Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. (1.1.1)
In the beginning of the book, the narrator wants to make sure we understand that the Martians are not like humans. They come from far away ("across the gulf of space"), they make us look like animals, they envy us, and they plot against us. The rest of the chapter includes a few other general comments about how the Martians are different than us ("we men […] must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us" [1.1.5]). Why is the narrator laying it on so thick?
And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit? (1.1.6)
If you were chugging along in 1.1, nodding along with the narrator when he was telling us how different the Martians are from humans, this sentence should stop you. Sure, the Martians are from far away, but humans and Martians both make war "in the same spirit." What does it mean that humans and Martians can have some similar "spirit"? That's word is open to a lot of interpretation.
I think everyone expected to see a man emerge – possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. (1.4.12)
The narrator – well, just about everyone in the novel, really – makes the mistake of thinking that the Martians are going to be like us. Here, the narrator makes that mistake about a physical similarity. Elsewhere, before the Martian cylinder is opened, he makes the mistake of supposing that the aliens might have sent a written message, but who says the Martians even have a written language? Or how about when Ogilvy leads a group of people to meet the Martians while waving a white flag. Seriously? If you think that aliens will understand what a white flag means, then you shouldn't get to be in charge of making contact with aliens.
Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. […] Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread. (1.4.16)
The Martians aren't just different from humans, they're also disgusting. Now, are those two things – difference and disgust – related? We think they might be. That is, we can imagine a version of this book in which the Martians come out and they're totally different from us (like here), but they're beautiful. It's not that difference leads to disgust. But it's harder for us to imagine a book in which the aliens are still disgusting (like here), but not different. In some way, it seems like the Martians have to be recognizably different from us before they can be disgusting.
He [a soldier] turned, stared, bawled something about "crawling out in a thing like a dish cover"… (1.9.41)
If you see something that's totally foreign, how can you describe it? The soldier here finds a quick way to describe something unfamiliar: he makes a comparison between the unknown thing (the Martian machinery) and a known thing (a dish cover). (Wells' audience would know what a dish cover is, even if we don't use them so much anymore.) This is a quick way to describe something foreign, but there is a danger here: what if your description makes something seem <em>too</em> familiar? After all, who is going to be afraid of a dish cover? Not many people – but everyone here should be afraid of the Martian tripod.
Or did a Martian sit within each, ruling, directing, using, much as a man's brain sits and rules in his body? I began to compare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an intelligent lower animal. (1.11.8)
We get a lot of talk in this book about how humans are like animals, and what would animals think, and how the narrator would never kill and eat a dog. (Actually, scratch that last one. The narrator totally wants to kill and eat a dog in Book 2, Chapter 5). But people are only like animals because… wait for it… the Martians are like people. Both Martians and humans use large mechanical vehicles that may scare the heck out of lower animals. (For more on how people are compared to animals in this book, check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory.")
She [Mrs. Elphinstone] had never been out of England before, she would rather die than trust herself friendless in a foreign country, and so forth. She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that the French and the Martians might prove very similar. (1.17.13)
We just threw this one in because it's funny. But why is it funny? (We like to ruin jokes by asking how they work.) For one thing, it's clear that the Martians and the French aren't really all that similar – there are totally different levels of foreignness here. For another, Mrs. Elphinstone is confusing something mildly foreign (the French) with something totally foreign (the Martians), simply because they are both different from what she's used to. Really, though, Mrs. Elphinstone will get along fine enough with the French. Does that mean it's possible that people could get along with the Martians, too, given some time?
To me it is quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves… (2.2.21)
This is a great quote. The narrator starts the book with the idea that the Martians are totally different than humans (their minds are so much better than ours and they look so different). Then moves on to the idea that maybe we <em>do </em>share some similarities. And now, the big reveal: while the Martians seem so monstrous to us, it's possible that we will evolve into them.
They have become practically mere brains, wearing different bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet. (2.2.25)
Okay, even if we might be related to the Martians – even if we might evolve into them – we should admit that there are still some big differences. After all, humans are not "mere brains." However, just as soon as the narrator opens up that difference, he makes the connection between us and Martians: we all use technology to adapt to different situations. (Also, as you probably gathered from "Setting," we love it whenever the narrator mentions bicycles.)
The desolating cry worked upon my mind. The mood that had sustained me passed. The wailing took possession of me. I found I was intensely weary, footsore, and now again hungry and thirsty. (2.8.9)
For us, the ending of the book is confusing and oddly moving. We don't celebrate (that much) when the Martians have died out because a) dying of a cold is so funny it's almost sad, and b) the Martians have turned out to be just like us. Here the narrator even finds himself moved by the Martians' wailing. Even if we have all this difference between us, the ending seems to say that there's something that connects us all.
To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them. (1.1.5)
We might think of the Martians as blood-sucking monsters, but that's not entirely correct. (For one thing, they don't suck blood – they inject it. Totally different.) But while we spend most of the time in this novel being horrified by the Martians, the narrator begins the story by pointing out that war is a solution for them. That is, they aren't invading for fun, but because they think they'll die if they don't. For the Martians, war isn't about primarily about killing – it's about finding a place to live.
Many people had heard of the cylinder, of course, and talked about it in their leisure, but it certainly did not make the sensation that an ultimatum to Germany would have done. (1.8.1)
As we mentioned in "In A Nutshell," Wells is writing in a subgenre ("invasion literature") in which Germany is often the enemy. In the late 19th century, Germany and Britain competed for some of the same colonial possessions, so the idea that Germany would be a possible enemy was in the air. This notion of war on Earth will reappear at the end of the book, with all of Earth's countries realizing that they need to work together.
I must confess the sight of all this armament, all this preparation, greatly excited me. My imagination became belligerent, and defeated the invaders in a dozen striking ways; something of my schoolboy dreams of battle and heroism came back. (1.9.21)
This is not the only time this idea is expressed by the narrator. At another point he notes, "Something very like the war fever that occasionally runs through a civilized community had got into my blood" (1.10.3). These ideas certainly raise questions about the narrator. Is he really so bloodthirsty? These quotes also raise other questions about the relation between war and society. According to the narrator, war might be related to "schoolboy dreams" or a community may break out of "war fever." In other words, this makes war seem to be a little irrational. Is that what he's saying?
Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal. (1.11.35)
On one hand, we could see this observation as a statement of the truth: the Martians have new weapons and they're unconstrained by the rules of war, so this may be the worst war ever. On the other hand, we could note that war has a long history of being pretty indiscriminate. To take one example, if you asked the people of Atlanta, after it was burned in the American Civil War, if war is indiscriminate, they would probably say yes. Maybe what the narrator is responding to here is partly the fact that England hasn't been touched by war in a long time. In other words, war seems worse when it's on your doorstep. Or we could invert that: as long as it's far away, you can pretend that war isn't so bad.
Every minute a fresh gun came into position until, before twilight, every copse, every row of suburban villas on the hilly slopes about Kingston and Richmond, masked an expectant black muzzle. (1.13.2)
The British military is doing a lot of work, turning the peaceful countryside into a series of fortifications. We do like that repetition of "every," which makes it sound very impressive. But as we'll soon see, it's not going to be worth much. All of those guns will be destroyed by Martian Heat-Rays and Black Smoke.
And the touch of that vapour, the inhaling of its pungent wisps, was death to all that breathes. (1.15.22)
Those guns the British are scattering around (almost like seeds) aren't going to be very useful because the Martians have brought even bigger, badder weapons. This is the nature of asymmetric warfare – one side is clearly playing a different game than the other side. Their weapons are so different that they're mismatched.
Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together. (1.17.1)
When we think of war, we might think primarily of soldiers. But in <em>The War of the Worlds</em>, the war is primarily one of refugees. While the British military tries to stop the Martians, most of the book is taken up by the stories of one or other refugees who are fleeing the Martians, not trying to fight them.
For a time I believed that mankind had been swept out of existence, and that I stood there alone, the last man left alive. (2.6.11)
The narrator isn't the last man left alive, but we can see why he might feel that way. The Martians simply aren't obeying the rules of war that human armies fight by. Whereas human armies tend not to kill everyone, the Martians are under no such limitation.
"This isn't a war," said the artilleryman. "It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants." (2.7.32)
This is actually the second time the artilleryman says something like this. (The first time is when he notes that the human armies are fighting with "bows and arrows against the lightning" [1.12.31].) But this is perhaps the clearest expression of the idea that the War of the Worlds is an asymmetric war. One side thinks they're fighting a war, while the other thinks they're doing pest control before moving in. (The fact that this is an animal comparison isn't accidental. For more on the repeated use of animals, see "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory.")
If the Martians can reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose that the thing is impossible for men, and when the slow cooling of the sun makes this earth uninhabitable, as at last it must do, it may be that the thread of life that has begun here will have streamed out and caught our sister planet within its toils. (2.10.9)
The narrator doesn't use the word "war" here, but that's what he's thinking of. Just as the Martians had no choice but "to carry warfare sunward" (1.1.5), so humans may have no choice but to go to war with Venus. (Well, according to the narrator, people will have a choice: go to war against Venus or die on Earth when it can no longer sustain life.) It's not entirely clear to us how we should feel about this ending. Does it mean that we have to understand why the Martians did what they did? Or does it mean that we're going to turn out to be as bad as they were?
I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of the privileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. (1.3.12)
Whatever else might be different between our time and the 1800s, this at least has stayed the same: some people get to be closer to the action – or even get to go backstage. Here, the narrator is glad to be part of the inner circle that sets up the railing. We might say that the "railing" is what separates out the leaders – the people who set up the rules – from everyone else. It's also interesting that this takes place on the common, the area where everyone should be allowed.
…for in those days even philosophical writers had many little luxuries… (1.7.32)
This is one of the few hints we get about life before the invasion, and according to this hint, life is good. Now, this might not be so clear-cut as it seems, but it appears as if the narrator has a somewhat posh lifestyle. He's got a house (possibly a rental), he feels free to walk around the neighborhood instead of working, and he has "many little luxuries." We might reasonably ask how he can afford this sort of life. Well, one possible explanation is that he can afford all this because society is set up in a certain way. He gets to live his life because other people live less rich lives. (We're thinking about the native people in the British colonies, but we might also include some of the British working class here too.)
The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the strange and wonderful things that happened upon that Friday, was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of our social order with the first beginnings of the series of events that was to topple that social order headlong. (1.8.1)
This quote offers a concise statement of what the rest of the book shows us. There was the social order before the Martian invasion, but then the Martians wreck that social order. We think that's a fairly good summation the book, though we might ask why the narrator repeats "social order" twice. Is it because the Martians can't hurt some other kind of order? For instance, just because the Martians invade doesn't mean the rules of physics or biology go out the window.
Then – a familiar, reassuring note – I heard a train running towards Woking. (1.9.2)
If you were looking for a symbol of rules and order, you could do worse than the train. After all, the train has to keep to a certain schedule. Unless, of course, that schedule is interrupted by invading aliens using Heat-Rays. (Or, really, any type of ray.) For more on this, check out the Martian vs. human technology section in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory."
Even the crews of the torpedo-boats and destroyers that had brought their quick-firers up the Thames refused to stop, mutinied, and went down again. (1.15.31)
Ever since the Spanish Armada (and likely even before that), British power has been associated with sea power. They have the best navy around and don't you forget it. So, in some ways, British life in the 19th century is based on the fact that they have a fantastic navy. Yet we see that the Martian invasion is undermining this basis for the British way of life. (Although the Martians seem to leave untouched that other basis for the British way of life: tea.)
By ten o'clock the police organization, and by midday even the railway organizations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body. (1.16.1)
Okay, so maybe the Martians have left the tea untouched, but look at all the other things they're ruining: the police, the railroads, the whole "social body." But maybe the Martians aren't totally to blame. Perhaps part of the reason why the social order is falling apart is that people aren't doing enough to keep it together. Also, check out that language: "guttering, softening, running" – that sounds a lot like words you would use to describe candle wax, something solid that doesn't stay solid. (For more on liquid metaphors, check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory.")
In the end I planted myself between him and the food, and told him of my determination to begin a discipline. (2.4.2)
While we might think of rules and order as something to do with large amounts of people – the nation or the city – let's spare a moment for this tiny setting of rules and order. The curate wants to eat and the narrator wants to start rationing food. As with most of the rules/order in this book, it doesn't quite work out. According to the narrator, the curate can't be reasoned with, so a situation that should be about rules becomes more about power. Or is power always at the heart of rules and order?
"Those who stop obey orders. […] We can't have any weak or silly. Life is real again… (2.7.72)
This is the artilleryman making clear that the new sort of society he wants to start is one based on rules and order. In fact, to the artilleryman, the Martian invasion seems to represent an opportunity to put some new rules and order into place. Hmm. Remember how it didn't work out so well when the narrator tried to run a house with the curate founded on rules? Here, you would think the narrator would be satisfied (finally, rules!), but the artilleryman turns out to be a weak and "undisciplined" dreamer (2.7.96). (Again, that word "discipline.")
The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. The survivors of the people scattered over the country – leaderless, lawless, foodless, like sheep without a shepherd – the thousands who had fled by sea, would begin to return; the pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger, would beat again in the empty streets and pour across the vacant squares. (2.8.30)
When the narrator imagines the recovery, he envisions the return of "the pulse of life." That's a very natural image, but also something very ordered. Pulses tend to be regular, following a certain rule. So, the narrator imagines the Martian invasion as letting the sheep run wild (who knows what sort of hijinks they'll get into) and imagines the recovery as the return of order.
…there were hundreds of out-of-work clerks and shopmen working side by side with the customary navvies… (2.9.7)
We get a lot of general pronouncements about the world after the Martian invasion. Sure, sure, there's a new "commonweal of mankind" (2.10.8), but we don't get a lot of concrete descriptions of what's going on. What does a "commonweal of mankind" even mean? This passage does provide us with one strong image of the new order, though. Instead of people leaving the dirty work to the laborers, everyone is pitching in and trying to help out.
We became silent, and stood watching for a time side by side, deriving, I fancy, a certain comfort in one another's company. (1.5.5)
This scene is pretty small and might seem unimportant compared to what transpires after (Heat-Ray!), but there's something quietly communal about it. All the humans have freaked out a little over how strange the Martians are, and what do you do when something new and weird comes in to your life? Well, when it's the narrator, he finds something old and familiar – one of his neighbors – and they just stand around quietly. Even that little moment is about a sense of community.
They must have bolted as blindly as a flock of sheep. Where the road grows narrow and black between the high banks the crowd jammed, and a desperate struggle occurred. All that crowd did not escape; three persons at least, two women and a little boy, were crushed and trampled there, and left to die amid the terror and the darkness. (1.6.10)
Here we have a glimpse of what's going to come in the future. All the community's ideals will go out the window (and you have to imagine it's kind of a high window, because these ideals will not survive the landing). Rather than protect the women and children, which is what the community would probably want to do, the crowd will kill them. You could argue that this book contrasts the community (as a group of people with some higher ideals and a sense of their own individuality) with the crowd (as a group of people without individuality and without higher ideals).
He came up to the fence and extended a handful of strawberries, for his gardening was as generous as it was enthusiastic. (1.9.6)
We get only a few glimpses of the community before the Martians start to mess things up, and they're such small and uneventful moments that we might easily miss them. This one always warms our hearts (or makes us hungry for strawberries). Two neighbors talk about the neighborhood and one gives the other something grown in a garden. It's a very normal scene, which is why we're so interested in it. It shows us what the community was like before the Martians showed up.
People were fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriages even at two o'clock. By three, people were being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect. (1.16.2)
And then, just seven chapters later, we see what has become of the community. Instead of offering each other strawberries, these neighbors are attacking each other. Now that's a turnaround. Rather than the Martian invasion making people band together and build up a sense of community, we see the breakdown of the old community.
So much as they could see of the road Londonward between the houses to the right was a tumultuous stream of dirty, hurrying people, pent in between the villas on either side; the black heads, the crowded forms, grew into distinctness as they rushed towards the corner, hurried past, and merged their individuality again in a receding multitude that was swallowed up at last in a cloud of dust. (1.16.40)
Here, the brother and the Elphinstone ladies are caught up in the "exodus" from London. The chapter title, "Exodus," might be a little ironic. After all, in the Biblical book of Exodus, the exodus from Egypt is like a Biblical version of a team-building exercise. All the tribes come together to get out of there. But here, the exodus from London is like a negative version of that. Instead of building the team out of individuals, these people are disappearing in the crush. (And for some, that's literal, as they get trampled.) What sense of community can be built in such a situation?
But once in the stream he seemed to lose volition, to become a part of that dusty rout. (1.16.80)
When the brother is (temporarily) swallowed up by the crowd, we probably feel even more the danger of this sort of crowd. That is, we've followed the narrator's brother now for two chapters, and gosh darn it, we like him. He's vaguely heroic and pretty clever. And what happens to him? The same thing that happens to everyone else: he loses some of his individuality in the crowd.
…many who swam out to these vessels were thrust off with boathooks and drowned. (1.17.4)
Once again, we see the ideals of the community destroyed by the coming of the Martians. That is, when someone is drowning, people with boats are supposed to help them. Whereas here, it's the people in the boats who are somewhat responsible for the drowning.
It sounds paradoxical, but I am inclined to think that the weakness and insanity of the curate warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane man. (2.4.4)
So far in these quotes we've gotten a lot of examples of community-breakdown. With the narrator and the curate, though, we have an example of a temporary community during the Martian invasion. Generally speaking, it's not a pretty picture. Instead of, say, one member giving the other member strawberries (see above), we get a lot of fighting and withholding of food. But there is one bright point to this community: according to the narrator, he has to be even better (saner) because the curate is so far gone. That's kind of a weird positive, but we'll take what we can get.
But while that voice sounded the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable; by virtue of it London had still seemed alive, and the sense of life about me had upheld me. (2.8.17)
What about inter-species – or inter-world – communities? Here, at the end of the novel, we briefly glimpse a human-Martian community. Is this a real community?
[…] and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind. (2.10.8)
This is an idea that is repeated a lot in science fiction: if aliens attacked, all of Earth would be united. Putting aside whether that's actually what would happen, we can see how sharing some life-altering experience might help form a sense of community. But is that what the rest of the book has shown us? When England was attacked, the English didn't get a new conception of their commonweal, did they? They beat and stabbed each other in order to get away from the Martians. So why does the book end with this hope for a sense of community if the rest of the book hasn't given us much reason to be optimistic?
[…] as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. (1.1.1)
Exile has both a literal meaning in this book and a metaphorical meaning. Here we see the metaphorical meaning of exile. Just as a human might look down on some tiny microscopic bacteria, so the Martians might look down on us. In other words, to them, we're tiny and not so important. Kind of makes you feel like you've lost your place in the universe, doesn't it?
Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals. (1.1.5)
"Inferior animals" nicely brings together two statements the narrator makes soon after, about how humans treat inhumanely both animals (like the bison and the dodo) and our "own inferior races" (like the Tasmanians) (1.1.6). In case you missed it at the beginning, here's another reminder that the British are about to be removed from their role at the top of the food chain. (And in that food chain, the British are above both animals and other peoples.)
The barrow of ginger beer stood, a queer derelict, black against the burning sky, and in the sand pits was a row of deserted vehicles with their horses feeding out of nosebags or pawing the ground. (1.4.20)
After the Martians come out, the humans scatter, and we get a brief image of what a world without humans would look like. Notice that the sky is "burning" because of the sunset. All together now: foreshadowing! Soon it will be the people who are burning and then we'll really see what a world without humans looks like. That's an example of literal exile.
But it passed and spared me, and left the night about me suddenly dark and unfamiliar. (1.5.18)
With this passage, we're back to metaphorical exile. We've mostly argued that the Martian attack displaces humanity from top dog to… just another mid-sized dog. There's another way to look at exile, though, which is that the Martian invasion makes the world weird. Think of it: you're at home ("home" = "Earth"), when some Martians drop by and start moving your stuff around. Suddenly, your home doesn't seem so homey anymore. Here, the Martian Heat-Ray makes the narrator think differently about the common.
I began to compare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an intelligent lower animal. (1.11.8)
There's one possible benefit of exile. When you're on top, you don't have to think about certain issues or stretch yourself to learn. (Not sure what you mean? Let's use a concrete example. For much of the 20th century, the language that everyone wanted to speak was English. Maybe in France people would learn both French and English, but in England or the US, you could get by just speaking English, so people who spoke English didn't need to stretch themselves and learn a new language.) Here, the narrator is starting to reconsider the lives of animals. Whereas we may think that ironclads are totally normal, animals might be freaked out by them.
…the disintegrating organism of government was, with a last expiring effort, rousing the population of London to the necessity of flight. (1.15.34)
And we're back to literal exile. Now, literal exile might not sound very interesting – it's just people who lived somewhere now have to go elsewhere. But we can also think about exile and colonialism/imperialism. When Britain (and other colonial powers) started to come into an area, whoever was there before would have to make space for these invaders. This literal exile is just the British being treated as they treated others.
Practically he had already sunk to the level of an animal. (2.3.11)
We've discussed before how the arrival of the Martians puts people in the place of animals. That is, rather than people hunting animals, we now have Martians hunting people. This passage is related (it's about people becoming animals), but slightly different, since the Martians aren't present. Also, while we think this is an interesting example of human exile, we should keep in mind that the narrator might be a little biased about the curate.
I had expected to see Sheen in ruins – I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of another planet. (2.6.1)
Once again, we see how the Martians are making the Earth unearthly, leading the narrator to feel as if he were exiled to some place new and foreign. What makes this sense of exile worse, of course, is that this is happening without the narrator actually leaving. As he says here, he's still in Sheen, but he doesn't recognize it.
Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place – a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity – pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion. (2.7.3)
Again, we're in the realm of the metaphorical. The narrator used to believe that humans have a special relationship with God – after all, in the Book of Genesis, God gives "dominion" over the Earth to humans. But the coming of the Martians makes him reconsider. Does God not particularly care about humans vs. any other living beings?
By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain. (2.8.22)
After all that exile – both metaphorical and literal – where do we end up? With all his soul-searching about God and animals, the narrator seems to think that we're still in charge here. Is he serious? Is he missing something? He later says some things that make it seem like he's not so sure, like when he notes that the Martians might inherit the universe. But how does he reach this conclusion?
That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. (1.1.4)
We're going to spend pretty much the whole book thinking that the Martians are an unstoppable power. (Which to be fair, they are for most of the novel.) Still, it's worth noting that Wells gives us a little hint at the beginning that there's something even better than the Heat-Ray. (Nuclear weapons? No, Wells won't write a story about nuclear weapons until… 1914!) What's even bigger than the Martians is the force of nature, the unstoppable march of time and evolution. That's why when Mars is dying, the Martians are forced to change or die.
The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars. (1.1.5)
Whether or not we agree that "life is an incessant struggle," there is something interesting about this notion being shared by both Martians and humans. This isn't quite the same as "might makes right" but it seems pretty close. There's a sense in which life is founded on a test of power, and if you're not as powerful as the next person (or species), then tough luck.
And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. […] Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit? (1.1.6)
Through much of the first chapter, Wells kind of calls out his readers. It's like he's saying, "You might say that you believe in charity and mercy (and other nice concepts), but really, look at the things you do." When we read this, we're put in the position of someone who can't really argue. (Even if the bison did make a comeback later.) It's like Wells is setting up power as the basis for life, but that message changes at the end of the novel.
He met a waggoner and tried to make him understand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild – his hat had fallen off in the pit – that the man simply drove on. He was equally unsuccessful with the potman who was just unlocking the doors of the public-house by Horsell Bridge. The fellow thought he was a lunatic at large and made an unsuccessful attempt to shut him into the taproom. (1.2.11)
When we think of power in War of the Worlds, we think of the Heat-Ray and Martians beating up humans. But there are also a lot of power issues among humans. For instance, there's this scene in which Ogilvy is trying to find someone to talk to about the Martian cylinder and no one will listen. We could easily phrase that as an issue of power and authority. As far as the waggoner and potman are concerned, Ogilvy doesn't have the power to get their attention.
Such an extraordinary effect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do. (1.5.23)
Weakness is the flipside of power, and it's pretty much the exclusive property of humans in this novel. There are at least two scenes of people who can't do anything but cry. Now, we like crying – we're crying right now, which should excuse any typos we make – but when crying is the <em>only</em> thing you can do, well, then you don't really have the power to do anything else. Here, all the narrator can do is run and cry. Later, the artilleryman will similarly find that all he can do is sit and cry (1.11.24).
"It ain't no murder killing beasts like that," said the first speaker. (1.9.15)
In this quote, we see one of the sappers discuss how it's perfectly okay to kill Martians because they are just beasts. How does this relate to power? Well, you can only make these sorts of defining statements when you occupy a position of power (or in this case, think you do). Here, the sapper thinks of the Martians as one of the animals ("beasts") that humans have dominion over.
The ordinary traffic had been stopped, I believe, in order to allow of the passage of troops and guns to Chertsey, and I have heard since that a savage struggle occurred for places in the special trains that were put on at a later hour. (1.12.38)
Once again, we see the power struggle between people. There is the "savage struggle" between people trying to get onto the trains, but there's another use of power that we should recognize: the government is able to interrupt the ordinary traffic and put through their own troops. Of course, it's not like the government consists of some alien monsters that have this power. This government is (more or less) democratically elected. Their power over the people derives from the people themselves. It's kind of a weird situation. When you're in a community (like a country), you give up some of your power so that you have a more powerful force help you.
The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede – a stampede gigantic and terrible – without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind. (1.17.1)
In one of his patented big picture overviews of the situation, the narrator makes a direct comparison between the mass of people who have no power and the armies that used to terrorize large parts of the world. So why doesn't this huge mass of British people have the same power that a smaller group of Goths and Huns had? Are the British powerless simply because they don't have the right technology? Are they powerless because they have no rules and order?
"Aren't you satisfied it <em>is</em> up with humanity? I am. We're down; we're beat." (2.7.28)
The artilleryman (who else would be "satisfied" – meaning that he's both certain that this is true and that he's quite content about it) is very willing to admit that people have no more power in this situation. Curiously enough, he's also one of the most optimistic characters we meet during this invasion. Why is he so happy to give up? Well, we find out later that he's lazy, so there's that. We might also notice that, as just another soldier, he didn't profit so much from the old way of life. He had to follow orders because he had no power. What he plans for the future now is a world where he has <em>all</em> the power.
He had swept it out of existence, as it seemed, without any provocation, as a boy might crush an ant hill, in the mere wantonness of power. (2.9.3)
This is interesting. Why did this one Martian destroy Leatherhead, a little town that wasn't going to help the humans win the war? That's where the idea of the "wantonness of power" comes into play. ("Wantonness" is never good. It means unnecessarily cruel or overblown.) When the Martians have all the power, they might say just what the sapper said a few quotes ago: there's nothing really wrong with killing humans because they're not really important.
With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. (1.1.1)
Folly in <em>The War of the Worlds </em>isn't just people acting stupidly for no reason. People usually have reasons for why they're acting foolishly. (Bad reasons, of course, but still reasons.) One of the bad reasons people have in this book is their pride and complacency. They think things will continue along as they have been, with them in charge. Wells' narrator will hit this note again and again.
Men like Schiaparelli watched the red planet – it is odd, by-the-bye, that for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war – but failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well. (1.1.7)
<em>The War of the Worlds </em>is an old book, so you might've known the plot before you read it. Heck, even from the title you should at least know that there's going to be a war. That's why it's easy for us to treat this like a horror movie, yelling to the characters, "No, stupid, don't go check out the weird noises you've heard upstairs, that's a serial killer!" The narrator makes it easy for us to do this by pointing out a bunch of things that humans didn't figure out in time. For instance, humans saw that Mars changed, but they never realized what those changes meant. You might read that and say, "Oh, you're so stupid." But what about the point about Mars as the planet of war? Should that have been a clue to us? Should we take all mythology seriously?
I never dreamed of it then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring missile. (1.1.13)
Is this folly here? This passage certainly connects with the complacency angle that the narrator has been noting. (Let's be honest: he's nagging us about this.) But as the narrator points out, no one dreamed of the Martians invading. Was it foolish of humans not to dream of it? Should people go out and prepare for every single crazy event that could happen? Or would that just be another type of foolishness?
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. […] For my own part, I was much occupied in learning to ride the bicycle, and busy upon a series of papers discussing the probable developments of moral ideas as civilization progressed. (1.1.19)
Once again, the narrator is harping on his point about human complacency. When huge changes were about to take place, people kept doing everyday little things, like learning to ride a bike. The narrator seems to judge people pretty hard here, but what should they have done? How can anyone prepare for the unthinkable?
I fancy the popular expectation of a heap of charred corpses was disappointed at this inanimate bulk. (1.3.3)
We could think of the first contact with the Martian cylinder as expressing the foolish complacency that the narrator mentions. For instance, when people first see the cylinder, they don't understand how important it is. What people would <em>rather</em> see is something exciting and new, but still within the realm of their experience. (For instance, while they don't want to see a Martian cylinder – which they can't understand – they might be more curious to see something like a railroad accident.)
[…] both [newspapers] overlooked, just as I did, two obvious modifying influences. (1.7.27)
The narrator beats himself up (and other humans) a lot over not realizing things in the moment. Here, the narrator says that he overlooked some issues that were "obvious." But, since everyone overlooked these issues, are they really all that "obvious"?
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food. "We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear." (1.7.33)
Is the narrator being fair here? Since he's looking back on his experiences in the Martian invasion, he can pick apart all his mistakes. (And they are mistakes.) But how can you avoid these sorts of flub-ups? It's interesting because, when you do science, you make mistakes. That's part of perfecting science. It's trial-and-error, right? Not trial-and-immediate-success. Yet, the mistakes people make in this novel don't lead to better knowledge. For instance, the narrator realizes he was as dumb as a dodo. How does realizing that help him avoid the same mistake?
The habit of personal security, moreover, is so deeply fixed in the Londoner's mind, and startling intelligence so much a matter of course in the papers, that they could read without any personal tremors… (1.14.7)
The narrator often criticizes foolishness, but in this passage he gives a more concrete identification of the problem. It's not just that Londoners are naturally complacent ("The habit of personal security"), but that the newspapers so often cry wolf ("startling intelligence so much a matter of course"). The newspapers raise alarms so often because they sell more papers that way. Basically, the narrator is saying that people are foolishly complacent because the newspapers so often make a big noise about nothing much.
[…] and the reader who thinks me susceptible and foolish must contrast his position, reading steadily with all his thoughts about his subject, and mine, crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by apprehension. (2.7.75)
The narrator (and the other people in this book) might be pretty foolish at times, but we see <em>why</em> they're being foolish and we sympathize. The narrator, on the other hand, is awfully tough on people. That's why it's a bit surprising when he lets himself off the hook for being taken in by the artilleryman's terrible ideas. Why does the narrator let himself off the hook about this foolishness anyway?
And invisible to me because it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer every minute by so many thousands of miles, came the Thing they were sending us, the Thing that was to bring so much struggle and calamity and death to the earth. (1.1.13)
Since the narrator is telling us this story retrospectively, he can do all sorts of foreshadowing. Heck, in the very first line he could say, "Martians invaded and then died of colds." But he doesn't. (He's a better storyteller than <em>that</em>). Rather, notice how the narrator manages our emotions by telling us just a little bit. For example, here, he reminds us that something really bad is coming for us. Scared yet? One thing to think about in terms of the theme of fear is not just whether the characters are afraid, but how the book tries to get a rise out of us too.
Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came fear. (1.5.21)
Put this next to the narrator's comment that "My terror had fallen from me like a garment" (1.7.4) and we start to get a sense of his weird relationship with emotions. The narrator often talks about his emotions as if they were something outside of himself. Now, we think that fear is one of the main emotions of the book – what <em>else </em>are you supposed to feel when invaders come to your town with Heat-Rays? – yet the narrator treats it like something outside himself. That's weird, isn't it? Maybe he's trying too hard to be an objective witness to these events.
The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of the Martians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. (1.5.23)
Well, we've never been through a Martian invasion, but this seems more realistic, doesn't it? Just totally freaking out – that seems about right. Interestingly, the narrator distinguishes between fear and panic. What do you think is the difference between the two? Is one emotion a more useful response in a dangerous situation than the other?
I was a little depressed at first with the contagion of my wife's fears (1.10.5)
Here, the narrator is saying that he's caught a little bit of what his wife feels. "Contagion" is related to "contagious," so you can imagine someone catching an emotion in the same way that someone catches a cold. This quote raises a few questions for us. First, is "contagion" a hint about how the Martians are going to die in the end? Second, did you notice this idea come up a few times in the book? For some examples, see 1.14.14, 1.17.18, and 1.14.45. Yep, this is a big issue.
That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmer telling me and trying to make me see the things he had seen. (1.11.33)
We get a lot of scenes in which fear spreads like the flu, but this is perhaps the only scene in which someone gets calmer in the company of a calm person. Why does telling his story calm the artilleryman?
At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowd near the water's edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck. […] I turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for thought. (1.12.50)
Fear is often thought of as something that hurts people because it prevents them from thinking clearly. But here the narrator can still think straight. Why do you think he's able to do that?
[…] the coming storm of Fear blew through the streets. It was the dawn of the great panic. London, which had gone to bed on Sunday night oblivious and inert, was awakened, in the small hours of Monday morning, to a vivid sense of danger. (1.14.44)
The narrator also refers to fear as a wave in 1.16.1. What does it do to your reading to have this fear talked about as if it were something physical? Does it make fear sound as real as the Martians?
But varied as its composition was, certain things all that host had in common. There were fear and pain on their faces, and fear behind them. (1.16.51)
Here we have another good quote on the contagion of feelings. In this passage the narrator's brother is escaping London and runs into a huge mass of people. The crowd is made up of many different kinds of people, but they are all similar in that they're all terrified. Now, when you have something in common, you might expect some sort of community to evolve. But it seems as if fear isn't enough to build a real community on. (And yet, at the end of the book, isn't it fear of the Martians that promotes "the commonweal of mankind" [2.10.8]? )
I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. (2.10.11)
Whatever good the invasion has done for Earth as a whole, the terrifying experience has scarred the narrator. And yet the invasion was supposed to be good because it made humans feel less secure, and therefore less prone to our complacent folly. Does that mean fear and insecurity useful or not?
Henderson went into the railway station at once, in order to telegraph the news to London. The newspaper articles had prepared men's minds for the reception of the idea. (1.2.21)
This sort of statement about how strongly our world relies on technology appears all over the place in <em>The War of the Worlds</em>. Let's take a moment to mark all three technologies mentioned here: the railway station, which makes travel much quicker that it was before; the telegraph, which makes it much quicker to send and receive information; and the newspapers, which you might not even think of as technology, but which might be the most impressive one of all. Think about all the machinery that you need to create a newspaper (journalists sending stories through the telegraph wires, giant printing presses making thousands of copies) and then distribute the papers (from newsboys to trains).
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. (1.6.1)
If you wanted diagrams of how new technology works, Wells is not really the guy to go to. (You probably want Jules Verne for that.) That doesn't mean Wells just wants to wave a wand and say, "Poof, the Heat-Ray works by magic." No, he wants you to take this thing seriously. Here he's giving us a bunch of details so that we take it seriously, while still noting that there's a lot of mystery involved. (And really, what technology doesn't involve mystery?)
"Fresh attempts have been made to signal, but without success," was the stereotyped formula of the papers. (1.9.20)
Like the first quote in this section, we've got a stealthy reminder of how technology structures our lives and thoughts – "the stereotyped formula" isn't something that just gets used in the papers, but probably gets repeated by people. Also, we could note that the humans have made a serious error here in thinking that the Martians communicate the same way we do.
Or did a Martian sit within each, ruling, directing, using, much as a man's brain sits and rules in his body? I began to compare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an intelligent lower animal. (1.11.8)
At firs the narrator was struck by how unfamiliar the Martian technology was, but here the narrator is getting the idea that it isn't so different from our own.
"It's bows and arrows against the lightning, anyhow," said the artilleryman. "They 'aven't seen that fire-beam yet." (1.12.31)
Man, the artilleryman is making humans sound like cavemen here. That's how far behind human technology appears when compared to the Martians' weapons.
"What is that flicker in the sky?" [the curate] asked abruptly.
I told him it was the heliograph signalling – that it was the sign of human help and effort in the sky. (1.13.44-45)
We included this quote because there's a curiously religious sound to the narrator's answer about "help and effort in the sky." Is there something religious about technology here? Or is the narrator hinting that we can't look to God to help us, but have to help ourselves? Or is it merely a chance to take something military (the heliograph) and place it in a strange context (southern England)? (That is, just because you're used to some piece of technology, doesn't mean you expect to find it everywhere. We're used to trains, but we don't expect them at the bottom of the ocean, though that would be awesome.)
They exploded any stores of powder they came upon, cut every telegraph, and wrecked the railways here and there. They were hamstringing mankind. (1.17.3)
The Martians try to stop people from fighting back, so they mostly destroy the military equipment. Here their destruction is described as "hamstringing," which generally just means to cripple, but which comes from a bodily metaphor. (It has to do with cutting the tendons in a leg. It's hard to walk without those tendons. So we hear.) It's curious to us that this technological issue is described in bodily terms.
Something rushed up into the sky out of the greyness – rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, and vanished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land. (1.17.35)
Years after Wells wrote <em>The War of the Words</em>, people would start talking seriously about airplanes (or "aeroplanes"), but here Wells is imagining the narrator's brother seeing something that he might not have words for. Notice how the thing is always talked about as "Something," which is what we all do when we lack the word for unfamiliar technology. One other strange thing about this quote is the way that the language slips from describing this strange new technology to the Biblical sounding language of "rain[ing] down darkness." Once again, we're confronted with the two issues of religion and technology.
We men, with our bicycles and road-skates, our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked out. (2.2.25)
Here the narrator really lays it on the line, drawing the connection between the Martians' technology and ours. Apparently, our technology might belong to the same evolutionary chain as the Martians' tech. Maybe our "soaring-machines" (gliders) will lead to flying machines, and our guns will lead to Heat-Rays.
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 <em>can</em> 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 <em>mean</em> 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.)
"Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent." (1.13.38)
In contrast to the curate, the narrator (at this moment) is not looking to God and fate for an explanation. (Although, let's note, he's not arguing against the existence of God here. He's only arguing that God doesn't get involved in every single disaster.) For the narrator, these terrible events just happen.
"It is just, O God!" he would say, over and over again. "It is just. On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have fallen short." (2.4.6)
Two quotes up from this one, the curate was questioning the invasion. When the Martians attacked he asked, "What sins have we done?" Later, when the narrator and curate are stuck in the house in Sheen, the curate comes to the conclusion that they humans have sinned enough to call for this Heat-Ray business. He considers the Martians as a fate that humans deserve.
I saw myself then as I see myself now, driven step by step towards that hasty blow, the creature of a sequence of accidents leading inevitably to that. (2.7.2)
In discussing <em>The</em> <em>War of the Worlds </em>and fate, we tend to talk about God and bacteria and the Martians-as-punishment. But what about humans? Are people fated to do certain things? Or is there some free will? The narrator excuses his actions in regard to the curate by noting that a) he didn't know what was going to happen and b) one thing led to another. Do you guys buy that? Or did the narrator have some choice as to his behavior?
"Now whenever things are so that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak, and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit to persecution and the will of the Lord." (2.7.58)
The complete opposite of the curate is the artilleryman. His view of religion is that people tend to rely on some notion of fate when they're too weak to exercise their free will. This helps us see the curate and the artilleryman as foils. (The curate is pro-fate, while the artilleryman is anti-fate.) The artilleryman's argument might be persuasive, but then again, maybe we should take into account the speaker. The artilleryman is a guy who was saved from the Heat-Ray because his horse tripped and threw him into a ditch (1.11.26). Even if we believe in free will, it seems we have to recognize the possibility of accidents. Where do accidents fit in between fate and free will?
And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians – <em>dead</em>! – slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth. (2.8.21)
At this point, the narrator has fully bought into the curate's view of God and fate. (Although with this guy's mood swings, let's see how long this lasts.) Notice that, except for that final remark about God and his wisdom, this entire statement could be made to refer to scientific fate. Because the Martians didn't take some precautions (and because they evolved to not have an immune system), they died of bacterial infection. So what is it? God or science?
The dome of St. Paul's was dark against the sunrise, and injured, I saw for the first time, by a huge gaping cavity on its western side. (2.8.28)
Most of <em>The War of the Worlds</em> seems realistic, so when we hear about the damaged dome of St. Paul's, our first impulse is to say, "Darn, we really liked that dome… but we guess that's what happens when Martians attack." But this is a pretty particular landmark. There are lots of famous structures to destroy in London without mentioning religious buildings. Why is St. Paul's damaged? How would it affect one of Wells' contemporaries to read about St. Paul's being damaged?
It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, is the future ordained. (2.10.10)
Two quotes up, the narrator seemed to take a curate-like view of the events (the Martians died because God put bacteria on earth). At the end of the book, though, the narrator leaves it open as to whether humans or Martians are destined to take over the universe. Do these two ideas mesh together? Is the narrator supporting some notion of fate when he asks about the future being "ordained"?