Following Griffin’s experiences as the Invisible Man, the novel tests the extent to which it is believable for a man to actually turn invisible, and how people would react if this were actually to happen. While scientific ways of thinking tend to encourage skepticism over faith, the novel suggests that sometimes faith is necessary and advantageous. This is mostly shown through the different reactions of the townspeople to the Invisible Man. While those who believe that the Invisible Man actually exists turn out to be right, the novel does not suggest that faith is automatically a correct, advantageous reaction. For example, Fearenside’s faith that Griffin is a “piebald” (mixed-race) is based on Fearenside’s mistaken confidence in his own erroneous, racist beliefs. On the other hand, the novel does show that faith can lead people to correctly interpret situations. Believing that Griffin is indeed invisible takes a leap of faith from everyone he meets, yet it is a correct belief (and a pragmatic one, as being overly skeptical of Griffin’s invisibility makes people vulnerable to being taken advantage of by him). Furthermore, the novel also suggests that scientific thought involves both skepticism and belief, such as when one is confronted with new scientific discoveries and advancements that did not previously seem possible. In order to understand and thrive within a technologically advanced world, people must retain both skepticism and belief.
From the moment Griffin arrives at the Coach and Horses Inn, he behaves in a bizarre manner. He refuses to take off his clothes, wears strange goggles, and gets irrationally angry when anyone disturbs him. Mrs. Hall finds this behavior odd, but chooses not to investigate. At first, she believes Griffin’s story that he was disfigured in an accident. Later, as the true nature of his situation is gradually revealed, her skepticism prevents her from believing that he is actually invisible, even as it becomes increasingly obvious that this is the case. Only when Griffin has already wreaked chaos does Mrs. Hall finally come to believe that he truly is invisible. Mrs. Hall’s difficulty in balancing skepticism and belief allows Griffin to exploit her.
Indeed, when Griffin’s invisibility is revealed to a group of townspeople, they cannot believe that it is actually real because it strays so far from what they have previously experienced. The narrator observes: “They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing!” This quotation highlights the way people’s capacity for belief is limited by their existing experience and perceptions. While this makes sense, it can also prevent people from comprehending new situations. This is particularly problematic given the technological advancements that were proliferating at the time the novel was written. Such advancements mean that the characters cannot afford to be skeptical about phenomena just because they have never personally experienced them before.
Eventually almost everyone in the novel comes to believe that Griffin is invisible after being confronted with enough evidence of his invisibility. This evidence takes different forms; some people, such as the mariner, believe in the Invisible Man simply after reading a newspaper article about him. Other people, such as Doctor Kemp, require actually touching Griffin’s invisible body in order to believe that he is invisible. Again, the novel emphasizes that it is important not to require too much or too little evidence in order to get over one’s skepticism and have belief. Having faith on too little evidence can lead people to believe untrue things, such as Fearenside’s belief that Griffin is a “piebald.” On the other hand, waiting until there is too much evidence at times puts one in danger, as is true of Mrs. Hall and Doctor Kemp.
The concept of invisibility also links to issues of religious belief and skepticism. Religious belief requires trusting that God is real despite the fact that he is not visible. At the time the novel was published, society was undergoing a profound shift in which scientific skepticism was displacing religious faith. In The Invisible Man, this shift appears with an unexpected twist. Griffin has turned invisible through scientific innovation, not through any supernatural power. Because he is the first man in the world to achieve this, the townspeople initially must rely on faith in order to believe that he is actually invisible. In this sense, Griffin is akin to a strange version of God, a figure who has achieved mastery over nature, who is invisible, and who is only believed to be real by those who have faith. The novel does not comment directly on religion or give an indication of whether belief in God is legitimate. However, through Griffin’s invisibility, it suggests that believing in invisible, unfathomable things is not necessarily irrational.
Skepticism vs. Belief ThemeTracker
Skepticism vs. Belief Quotes in The Invisible Man
She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes. But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.
The stranger did not go to church, and indeed made no difference between Sunday and the irreligious days, even in costume. He worked, as Mrs. Hall thought, very fitfully. Some days he would come down ready and be continuously busy. On others he would rise late, pace his room, fretting audibly for hours together, smoke, sleep in the armchair by the fire. Communication with the world beyond the village he had none.
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.
“You don't understand,” he said, “who I am or what I am. I'll show you. By Heaven! I'll show you.” Then he put his open palm over his face and withdrew it. The centre of his face became a black cavity. “Here,” he said. He stepped forward and handed Mrs. Hall something which she, staring at his metamorphosed face, accepted automatically. Then, when she saw what it was, she screamed loudly, dropped it, and staggered back. The nose—it was the stranger's nose! pink and shining—rolled on the floor.
After the first gusty panic had spent itself Iping became argumentative. Scepticism suddenly reared its head,—rather nervous skepticism, not at all assured of its back, but skepticism nevertheless. It is so much easier not to believe in an invisible man; and those who had actually seen him dissolve into air, or felt the strength of his arm, could be counted on the fingers of two hands. And of these witnesses Mr. Wadgers was presently missing, having retired impregnably behind the bolts and bars of his own house, and Jaffers was lying stunned in the parlour of the Coach and Horses. Great and strange ideas transcending experience often have less effect upon men and women than smaller, more tangible considerations.
“Another of those fools,” said Doctor Kemp. “Like that ass who ran into me this morning round a corner, with his ‘’Visible Man a-coming, sir!’ I can't imagine what possesses people. One might think we were in the thirteenth century.”
“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.”