How the Invisible Man by H.G. Wells Relates to Capitalism

H.G. wells used the Invisible Man to critique Capitalism.

Throughout history, there has been a conflict between the capitalist economy and the communist economy. In his novel, The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells shows the flaws in capitalism. He portrays Griffin as a pure consumer, and uses the humor that invisibility causes to show why communism is a more perfect system. Wells demonstrates the shortcomings of capitalism by using symbolism and irony.

Wells uses Griffin and his invisibility to symbolize capitalism. Wells can easily accomplish this idea because he is writing science fiction. The idea of science fiction is that of things that exist only in imagination. Therefore, Wells decides to make invisibility represent capitalism. For this, he chooses the main character, Griffin. Paul A. Cantor believes that, “Griffin’s invisibility… largely has economic effects- above all, on the movement and transfer of money” (Cantor 101). Invisibility grants Griffin the ability to transfer money that is not only harder to track, but without limits, and without structure. Capitalism shares many of these characteristics, as there are no limits in capitalism and the flow of money is unpredictable. Cantor goes on to explicitly state, “Wells calls attention to the difficulty of tracing the movement of money” (Cantor 101). Griffin’s invisibility facilitates the straightforward way of moving money without anyone noticing. This is something that happens easily in capitalism as well. People report seeing “flying money” when Griffin walks through Iping holding money because they cannot see Griffin holding it. “The story of the flying money was true. And all about the neighborhood…money had been quietly and dexterously making off that day in handfuls…floating along by walls…dodging quickly from the eyes of approaching men” (Wells 122-123). It is hard to trace money when an invisible person is running around with it, just as it is in capitalism, where cash is nearly untraceable. Cantor also says, “Thus Griffin serves Well’s representation of homo economicus, the man who pursues his rational self interest… in particular, the Invisible Man becomes Well’s symbol of the pure consumer” ( Cantor 104). Griffin focuses much of his attention on acquiring money, as seen when he steals from his dad and the vicar. Therefore he represents what Wells apparently feels is a pure consumer. It is clear that Wells uses Griffin to represent capitalism

Wells also shows the symbolism in a way that is more abstract. When Griffin removes his bandages, Wells says, “They were prepared for scars… horrors, but nothing!” (Wells 63). One cannot see Griffin, and the people of Iping therefore believe that he has no heart or soul and in an unusual way, neither does capitalism. There is no room for a conscience in capitalism, as people are only concerned with their own well-being. This shows another way Wells connects Griffin and capitalism.

Wells goes further to highlight the ways in which Griffin is symbolic of capitalism. Wells makes Griffin’s flaws represent capitalism’s flaws. Cantor believes that, “Griffin’s invisibility oddly comes to symbolize the weakness and vulnerability of modern man, the way he becomes a non entity under the pressure of mass society, the way he gets lost in the shuffle of the urban crowd” (Cantor 103). This is most notable in London, where Griffin is not only invisible due to his scientific experiments, but also just due to the size of the city, where people do not notice him, and neighbors can go on living without knowing each other. He is also invisible in the way that he is loner, a social outcast. He does not fit in with “normal society” because not only is he invisible but also because he stood out physically before he was invisible. This is revealed to the reader at Kemp’s house when Griffin describes himself during his college years as, “A younger student, almost albino, six feet high, and broad, with a pink and white face and red eyes” (Griffin 143). Robert Sirabian wrote, “His whiteness symbolically suggests the effects of invisibility, but more pointedly underscores his outcast status, and individual who looks different, not normal” (Sirabian 95). A six-foot tall albino would stand out physically, but in Griffin’s case, would also be a loner, and become invisible to people in the emotional sense. Therefore, Griffin is both figuratively and literally invisible.

Wells characterizes Griffin early on as easily agitated and confrontational. He frequently gets into fights and always seems to cause confusion. When he was caught after stealing from the vicar, a fight broke out between him and the cop. “In another second there was a simultaneous rush upon the struggle, and a stranger coming into the road suddenly might have thought an exceptionally savage game of rugby football was in process” (Wells 104). People often think of the stock market, a major symbol of the free market, as a confusing place, with many different things going on at once. Griffin causes confusion and fighting and so does capitalism. This is why Griffin represents capitalism, because Wells believes they share so many similar qualities. Griffin also causes confusion when he reveals to the citizens of Iping that he is invisible and can avoid their pursuit. The citizens consequently became very nervous. “There were excited cries of “Hold him”…and then came to a panic” (Wells 72). Everyone realized that it would be very hard to hold Griffin when he is Invisible and that they just let him get away by allowing him to remove his clothes. It is also hard to “hold” capitalism, meaning hard to control. Capitalism can also cause panic, as there is no guaranteed income or job security. The flaws of capitalism are related to Griffin’s flaws. His unpredictability, mercurial temperament, difficulty to see and control, are all characteristics shared by capitalism. This proves that Wells uses Griffin’s shortcomings to represents capitalism’s.

Wells also attempts to show capitalism’s impersonality through Griffin. He can do this easiest in the London part of the novel, when Griffin first discovers invisibility. After setting fire to his apartment building, Griffin is frequently bumping into people and realizes people can follow his footprints. Cantor explains this, saying, “For Wells, then, to be invisible in London is to be an individual in a vast, impersonal market economy that provides no genuine roots or community and hence turns a man into a purely necessitous being” (Cantor 104). Returning to the theme throughout this book, Griffin is invisible in both a figurative and literal sense. He is not only invisible due to his scientific endeavors, but also just because capitalism makes it easy to become lost in the crowd. Moreover, in an “impersonal market economy”, one is only as good as the money they make. Being that Griffin only acquires money illegally, that puts him at a value of zero to society. This idea of an impersonal market makes another appearance early in the novel, when the Hall’s give Griffin a room, even though they do not know his name. Cantor says, “A complete stranger is able to live among them by virtue of the power of money, which stands for the impersonal working of the market” (Cantor 103). Because Griffin can pay for his room, nobody cares who he is, at first. Because this arrangement does not work out in the novel, one can assume that Wells believes that an impersonal market economy is a bad thing. Cantor postulates that, “Wells believed the only rational economy is a command economy, one in which a board of experts scientifically plans, directs, and coordinates all economic activity from it’s central position, thereby keeping entrepreneurs from pursuing their individual interests” (Cantor 100). As discussed before, Griffin only pursues his individual interests as a homo economicus. According to Cantor, this is exactly what Wells disapproves of, the pursuit of individual goals.

Wells also shows the flaws of capitalism in the failure of Griffin’s ability to find any joy out of life. This is most noticeable when Griffin arrives at the Emporium to find shelter and supplies. He says, “I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got” (Griffin 223). This means that while it is easy for Griffin to steal what ever he wants, he can never enjoy it because there is always more. Take for example the real-life scenario of automobile companies. Car manufacturers are always trying to get people to buy a more expensive model because it is better, faster, more fuel efficient, more powerful. Money makes it possible to get these items, but how can one enjoy them knowing there are better cars out there? In a non-capitalist society, everyone would drive the same car and not feel envious of others. Wells is trying to show this with the events that transpired at the Emporium. Cantor explains this further by saying, “Capitalism may succeed in allowing consumers to acquire the goods they want, but it prevents people from enjoying them. Indeed by generating an infinity of desires and involving consumers in an unending process of acquisition, the market economy, in this view, dooms them to perpetual dissatisfaction” (Cantor 105). Because the authorities almost catch Griffin at the Emporium, one can conclude that Wells believes that the constant buying of capitalism is a waste of resources and time.

Wells also uses irony to show the flaws of capitalism. He makes the reader laugh at his characters but at the same time, he tries to make them understand the deeper problems faced. For instance, when Griffin tells Kemp the story of the time he first became invisible he says, “But hardly had I emerged upon Great Portland St… when I heard a clashing concussion and was hit violently behind” (Wells 208). Here the reader laughs at Griffin’s expense, but at the same time, they understand why invisibility and therefore capitalism is flawed. A second example is after Griffin recovers from his knocking around when he says, “I experienced a wild impulse to jest, to startle people… fling people’s hats astray, generally revel in my extraordinary advantages” (Wells 210). While the reader laughs at Griffin’s antics, they can see how and invisibility and capitalism can take advantage of people. That is how Wells uses irony to show capitalism’s flaws.

By using irony and symbolism, Wells demonstrates the shortcomings of capitalism. This is apparent through all the things that Griffin does and all the things that go wrong for him. Wells uses the Invisible Man to impart a message on his readers. Sirabian believes that, “The most accessible meaning of the Invisible Man is its moral warning about the individual’s desire to transgress human boundaries in the name of science” (Sirabian 81). Although Griffin means well, it does not work out for him in the end. Wells believes that capitalism seems like a satisfactory idea, but is impractical, and doomed to fail and is giving the reader a cautionary tale about the dangers of a free market economy.

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5 Comments
  1. Ha EUn
    Posted March 8, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Cool Points

  2. Joel
    Posted April 6, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Capitalism > Communism

  3. studentDude
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    awesome points.. very smart connections

  4. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    used this as a source for my paper. great information and ideas, although not very original. Would recommend proofreading before publishing…… ;)

  5. Kurt
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    H.G. Wells is a socialist, not a communist.

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