Thursday, 7 August 2014

Did Invisibility make Griffin happy in the novel, The Invisible Man?

I had a wonderful discussion with the Humanities students today while going through the twenty-third chapter of The Invisible Man. The bone of contention was whether life has a meaning if it is not associated with the impact that one has on other people’s lives. The question of the day  put before the students was whether the discovery of invisibility had any useful purpose in terms of furthering the human cause. The students claimed that if Griffin had achieved invisibility, it meant that he had achieved his life’s goal and so he would have been happy. The reality, was however, that Griffin was not in any way satisfied with what he had achieved. In fact he recounts the fact that invisibility had brought with it more problems than advantages. Take for example the description of  not being able to enjoy the benefits of having Delilah as a lover, or for that effect Griffin’s inability to enjoy his food in the first restaurant because he was worried about exposing his face while eating his food. But then what meaning did life have for Griffin? Apparently life had no meaning for him because his discovery did not benefit anyone at all, and so perhaps the achievement did not have any meaning for mankind as a whole.
The desire of achieving invisibility, though initially fed by an honest curiousity to explore optics,  an unknown area from scientist’s point of view, later becomes tempered with a desire to show the world what he is. The frustration of being, ‘a shabby, poverty – struck, hemmed in demonstrator, teaching fools in a provincial college,’ - chapter 19, very clearly suggests that the motive for discovering the secret of invisibility had nothing to do with the ethics of scientific research, or perhaps even furthering a good cause for humanity. It was born out a desire for wreaking vengeance on a society that had refused too recognize his talents, a society that he feels had wronged him by not allowing him the opportunity to come out of his poverty. It is for this reason, one might claim that Griffin’s euphoria resulting from the discovery soon fades away. In chapter 23, Griffin explains, ‘But you begin to realise the full disadvantage of my condition. I had no shelter – no covering – to get clothing was to forego all my advantage, to make myself a strange and terrible thing.’ It is not only the cold that drives Griffin crazy, it is also hunger that makes him mad. His brief stay at the emporium in chapter 22 reminds him that he is more of an outcast now after achieving invisibility. All the doors were closed to him, nobody would welcome him home, he has become  the ‘caricature’ of a human being. This is even more evident in chapter 23 when he looks into the mirror after helping himself to glasses, whiskers, and the ‘hunchback’s boots’.
As a result of his experiment, Griffin finally becomes a ‘bandaged caricature of a man’. Who can say that he was a happy man after achieving success? Success came at the cost of his losing his humanness, and his ability to live in the company of human beings. Perhaps the greatest irony of the situation comes up when deciding to treat himself to a ‘sumptuous feast’, he visits a restaurant, almost places the order, but then realises that to eat food in a public place would mean that he would have to expose his invisible face. He is forced to turn to another restaurant that offered poorer quality of food but had the facility of providing him with a separate room which offered him privacy from prying eyes. Griffin’s sense of frustration mostly fuelled by the results of his experiment in invisibility, is brought out in the words, ‘Ambition – what is the good of pride of place when you cannot appear there? What is the good of love of woman when her name must needs be Delilah!’-Chapter 23.
The question is, how can a man enjoy happiness after achieving a sort of success which he can’t flaunt amongst others? How can a person who is all the time on the run enjoy a moment of peace and thereby contentment? Is Griffin happy about his achievement, is there anything to be proud about achieving invisibility? In his words, ‘I made a mistake…a huge mistake, in carrying this thing through alone. I have wasted strength, time, opportunities. Alone – it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little,to hurt a little, and there is the end.’ Somehow, the reader might claim that Griffin’s invisibility was the result of circumstance, primarily because the the landlord had come knocking at his door with ‘threats and inquiries’ regarding Griffin’s ‘vivisection’ of the cat, which leads to an altercation and fisticuffs between the landlord and his tenant. Griffin’s unthinking audacity and violent behaviour with the landlord could lead to only one conclusion, namely his eviction from his lodgings. In his own words, ‘At the thought of the possibility of my work being exposed or interrupted at its climax, I became very angry and active.’ The final emotions that drive Griffin towards taking invisibility towards its next stage, are not in any case associated with the joys of scientific discovery, rather they are associated with the feelings of vindictiveness, anger, and restlessness. Nothing that Griffin does, the hard work that he puts in, his robbing his father leading to his committing suicide nothing can give Griffin the pleasure of having achieved success. Griffin can only wallow in self-pity, blame the society, and the circumstances but not feel pride or happiness in what he has achieved!

Note: I could have written the title of this piece as, 'Did Invisibility make Griffin Happy?' or 'Was Griffin Happy to be Invisible?' but instead I decided to put in a lengthier title because the idea was to give stress to the process, the sequence of events leading to his achieving success. The continuous tense form of the verb, 'discover' is thus intentional. It is not the event, but the circumstances leading to it that determine whether or not Griffin will ever be a happy man! I


  1. Sir, I guess happiness might not have been his sole aim in discovering invisibility. Scientists are actually crazy and passionate artists, who devote their life to science just for the FUN of it.
    When Griffin had started his studies in optics, he did not have any idea where his investigations might lead him to. He had not set invisibility as his life goal. However, when he does find the formula of invisibility, he seems heedless, cruel and greedy; the symptoms of his isolation, frustration (maybe drugs?) show up in his actions. His goal then does seem to be to acquire fame at one stroke, in which he badly fails, and can not contribute(or achieve) anything to the world

    1. You are absolutely right Ritu, in thinking so because sometimes we do things not necessarily because it makes us happy. This is an open ended statement in which the answer can go in any direction. Whether or not being able to be happy after discovering a tool to wreak revenge on the society needs to be analysed critically. The fact is however that invisibility was more of a disadvantage for him, that is why Griffin was not happy, he was desperately looking for an antidote, but then Marvel ran away with his diaries!