The Invisible Man | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The Invisible Man | Chapter 3 : The Thousand and One Bottles | Summary



The mail carrier, Fearenside, brings Griffin's luggage to the inn, and Griffin goes outside to oversee the delivery. Fearenside's dog bites Griffin, tearing his glove and trousers. Griffin goes to his room to change. When Mr. Hall checks on Griffin, he sees something that seems like "a handless arm waving towards him" and a face with odd spots. Something strikes Mr. Hall in the chest, then forcefully pushes him out the door, giving him a concussion. He wonders what it is he has just seen.

Unable to find words to describe his impressions, Mr. Hall rejoins the group without telling anyone what he has observed. Griffin reappears and oversees the delivery of his crates into the parlor. He unpacks each crate, revealing that they are filled with bottles, test tubes, and a scale. He immediately starts working without even cleaning up the packing straw he has carelessly thrown on the floor.

Deeply absorbed in his work, Griffin does not initially hear Mrs. Hall when she delivers his dinner. She sees him with his glasses off and thinks his "eye sockets were extraordinarily hollow." He bristles at the interruption and chides her for coming in without knocking in a "tone of abnormal exasperation that seemed so characteristic of him." He tells her to add any charges for the extra work of cleaning the straw to his bill.

Griffin spends the rest of the afternoon working in the parlor with the door locked. He works mostly in silence, but at one point Mrs. Hall hears the sounds of clanging and breaking glass, rapid pacing, and Griffin talking to himself. He sounds angry and cries out that he "can't go on" and was cheated, among other things. When she later brings him his tea, he tells her to put the cleanup for the broken glass on his bill and orders her not to bother him.

When Fearenside and Henfrey meet up later at a local beer shop, Fearenside confides he saw the stranger's legs when the dog ripped his trousers, and they were black. He declares that the "marn's a piebald ... a kind of half-breed."


Chapter 3 opens with two significant references. The first is the date: February 29, a day astronomers add to the calendar every four years to balance out the actual amount of time it takes Earth to spin on its axis in its orbit around the sun, enabling the "humanly" defined concept of a year. Similarly, although the reader is not aware of it yet, Griffin is conducting research to fix a flaw in his calculations, one that renders him invisible but leaves him unable to reverse it. With this minor reference, H.G. Wells continues his exploration of the relationship between natural environment and natural occurrences, and the scientific manipulation of nature by humans.

The other reference is in "the beginning of the thaw." The literal meaning is tied to the weather: warming and melting of snow and ice. The subtextual meaning connects to how the villagers' perceptions of Griffin are changing—from inactive suspicion to something more active—as his invisibility becomes more apparent.

When Mr. Hall observes Griffin's moving, handless arm, his invisibility is revealed for the first time. This advances the plot and progresses Wells's exploration of how humans attempt to define the unknown or adjust to new knowledge. The narrator notes it happened "so rapid that it gave him no time to observe." The reality is, even if Mr. Hall had had ample time to observe, he would not have been able to interpret what he had seen; it would have defied his conceptions of the natural world and what is physically possible. Mr. Hall considers his impressions of what he has seen highly implausible and decides not to tell anyone about it because he fears how others will view him.

In contrast, Fearenside has no qualms discussing what he saw, or explaining the unusual or unknown. His eyes told him he did not see anything when he expected to see flesh, but he assumes there must be a reason for what he saw. He considers his knowledge of the world and comes up with what seems to be a logical explanation: Griffin resembles a piebald, or horse with blotchy patches of black and white, so he must have a condition that makes his skin black and white.

The theme of invisibility is developed by the dog's angry reaction to Griffin, another incident to show he is not capable of being a part of a community. Dogs are thought to sense things humans cannot. Some attribute this to their sense of smell; others to a "sixth sense." The dog's reaction to Griffin is what is most important at this juncture in the novel. The reader likely knows Griffin is the titular Invisible Man, but does not yet know what sort of man he is. Being bitten by an otherwise friendly dog does not bode well.

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