The War of the Worlds Theme of Exile
In The War of the Worlds, the narrator once or twice mentions that the Martians have taken the role of mankind on Earth – and we're going to call that being exiled. So, whereas mankind used to be the big man on campus (where campus = Earth), now there's a new popular kid in town. And the popular kid has a Heat-Ray. (Do you ever watch Glee? It's just like that. Some kid is the quarterback, but then a new kid comes in and gets made quarterback. What happens to the old quarterback? He gets incinerated by a Heat-Ray. No, wait, that didn't happen in Glee. He just loses his old place. That's exile.) The Martian invasion puts humans in a new condition, which is a metaphoric feeling of being exiled. We shouldn't forget that there's a literal exile going on here too. When the Martians come invade a city, the humans have to get out of town, or else feel the burn of the Heat-Ray.
Questions About Exile
- We've identified two types of Exile: literal (people having to leave their place) and metaphorical (people realizing they aren't in charge any more). Do you think that's correct? Are the two related?
- At the end of the book, the narrator wavers back and forth between security (the Earth is ours) and insecurity (who knows?). Do you think the book gives us reason to feel one way or the other? If not, what does it do to your reading to have these two ideas in the novel?
- How does exile relate to the other themes?
- Are there any benefits to being exiled from your home? The narrator ends by mentioning some benefits of the Martian invasion. Do you agree with him?
Chew on This
In The War of the Worlds, we get to see the war from the perspective of the refugees and exiles because Wells wants to remind us that we have no natural home in the universe. There's no resting on your laurels, only continual competition.
Exile is an unnatural condition for human life, since human life is based on communities that cannot simply move.