The War of the Worlds Characters
by H. G. Wells

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

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

An artilleryman, the only survivor of his outfit. He and the narrator escape together by hiding in bushes and streams.

A curate

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.

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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 through evolution it also lost something; here, the Martians have gained great intellects but have lost the robust bodies of their evolutionary past. With advanced technology has come contempt for nature, and with that contempt has come ignorance. The infections surprise the overconfident aliens, and they are reduced to crying "ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla" as dogs run them down.

Wells was a cautionary visionary in an era when Western civilization reveled in its technological conquest of nature. The novel directly contradicts the assumption that all technological progress makes life better. The Martians see themselves as so superior to nature that they are not bound by rules of morality and ethical behavior. But their contempt for other living beings brings about their own destruction. They treat humans like beasts and ruthlessly pursue them like hunters. By implication, so too may humanity's arrogance lead to destruction by the forces of nature.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, critics 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 by technologically...

(The entire section is 2,803 words.)