H. G. Wells – The Invisible man
Like I said, I’m a serial book-adulterer, so it should be no surprise that I read the Invisible man before reading St. Augustine’s Confessions like I intended. I have to say that I really liked the story, even more than The Time Machine. Although it doesn’t touch on the subject of time and has nothing to do with my book-challenge. I found it interesting because it touches on the subject of ethics, and of course it is a Sci-fi horror story (big plus).
For those that haven’t read it, it’s about a man named Griffin that suddenly appears at an inn in the small town of Iping. He is covered in bandages so as to hide the fact that he is invisible. He stays at the inn, however he is very secretive and unfriendly, and soon gossip and rumor starts to spread in the village that he may not have honest intentions.
So if you haven’t read it and intend to do so, STOP HERE.
I’m not going to discuss the plausibility of the story or the plot, it is after all a science-fiction horror story. What I want to discuss is the influence of the story and the moral or philosophical questions that it raises. The story is influenced by Plato’s “Ring of Giges” in the Republic, which asks the question whether an intelligent person, given the power of invisibility, would be moral if they did not have to fear being caught and punished for doing injustices.
So in the story, Wells seems to take on the argument of Glaucon, that given the chance the intelligent person would act immorally. We see that Griffin is determined to gain power and influence with his invention of invisibility. To what end I can’t really say, and maybe the WHY changes for Griffin when he is faced with the multiple challenges. He is very selfish and apathetic. He steals his father’s fortune to fund his experiments and doesn’t grieve his death when he commits suicide. He considers him weak, and continues on with his optic experiments. Until at last he is able to turn material, and living things (a cat) invisible. Then he is faced by a challenge of evacuation by his landlord. Which he solves by making himself transparent and destroying all the equipment (except notes). Soon he discovers that invisibility isn’t all that fantastic or as liberating as it first seemed. He is faced with the challenge of weather and hunger. So he is determined to continue his research at first to reverse his invisibility, and that makes sense. However when faced with having to leave his research behind again he suddenly changes character and starts to rave about the reign of terror. He thus embraces his invisibility in a lunatic climax.
Regarding the question on ethics and justice, Wells story lacks two components to be similar to the ring of gyges: a) the power to use the invisibility at will, b) a sane person.
There have been many film adaptations based on the story. I watched the six-part film produced by Barry Letts for BBC 1, directed by Brian Lighthill and released in 4. September – 9. October 1984. Starring Pip Donaghy as Griffin the invisible man. I don’t know about you guys, but I LOVE old films. The challenge that directors, editors and actors faced, before the technology of computer-generated imagery in creating special effects, is great. While many might roll their eyes at the poor quality of the special effects I find it fascinating how they faced the challenge of telling a story with the tools they had at hand. I also laugh because some things are funny, like the use of dummies in fights and the flying axe (very funny). You can find the film on Youtube.
My question is this, if the character was NOT mad or insane, what would he do with that power?
I mean it is so liberating to be invisible, the first thing I would do would be to skinny-dip in a lake or have sex in weird places. I don’t know if I would break the law or steal anything given the power, maybe if I was forced to, I would certainly do it to feed my family. However I would probably use the gift of invisibility to gain knowledge, and to help me build a career or business. I might occasionally scare the shit out of my neighbor (those I don’t like, I’m no saint). I would not dedicate my life/invisibility to making the world a better place, I’d try to make it better in my near-surroundings. I would help the people that I know need help and I would do my best to be the best version of myself. I guess I would use my power doing small deeds, most of them moral, although maybe not all of them.
The subject of invisibility and ethics is fascinating, because it allows you to be honest with yourself on who you are and what motivates or drives you. So given the power, what would you do with the power of invisibility?