The Invisible Man | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The Invisible Man | Chapter 1 : The Strange Man's Arrival | Summary

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Summary

Griffin, called the stranger in Chapter 1, arrives in a small rural village in England on a snowy day on February 29 (sometime in the mid-19th century). He walks from the Bramblehurst railway station to the Coach and Horses, an inn in Iping, a village in Sussex, England, and arranges his lodging. The innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is delighted to have a guest during the off-season and makes a great effort to make him feel welcome. After she serves him a meal and returns to his room to deliver a forgotten item, she is shocked by his appearance. He has taken off his hat to reveal that his head is wrapped in bandages. He wears a muffler around his neck. Every part of him is covered except his nose and what side-whiskers and black hairs peep out from under the bandages. He also holds a white cloth over the lower part of his face.

Mrs. Hall assumes the new lodger has had an accident or operation. She tries to draw him out and get him to disclose what happened to him, but he rebuffs her attempts at conversation and makes it clear he does not want to discuss his personal condition with her. He asks for his luggage to be picked up at the train station and delivered to the inn. Mrs. Hall agrees to have it done the next day, but he is displeased and wants it done that night. She leaves him alone in the parlor, but listens to him as he paces the room and talks to himself.

Analysis

The narrator's naming Griffin "the stranger" emphasizes the secrecy surrounding Griffin. Griffin's lack of interpersonal skills only heightens others' interest in him and draws more attention to him than if he had provided a name and personal details about where he had come from and the purpose of his visit. Instead, he is portrayed as socially inept and/or lacking in emotional intelligence. He is abrupt, rude, and seemingly oblivious of Mrs. Hall's hospitality.

Mrs. Hall has an abundance of social skills. She is tolerant and accepting of Griffin's strange behavior and thinks of him as a "poor soul" who has endured a tragedy of some kind. Yet she has a fleeting thought that his unusual appearance is abnormal. When she first sees him in the parlor with his coat and hat off, she thinks he looks more like "a divin' helmet than a human man!"

This description foreshadows future events and revelations about Griffin. It also introduces the theme of humanity versus science by exploring the concept of humanity. Is Griffin "a human man" or is there some other type of man? Is he good or evil, empathetic or indifferent? What is his relationship to other people; is he concerned about others or self-absorbed?

The contrast between Griffin and Mrs. Hall's characters highlights the humanity of each. Griffin lacks empathy. He shows no interest in other people, even so much as to avoid polite friendly chatter with the innkeeper he has just met. He is concerned only with his own wants and physical needs. In contrast, Mrs. Hall is genuinely curious about him but respects his unwillingness to talk about himself. She excuses his poor behavior and creates a reason to justify it so she can feel compassion for him and not feel unsettled by his acting outside the norm. This presents another theme in The Invisible Man: knowledge, or the attempt to understand the world and define the unknown, through the use of tangible evidence, reason, personal experience, or intellect.

The theme of invisibility is also introduced. Griffin's appearance and behavior give clues that he is concealing something about his body. He keeps his collar turned up and his muffler around his neck. He wears gloves and holds a cloth over his lower face. Yet some parts of his body are visible: his nose, his hair, and his sideburns. And despite his invisibility, he has normal physical sensations and needs. He feels cold and heat, he experiences hunger and satiation, he enjoys smoking a pipe, and he feels refreshed and relaxed after eating. His body appears to function normally in all ways except its visibility.

Light and windows are mentioned repeatedly throughout the novel. H.G. Wells uses both as motifs to represent revelation and illumination or an advance in knowledge. In this first chapter, Griffin pulls the blind down, "[leaving] the room in a twilight" and returns to his meal "with an easier air." Known only to himself, Griffin's flesh, blood, and bones are invisible, but the food he eats is visible in his stomach while it digests—as is smoke in his throat from his pipe. On a literal level, he must limit the light in the room so he does not reveal this fact. On a figurative level, he must keep those around him limited in their knowledge of who he really is.

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