“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is true in The Invisible Man.Wells, one of the leading science fiction writers of his time has more than a handful of incredibly successful books accredited to his name. The book “The Invisible Man” is one of the crowning examples of XIXth century fantastic fiction. Even though it is an early work of science fiction I feel that it is much more than that. The nature of the plot of the story encourages one to come to the conclusion that there is more to this saga than science fiction. “The Invisible Man”, is a book about human nature and the intricacies of the thoughts, opinions and judgments intrinsically made in their minds when confronted with scenarios they fail to understand.
Wells wrote this marvelous story as something of a lesson about scientists playing God, and placing themselves above normal people. In his book, HG Wells ventures into the abstract concept of invisibility and the human emotions and reactions involved in the attainment and realization of this amazingly incomprehensible power. A once sensible scientist is engulfed by the power he feels when unseen, and this power mongering eventually leads into insanity. He carries a sociopath anger that explodes at random, causing as much damage to himself as to others. There is a pervading angst and cynicism running through the story that makes the science aspect of it mere background. According to me, in his book, Wells has taken us on a tour of the extremes which human emotions and feelings can reach when confronted with situations requiring immediate action. The story is filled with innuendoes as indications of how petty, vindictive and suspicious the lay man can get. Wells expresses this by elucidating accounts involving the lame and unintelligent villagers with the invisible man.
All the people Griffin encounters after he becomes invisible, right from the marching crowd of the Salvation Army to the people he comes across in Iping, start to panic and cause havoc and chaos uncontrollably with the intention of escaping the danger that might occur if they are targeted by the invisible man. Wells describes how people react when they look at peril and jeopardy at its face, how one behaves in “the moment of truth”. He gives instances of people like Mr. Heelas who break, and go to any extremes including befriending a close one as long as their safety is insured. He describes the strong character of people like the police constables who are ready to sacrifice their safety to ensure that of another. He depicts the innocence of a child by including in his book, the narrative of a girl who witnesses the Wickstead murder. Wells shows how unfaithful and greedy people can get by giving the instance of Mr. Marvel, and how he tries to steal the Invisible Man’s books after promising to work loyally for him when given a death threat. He instantiates the curiosity invoked in people when they see outlandish things by describing incidents involving the invisible man which portray the inquisitiveness of villagers like Mr. Henfrey, Mr. Hall, Mr. Fearenside, and Mr. Cuss. Of all the human feelings and emotions described in the book, the one Wells focuses on the most is the one a person would experience when granted absolute power. Wells portrays that once a person is granted a method by which he is convinced that he is uniquely more powerful than anyone else, he becomes insane and power-hungry and ultimately resorts to destruction and plunder in order to dominate everyone else. Wells gives Griffin the stereotyped character of a mad scientist who is out to prove his intelligence to the world by trying to become more powerful than anyone else. As in other stories this one too ends in the failure of the mad scientist, the death of the invisible man in this case.
Griffin says once to Dr. Kemp, “The more I thought it over, the more I realized Kemp what a helpful absurdity an invisible man was . . . Before I made this mad experiment I had dreamt of a thousand advantages. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them once they are got.” Besides science and human nature, the book is also about learning a lesson from the mistakes of Griffin. The story has a moral that nobody can ever be fully satisfied with the attainment of absolute power. Well’s vision of the future is dire: even as man stumbles upon incredible new sciences, he will simply end up destroying others as he does himself.
As clearly described above, I feel that this book is more about humanity than about science and technology. The fact that the story involves the realization of a scientific discovery cannot merely be used as a reason for summing up the entire book as one about science and technology. The detailed description of the human character makes the scientific aspect of the book nothing more than a requirement for the completion of the story. Putting it in John Calvin Bachelors own words, “Yes, the story of Griffin is propped up with speculation about blood chemistry, but at its heart it is not a novel about optics and laboratory work gone wrong but rather about compassion and desire gone wrong.”.
Despite the fact that the book focuses mainly on human nature, it has a fair share of science in it too, and it satisfies the average science fiction reader. In the second half of the book, Wells introduces a new character, Dr. Kemp, a man of science. A man who is on the verge of making a scientific discovery that is going to alter his life and those of many others in some significant way or the other. It is this man who defeats the invisible man in achieving his goal by using his scientific mind to analyze and predict the invisible mans moves. Dr. Kemp sends out orders based on his scientific thinking that people should commute with hounds as the nose is to a dog as what the eyes are to a man, and the hound would be able to detect the presence of the invisible man. He also gives orders to lock up all food, as he understood that Griffins would ultimately feel hungry again and would some out in search of food. Wells designs the book so that Dr. Kemp being a man of science realizes that invisibility is not something unique in living organism’s, by recalling how most organisms in the sea are invisible and not visible.
It is here in the book where science and its implications start being used. When the invisible man comes across Kemp by coincidence, he narrates to Kemp the story of how he attained invisibility. In this part of the book, Wells makes Griffin describe the concept of visibility and explain in detail, the phenomenon of reflection and refraction that take place in everyday life. He also mentions how the movement of light and hence visibility can be altered by changing the refractive index: the amount by which light changes direction when passing through bodies with different densities. He gives real life examples of light performing its tricks in front of our eyes, which occur in our day to day lives. Hence the style of the book takes a turn and it starts to sound like a science fiction due to the recurring use of scientific concepts. Griffin finally mentions that he had discovered a formula involving four dimensions using which he was able to understand how to complete the process of becoming invisible and by altering the refractive index of a body without altering any of its other properties. Griffin elucidates how he finally discovered how to make blood invisible, completing the requirement for the whole body not to be seen by a normal naked eye. Griffin describes how he verified his discovery by experimenting on the landlady’s cat and a piece of cloth. We can see that Wells takes minute details involving science into consideration, as he explained how Griffin encountered a slight hitch in his experiment because the nails and the Tapetum of the cat’s eye did not become invisible. This demonstrates the aspects of a good science fiction author. Even later on when Griffin describes how he felt when he ventured on the streets for the first time after he became invisible, Wells did not forget to take specific minute details into consideration, which a non-science fiction author would have otherwise overlooked, for example, dust sticking on to Griffins body, rain outlining the shape of his body and the fact that he would leave footmarks on the ground if his feet were dirty.
Hence, we can see that the book is not entirely about human nature and has quite a few instances of science and technology in it. Therefore, the book can be categorized as a science fiction, as it evokes interest in the reader due to the fact that it contains enough material to appease his appetite for science fiction.