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The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds


by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds Theme of Fear

It stinks to be afraid, but fear also has an important use: reminding us to get the heck out of dangerous situations. For example, if Martians are firing their Heat-Ray at you, maybe you shouldn't just stand there (as the narrator does). Maybe you should drop to the ground and crawl away. But just because fear can be useful doesn't mean it will be. After all, there are times when you might be too scared and do something really stupid. For example, if Martians fire their Heat-Ray at you, but you're in a crowd, don't all try to get away through a narrow area, because someone will end up trampled. Yeah, we don't always think clearly when we're afraid. That's the negative side of fear. And watch out, because it can be contagious.

Questions About Fear

  1. Did you feel fear when reading this book? Many of the first reviews talked about how thrilling it was. Why do you think they found this book thrilling? Does Wells use any tricks to keep us afraid or thrilled?
  2. Throughout the novel Wells shows that fear is contagious, but if fear is contagious, how does that idea square with what Wells shows us of community in The War of the Worlds? Should we all just be hermits and avoid each other? Are there any other emotions in this book that are "contagious"?
  3. Wells shows us fear that is useless (running around without looking where you're going) and fear that is useful (realizing that you should get out of the way of the Heat-Ray). Is there any hint as to why fear might be useful sometimes and useless other times?
  4. Do different characters react to fear differently? For instance, what does the artilleryman fear? How does he respond to fear when we first meet him versus how he responds when we meet him again on Putney Hill?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Wells uses The War of the Worlds to show that fear is an emotion that can only be successfully managed by individuals who have special training. By contrast, groups always react to fear in the worst way possible.

In The War of the Worlds, fear is closely related to the idea of folly, in that fear can help us overcome our folly.

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