The War of the Worlds
Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. (1.1.19)
There's an old tradition of people getting terrible prophecies (for example, one king is told he will be killed by his son), and trying to avoid those prophecies (for example, the king tries to kill his son first)… but then the prophecy comes true anyway. We're reminded of this because the narrator almost seems to imply that people were foolish to go about "their petty concerns" when they had this "swift fate hanging over" their heads. And yet, we almost want to ask the narrator what other option there is? In this case, how should these people avoid their fate? After all, if it's their fate, how can they avoid it?
Beyond were the pillars of fire about Chobham. They became pillars of bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day. (1.11.36)
Of course, in 1890s England, there aren't a lot of people going around giving prophecies. (Note: actually, there was a big spiritual movement in the 19th century – people searching for ghosts and for prophecies – but just ignore that for the moment.) In 1890s England what we have instead of prophets is the Bible and priests, so the question of fate is largely going to be a religious one. Now, this quote doesn't overtly say anything about fate, but it is an echo of the Bible, from Exodus, and it does raise some questions about fate's relation to religion. Questions that we aren't entirely sure about.
"Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then – fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work – What are these Martians?" (1.13.17)
The curate is very worked up over the Martian invasion and for him, this can't simply be the effect of Martian free will. (We can imagine the Martians meeting and saying, "Hey, what are you doing this weekend? I was thinking of invading Earth." And the other Martian would be like, "Yeah, cool, let's do it." However, the curate doesn't seem to believe in Martian free will.) For the curate, the invasion of the Martians must mean something about the fate of humanity. For him, the Martians are the punishment humans deserve for being sinful. (Or at least, that's the conclusion he'll come to soon.)