The Invisible Man | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The Invisible Man | Chapter 17 : Doctor Kemp's Visitor | Summary



After working in his study until 2 a.m. Kemp retires to his bedroom. He then goes downstairs for a drink and notices a dark spot at the foot of the stairs. After he returns to his bedroom, he feels compelled to check the spot. He returns downstairs, examines the spot, and decides it is blood. When he goes back upstairs, he notices the "blood-stained" doorknob to his room. Entering his bedroom, he sees "a mess of blood" on the counterpane, a torn sheet, and a depression in his bedclothes "as if someone had been recently sitting there."

Kemp realizes he is not alone when Griffin calls his name and Kemp sees a "blood-stained bandage of linen rag hanging in mid-air" and feels Griffin touching him. Griffin tells Kemp he is an invisible man and needs help. They briefly struggle. Griffin holds Kemp down and threatens to "smash [his] face" if he shouts. He tells Kemp he doesn't want to hurt him but he will if he "behaves[s] like a frantic rustic." He then informs Kemp he was a fellow classmate at University College, and that he has made himself invisible.

Kemp gives Griffin clothing, food, and his bed. Kemp pesters him with questions about how he became invisible and his current state, but Griffin puts him off, providing a few details but saying the full story has to wait until he has had some sleep. He lets Kemp know he was shot, a "sort of confederate" had stolen his money, and he is a wanted man. After disclosing the latter and saying he does not want to be caught, Griffin curses himself for putting the idea of calling the police in Doctor Kemp's head.


The narrator reveals that Kemp has a sense of superiority over the townsfolk of Burdock when he describes them as "asses" and suspects they are engaged in foolishness when he hears shots. Kemp is a highly educated man of science, with excellent observational skills. While he at first considers Griffin's invisibility devilry, then insanity, and then "unreasonable from beginning to end," his inquisitive, scientific nature eventually takes over, and he just wants to know how Griffin became invisible. His humanity shows when he expresses concern about Griffin's wrist, reflecting H.G. Wells's belief that free will could coincide with the latest scientific thought, such as evolution. Unlike Darwin, who emphasized survival of the fittest, Wells advocates for humanity as well as scientific knowledge.

Details about Griffin's true identity are finally disclosed. He is "almost an albino," Kemp's former classmate, and a former student at the University College who "won the medal for chemistry." It is evident, though, that the men were not the same type of student. Griffin describes Kemp as a "cool and methodical" student, but his resentment is clear when he says, "You haven't changed much ... You fair men don't." Kemp's contempt for Griffin's scientific pursuits is clear when he asks, "What devilry must happen to make a man invisible?"

Griffin shows Doctor Kemp his true nature by threatening to harm Kemp if he does not help him. Griffin considers his invisibility quest more important than all other activities and assumes Kemp will want to "work together" to pursue what is important to Griffin. This will turn out to be an egregious mistake Griffin makes, assuming a fellow scientist will be as single-minded as he is, without ethics or morals. And Wells begins early to differentiate the two characters to suggest science, within ethical boundaries, is a boon to society, not necessarily a destructive force.

The theme of knowledge and related motifs are illustrated in the scene in which Kemp looks out the south window of his study. The town represents the uneducated masses, or the common people who live in the country. Kemp then looks beyond the town to the pier and ships docked there, which represent the future, or vistas beyond the known world. He observes the moon, which represents an even broader world, the universe and all the unknowns it contains. Each scene represents a progression of knowledge, from the existing base of knowledge to the new age of science and technology to a future age in which the mysteries of the universe are explained. As he gazes out the window, Kemp ponders "the remote speculation of social conditions of the future" and "time dimension." He represents the new man of science, a thinker, a dreamer, a visionary. Unlike Griffin, though, he is a man of thought, not action. While Kemp represents his age's ideal man of science, one revolutionized by the recently published theory of evolution, it is Griffin who has made a monumental discovery. In fact, Kemp's research is flawed. Just that morning Kemp had proven his knowledge inferior when he had "demonstrated conclusively" that human invisibility is impossible.

Although Griffin's achievements are superior to Kemp's, he admits his imperfection. He describes the flaws in his invisibility: "It's a filthy nuisance, my blood showing ... Gets visible as it coagulates."

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