wells never stops noting that any person in Griffin’s place probably would have acted the same, that humans are genuinely selfish and concerned only with personal ambitions and the manipulation of those around them.  The novel has eloquence and class despite its somber tones, intriguing and contemplative in the midst of outlining the possible dangers that absolute power, propelled by science or anything else, presents.

Original review: Part 1: H.G. Wells impressively conjures the tool of invisibilityPart 2: H.G. Wells impressively conjures the tool of invisibilityPart 3: H.G. Wells impressively conjures the tool of invisibility, Examiner.com

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