Study Guide

The War of the Worlds Book 1, Chapter 16

By H.G. Wells

Book 1, Chapter 16

The Exodus from London

  • We're back to London and the story of the narrator's brother.
  • First, we start with some broader overviews of how London is falling apart: "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). That's a pretty gruesome, but kind of awesome, description of society falling apart.
  • Since the trains aren't running regularly anymore, the narrator's brother gets a bicycle on a very good discount – for free. In other words, a crowd robs a bike store and the brother is lucky enough to be one of the mob who gets a bike (with a punctured tire).
  • He rides out of the city, but the bike breaks down eventually, so he decides to walk to some friends' place farther away from the city.
  • On his way, the brother runs into an attempted robbery. Three men are attacking two women in a pony-drawn carriage. (It may be that the three men are refugees who just want the carriage. Or they might just be ordinary robbers. It's unclear.)
  • The brother knocks out one of the robbers, and the women get away, so the brother is a hero. Unfortunately, he's a hero facing two very angry guys all by himself – until one of the women comes back for him. Oh, and she's got a gun. She nearly shoots the brother by accident, but the shot does scare off the robbers. The brother and the two women decide to travel on together.
  • The women are Mrs. Elphinstone (married to a doctor who is off helping people) and the doctor's sister, Miss Elphinstone. Miss Elphinstone is the one who came back to save the brother from the robbers. By contrast, Mrs. Elphinstone mostly just gets nervous and calls for her husband.
  • To make them feel better, the brother says that he knows all about how to use a gun, though he's lying.
  • They see tons people evacuating on a crowded street. Everyone is different from each other except that they're all afraid.
  • While the crowd is largely indistinct, there are three men who particularly stand out:
  • (1) A blind man wearing a Salvation Army uniform and preaching about the end of the world. Well, yelling "Eternity! Eternity!" (1.16.46), which is pretty much the same thing.
  • (2) Lord Garrick, the Chief Justice, who was in a carriage in the midst of the throng, but is taken out because he's dying. The Lord Chief Justice is the second-highest judge of all England (and Wales), but that doesn't save him from dying in terrible circumstances.
  • (3) A guy with a bag full of money who is clearly attached to that money. When the bag breaks, he tries to get his money and is almost trampled to death. (However, when the narrator's brother tries to drag the man to safety, the man has enough energy to bite the hand that's trying to help him.)
  • The narrator's brother realizes they have to get into this mass, so with young Miss Elphinstone's help, they force their way in. Eventually they come out on the other side and find a place where they can rest.
  • That evening, while they rest, some people come by going the opposite direction as them, fleeing from some terror. The brother's group seems to have jumped out of one terrible situation only to go toward another. The professionals might call that irony, but that just seems mean to us.