Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
The narrator, a man of intellectual curiosity who is interested in observing Mars through a telescope. One day, he sees harmless-appearing creatures emerging from a projectile fallen to Earth. The Martians, left undisturbed because they seem helpless, set to work making curious machines. These finished, they begin to lay waste to the countryside. The narrator, after taking his wife to Leatherhead, returns home to find the area defenseless against the Martians’ metal monsters. The Martians move on to London, which becomes a ruined city, but at last they fall victim to earthly bacteria, and the world is saved.
The narrator’s wife
The narrator’s wife, who is taken by the narrator to Leatherhead to escape the Martians’ destruction. Finally, after the deaths of the Martians, the narrator and his wife are reunited.
An artilleryman, the only survivor of his outfit. He and the narrator escape together by hiding in bushes and streams.
A curate, with whom the narrator hides in a deserted cellar. The curate goes raving mad and, because silence is necessary to escape detection by the Martians, the narrator is forced to kill him. His body is taken by one of the Martians, whose diet consists of the blood of their victims.
(The entire section is 211 words.)
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Themes and Characters
The War of the Worlds reflects some of Wells's social concerns, although it is not as heavily laden with social commentary as The Time Machine. The Martians represent colonialists, while the Europeanstraditionally the colonialists themselvesare the primitives confronting invaders who possess a bewilderingly superior technology. Confusion, fear, panic, and bravado are the typical reaction of the English to the invasion. The Martians have "minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts."
The principal theme of The War of the Worlds is evolution. The Martians are what humanity could become. They are super-intellects with highly evolved brains and ugly, shrunken bodies. As monsters, they are suitably grotesque and inhuman. Inside their terriblwar-machineses, they are fearsome masters of technology, blasting whole towns out of existence; indeed, they destroy and kill sometimes without purposejust for the joy of exercising nearly invincible power. Outside of their machines, they are pathetic and nearly helpless.
The destruction of the Martians by microbes has seemed too easy to some readers. The Martians were "scattered about . . . 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, . . . slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared." To Wells, whenever a creature gained something...
(The entire section is 677 words.)
The narrator first encounters him outside of the window of his house. He is from a regiment of the army that has been destroyed by the Martians’ Heat-Ray, and he is shocked and barely able to speak. They travel together until they come upon a cavalry unit, who tell the artilleryman where he can find a superior officer to whom he can report. The army is in such disarray that he has trouble finding who is in charge. The narrator is separated from him when the Martians attack with their Heat-Ray, and the narrator escapes by diving under the river.
Their paths cross again in Chapter 7 of Book 2, when London is just a ghost town. The artilleryman is protective of his territory and food until he recognizes the narrator as the man who had helped him before. Then he shares his idea about how the human race will repopulate itself. The Martians, he explains, will imprison those who fight them, and fatten them up for food and breed them like cattle, but humans who manage to stay out of their way and who do not prove to be difficult will probably be left alone. He has planned out a new, underground society, living in sewers, led by the strongest. They will keep learning until they acquire knowledge of how to beat the Martians. The narrator is impressed with the artilleryman’s plan until he notices that, for all of his talk, the man is not really willing to work hard at all.
The man has dug a small hole, and then he...
(The entire section is 1477 words.)
During the 1960s through the 1990s, critics have fussed about the "passivity" of the characters of The War of the Worlds. The Narrator, in particular, is faulted for being primarily a cowering observer. Such criticism misses the point of Wells's characterizations. The people of England respond as people have responded before to invasions of technologically more advanced peoples. "Since the Martians were evidently intelligent creatures," the Narrator notes, "it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent." Apples are brought as gifts, and dignitaries approach the Martians' spacecraft. Those assembled to observe seem to take for granted that a technologically advanced race would also be morally advanced. Then there were "flashes of actual flame," and "it was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire." At first there is disbelief; later comes panic. Then the mighty military powers of England fight and are slaughtered. All this is a tale told before. For instance, the Aztecs of Mexico first took Cortez and his men to be benevolent gods; they were puzzled by the Spaniards' mighty horses, which they had never seen before; when they realized that the men of Cortez were not "gods" but instead conquerors, they fought and were slaughtered by weapons vastly superior to their own.
Once the pattern of Wells's characterization is understood, the characters no longer seem passive in a tale that focuses...
(The entire section is 438 words.)