In some ways The Invisible Man is a didactic novel akin to a parable, meaning that it seeks to impart a moral message to the reader. Indeed, this message comes in the form of a warning about certain immoral behaviors, most notably greed and self-interest. These are mostly embodied by the anti-hero, Griffin, who turns himself invisible in order to gain power and glory, but also by other characters, such as Mrs. Hall and Thomas Marvel, who put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe they will profit from them. Greed and self-interest are problematic because they override morality and reason. The fact that several different characters in the novel succumb to greedy, self-centered behavior suggests that these are common human flaws that all people must be vigilant against. By showing the dangerous consequences that can result from greed and self-interest, the novel warns readers not to succumb to these vices.
Griffin’s character trajectory shows that greed and self-interest are seductive, corrupting forces. Griffin’s initial interest in invisibility is a scientific one; he approaches the topic with a researcher’s mindset, curious if it would be possible to truly make living things become invisible. He believes that invisibility will confer “advantages,” but does not pursue it for this reason alone. Once he starts thinking about the possibilities that invisibility affords him, however, he quickly becomes greedy, selfish, and obsessed with power. He tells Doctor Kemp that soon after becoming invisible, he planned to “take my money where I found it” and “treat myself to a sumptuous feast […] put up at a good hotel, and accumulate a new outfit of property.”
Yet Griffin finds that ultimately these things do not satisfy him. Furthermore, he runs into practical problems, such as the issue that when he eats, the food he consumes is visible inside him, thereby jeopardizing his invisibility. The visibility of the food is a metaphor for the limitations of bottomless greed and consumption. Griffin hopes that being invisible will allow him to steal and manipulate his way into endless property and fortune, but in reality, such a thing is not possible. Instead it corrupts him, causing him to act in increasingly rash and destructive ways, while never making him satisfied.
Although Griffin is the character most strongly associated with greed and self-interest, other characters possess these flaws too. For example, Mrs. Hall is kind and friendly, but she is also greedy. This ultimately causes her to overlook Griffin’s strange behavior, which endangers herself and her inn. While reflecting on Griffin’s suspicious and rude manner, she concludes: “He may be a bit overbearing, but bills settled punctual is bills settled punctual.” It turns out that in order to pay his bill, Griffin robbed the vicarage, proving Mrs. Hall’s adage wrong. If money is obtained by immoral means, then surely it is not all the same—yet Mrs. Hall’s greed blinds her to this reality.
Similarly, Thomas Marvel’s greed allows him to be seduced by Griffin’s offers of rewards for helping him. Griffin promises that he will “do great things for you,” telling Marvel that “an Invisible Man is a man of power.” He begins to warn Marvel about the consequences if he betrays him, but Marvel is so excited by the prospect of the “great things” Griffin promises that he cuts him off. In ignoring Griffin’s warnings, he endangers himself—a mistake that, later in the novel, almost gets him killed. While different characters in the novel exhibit the traits of greed and self-interest to different extents, in each case the greed and self-interest are shown to be seductive, but ultimately dangerous traits that will lead to self-sabotage and potentially fatal consequences.
Greed and Self-Interest ThemeTracker
Greed and Self-Interest Quotes in The Invisible Man
There were a number of skirmishes with Mrs. Hall on matters of domestic discipline, but in every case until late in April, when the first signs of penury began, he overrode her by the easy expedient of an extra payment. Hall did not like him, and whenever he dared he talked of the advisability of getting rid of him; but he showed his dislike chiefly by concealing it ostentatiously, and avoiding his visitor as much as possible. “Wait till the summer,” said Mrs. Hall, sagely, “when the artisks are beginning to come. Then we'll see. He may be a bit overbearing, but bills settled punctual is bills settled punctual, whatever you like to say.”
It was inevitable that a person of so remarkable an appearance and bearing should form a frequent topic in such a village as Iping. Opinion was greatly divided about his occupation. Mrs. Hall was sensitive on the point. When questioned, she explained very carefully that he was an “experimental investigator,” going gingerly over the syllables as one who dreads pitfalls. When asked what an experimental investigator was, she would say with a touch of superiority that most educated people knew that, and would then explain that he “discovered things”. Her visitor had had an accident, she said, which temporarily discoloured his face and hands; and being of a sensitive disposition, he was averse to any public notice of the fact.
“I've chosen you,” said the Voice. “You are the only man except some of those fools down there, who knows there is such a thing as an invisible man. You have to be my helper. Help me—and I will do great things for you. An invisible man is a man of power.”
He stopped for a moment to sneeze violently.
“But if you betray me,” he said, “if you fail to do as I direct you—”
He paused and tapped Mr. Marvel's shoulder smartly. Mr. Marvel gave a yelp of terror at the touch. “I don’t want to betray you,” said Mr. Marvel, edging away from the direction of the fingers.
“Don’t you go a-thinking that, whatever you do. All I want to do is to help you—just tell me what I got to do. (Lord!) Whatever you want done, that I'm most willing to do.”
And just think of the things he might do! Where'd you be, if he took a drop over and above, and had a fancy to go for you? Suppose he wants to rob—who can prevent him? He can trespass, he can burgle, he could walk through a cordon of policemen as easy as me or you could give the slip to a blind man! Easier! For these here blind chaps hear uncommon sharp, I'm told.
“One could make an animal—a tissue—transparent! One could make it invisible! All except the pigments. I could be invisible!” I said, suddenly realizing what it meant to be an albino with such knowledge. It was overwhelming. I left the filtering I was doing, and went and stared out of the great window at the stars. “I could be invisible!” I repeated.
“To do such a thing would be to transcend magic. And I beheld, unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might mean to a man,—the mystery, the power, the freedom. Drawbacks I saw none. You have only to think! And I, a shabby, poverty-struck, hemmed-in demonstrator, teaching fools in a provincial college, might suddenly become—this. I ask you, Kemp, if you—Anyone, I tell you, would have flung himself upon that research.”
My mood, I say, was one of exaltation. I felt as a seeing man might do, with padded feet and noiseless clothes, in a city of the blind. I experienced a wild impulse to jest, to startle people, to clap men on the back, fling people's hats astray, and generally revel in my extraordinary advantage.
“But you begin to realize now,” said the Invisible Man, “the full disadvantage of my condition. I had no shelter, no covering. To get clothing was to forgo all my advantage, to make of myself a strange and terrible thing. I was fasting; for to eat, to fill myself with unassimilated matter, would be to become grotesquely visible again.”
“I never thought of that,” said Kemp.
“Nor had I.”
I thought my troubles were over. Practically I thought I had impunity to do whatever I chose, everything—save to give away my secret. So I thought. Whatever I did, whatever the consequences might be, was nothing to me. I had merely to fling aside my garments and vanish. No person could hold me. I could take my money where I found it. I decided to treat myself to a sumptuous feast, and then put up at a good hotel, and accumulate a new outfit of property. I felt amazingly confident,—it's not particularly pleasant recalling that I was an ass. I went into a place and was already ordering a lunch, when it occurred to me that I could not eat unless I exposed my invisible face. I finished ordering the lunch, told the man I should be back in ten minutes, and went out exasperated. I don't know if you have ever been disappointed in your appetite.
Not wanton killing, but a judicious slaying. The point is, they know there is an Invisible Man—as well as we know there is an Invisible Man. And that Invisible Man, Kemp, must now establish a Reign of Terror. Yes—no doubt it's startling. But I mean it. A Reign of Terror. He must take some town like your Burdock and terrify and dominate it. He must issue his orders. He can do that in a thousand ways—scraps of paper thrust under doors would suffice. And all who disobey his orders he must kill, and kill all who would defend the disobedient.