The Invisible Man | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The Invisible Man | Chapter 19 : Certain First Principles | Summary



As Griffin eats breakfast, he tells Doctor Kemp the story of how he became invisible. Six years earlier he changed his field of science from medicine to physics and left London for a provincial college in Chesilstowe. There he conducted research and taught lower-level students. He became fascinated with optical density and spent six months researching it before he discovered a "general principle of pigments and refractions." Using this principle, he researched invisibility and discovered that the human body was more transparent than "powdered glass," and "the fibers of a living creature are no more opaque than water." He kept his work hidden from his supervising professor because he was fearful the professor would steal his ideas and take credit for them.

One night he had a eureka moment and devised a way to make not only human tissue transparent but how to make blood "colorless." He spent the next three years working on it. When he ran out of money to continue his research, he robbed his father. Because the money did not belong to him, his father shot and killed himself.


H.G. Wells explores knowledge in this chapter. When Doctor Kemp informs Griffin, "All the facts are out about you" and "the world has become aware of its invisible citizen," he is referencing the revelation of Griffin's extraordinary invisibility. Kemp, though, lacks the knowledge he needs to understand, but he wants to. Kemp is an open-minded scientist who has accepted invisibility as real, based on the tangible evidence in front of him despite his previous disbelief in it.

Griffin describes both the scientific basis for his invisibility and his passion and motivation for his research. He wants to "transcend magic" and gain the "mystery, the power, the freedom" invisibility could bring him. His sense of superiority for studying molecular physics is revealed by his comment, "Fools, common men, even common mathematicians, do not know anything of what some general expression may mean to the student of molecular physics." Kemp somewhat proves Griffin wrong by easily understanding the first part of his lengthy explanation and saying it was "pretty plain sailing." Griffin shows his contempt for Kemp, though, when Kemp questions him on one point. The two characters slip easily into an intellectual rivalry that does not bode well for a friendship or partnership. Considering what happens in subsequent chapters, it is clear from the beginning the two characters never had a chance to become partners, let alone partners in crime.

Griffin also reveals a paranoid and grandiose side to his character. He tells about working in absolute secrecy because he fears his professor will steal his ideas and because he wants to "flash my work upon the world with crushing effort—to become famous at a blow." He also reveals that there is real calculated evil in him: He stole from his father to further his research and the theft resulted in his father's taking his own life, for which Griffin takes no responsibility nor shows any remorse.

Recurring light and windows imagery is also evident in this chapter. Griffin describes the "tall lights burning brightly" in his laboratory at the moment he made the momentous discovery of how to make blood colorless. In contrast, the light of daytime when he was bothered with dull students was for ordinary activities and not for breakthrough scientific ideas. Immediately after realizing how he could become invisible, Griffin went and "stared out of the great window at the stars," saying, "I could be invisible!"

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