The Invisible Man | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The Invisible Man | Chapter 20 : At the House in Great Portland Street | Summary

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Summary

Griffin continues to tell Doctor Kemp his tale, at the point where he leaves Chesilstowe and takes a room in a house in Great Portland Street in London. He fills the room with appliances he had bought with his father's money. After his father died, Griffin went to the funeral but did nothing to save his father's reputation. He also stopped to talk to a girl he used to know, but felt detached. Griffin resumes his research and conducts several experiments; in the first experiment, he makes a piece of white wool fabric invisible. In the second experiment, he makes a white cat invisible except for her claws and the pigment at "the back of the eye." The process involves bleaching the cat's blood, drugging her with opium, and placing her on a gas engine–powered apparatus for three or four hours as her "bones and sinews" and "the tips of the colored hairs" slowly fade and vanish. When the cat wakes from her drugged stupor, Griffin opens a window so she will leave his room.

After his experiment on the cat, Griffin feels stressed out, apathetic, and "incapable of any strength of feeling." Attributing his mood to overwork and lack of sleep, he takes "a dose of strychnine" to recover his energies. The next morning he wakes up "vastly invigorated." Before he resumes his work, his landlord comes to his room in search of the neighbor's missing cat. The landlord notices Griffin's equipment, complains about the "vibration of the little gas engine," and asked questions about what Griffin is doing and why he is so secretive. Griffin's temper flares, and he orders the landlord out of his room. When the landlord protests, Griffin grabs his collar and pushes him out the door.

Fearful his work might be exposed or interrupted, Griffin mails several items, including his "three books of notes" and checkbook, to a "house of call for letters and parcels." He then begins the first phase of his next experiment and takes drugs "that decolorize blood." At one point his landlord knocks on his door and presents him with a "notice of ejectment or something." The landlord is shocked by his appearance, and Griffin looks in the mirror and discovers his face is "white—like white stone." Griffin suffers through the painful side effects of the drug throughout the night. At dawn he awakens to realize his body is slowly becoming invisible. He performs the final process of the experiment and falls asleep around noon. He is awakened midday by his landlord's knocking, which soon turns into an attempt to break the door down. Angered, Griffin "tossed together some loose paper, straw, packing paper and so forth," set them in the "middle of the room" and turns on the gas. Unable to find matches, he steps out of the window and sits on the cistern cover to watch events. The landlord and his two stepsons eventually break down the door only to find the room empty. They and the owner of the missing cat search the room in vain for Griffin. Griffin slips out of the room, finds some matches, returns to the room, and sets fire to the heap of combustible materials in it.

After telling this part of his story to Kemp, Griffin justifies setting the house on fire by saying, "It was the only way to cover my trail." He also mentions the landlord likely had insurance.

Analysis

Griffin's description of his hometown reflects H.G. Wells's contempt for the urban development and commercialism of suburban London. The "jerry builders," or developers, had transformed the villagelike place into an "ugly likeness of a town" surrounded by "desecrated fields" and "rubble heaps." The description is also a metaphor for Griffin's ever-increasing loss of humanity. Both the former village and Griffin's former self have been destroyed and replaced with something of less value. The loss of Griffin's former self is further illustrated by the "strange sense of detachment" he felt in his hometown and his reaction when he meets a girl he had known 10 years earlier. His "old life comes back to him for a space," but then he devalues the girl, and by extension his former self, as being ordinary. It is only upon his return to his room that he feels what "seemed the recovery of reality." His only reality is his research, and he is detached from everything else.

Griffin reveals more about his loss of humanity and his conviction that his scientific pursuit trumps the need to be humane. He lies to a neighbor looking for her missing cat, conducts a painful experiment on that cat, and lets the almost-invisible cat loose to fend for itself. He is unconcerned about the cat's probable death. He has no qualms about hitting other people or burning down a house with people in it. Nor does he feel any remorse for stealing money from his father or the role he played in his death. The reader may even consider the possibility that Griffin never had any humanity to lose.

The description of Griffin's dream, where things are "misty and vanishing about me, until everything, the ground I stood on, vanished," is a metaphor for the loss of Griffin's moral code, or sense of social responsibility, which begins to vanish when he conducts the experiment on the cat. It doesn't vanish easily, though, because he is restless and unable to sleep. When he ventures outdoors in the morning, he finds himself "sitting in the sunshine and feeling very ill and strange." It was a sunny day in January, "one of those sunny, frosty days that come before the snow this year." In both descriptions, Wells juxtaposes images of light or sunshine with illness and coldness, foreshadowing the results of his experiment with invisibility and the death it will bring.

The last sentence of the chapter expresses Griffin's intent to use his invisibility for his own purposes freed from the bounds of social conventions and morality: "My head was already teeming with plans of all the wild and wonderful things I had now impunity to do."

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