You've asked a really great question! Several reasons exist for the technique, used by H. G. Wells in TheWar of the Worlds, of not naming the characters with proper names. Here are a few ideas. See which ones resonate most with you.
You've asked a really great question! Several reasons exist for the technique, used by H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds, of not naming the characters with proper names. Here are a few ideas. See which ones resonate most with you.
1. Everyman/Everywoman: By giving each character generalized names, like "the wife," or "the artilleryman," it allows the readers to experience being each one of these characters simultaneously. The characters are no one and everyone. Other authors that use this technique effectively include Jose Saramago. In his novel Blindness, which is also about a global calamity, the characters are simply the doctor, the girl in the dark sunglasses, and so on. This effect, due to the global nature of the calamity, like the alien invasion in Wells's novel, keeps the drama from being exclusive to one or two specific people, but rather, to a group of potentially many people. Wells does this again in The Time Machine. Since the narrator is a nameless character, anyone can take a seat in the time machine and go for a ride.
2. Effective use of description: Wells's technique allows for the reader to immediately know the function and role of each character, without having it be explained. When you read "the wife," or "the artilleryman," you can immediately assume their roles without an elaborate description of what they do. Making a comparison to Saramago's work, we can see "the doctor" as a professional, without laborious detail to explain it. We take at face value that he is in fact a doctor, just like we take at face value that the wife is playing her part as the wife, and the artilleryman is being an artilleryman.
3. A dramatic means of immediacy and secrecy: H. G. Wells is attempting to make the invasion terrifying, immediate, and impacting the world, globally, as people are reading the book. Another technique authors use to create this immediacy effect is to keep characters generalized, in order for the plot to move more quickly. If, for instance, Wells stopped to clue us into backstory on the wife or the artilleryman, or even the nameless narrator, then the immediacy would go away. We'd feel safer knowing details like where they grew up, or what favorite restaurant they ate at. They become familiar and, at the same time, more distant. But because he wrote them to be anyone, anywhere, a little bit of secrecy is left for the reader, propelling the plot forward quickly.
Another good example and comparison to Wells's work can be found in Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. The main character is referred to throughout the novel as the "second Mrs. de Winter." The distance, for the reader, keeps the suspense, especially because we know early on that she's the second wife, in a story where an air of mystery surrounds the death of her husband's first wife. The plot and story move very quickly.
In Wells's War of the Worlds, the reader is kept at a distance to heighten the dramatic effect of the global chaos, the urgency of the attack, and the nameless narrator's plight to survive. It is one of the great successes of the novel.