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The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

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Main characters and their contextual significance in The War of the Worlds


The main characters in The War of the Worlds are the unnamed narrator, his brother, and the artilleryman. The narrator’s perspective provides an intimate view of the Martian invasion's impact on individuals, while his brother's experiences highlight the broader societal collapse. The artilleryman represents human resilience and the struggle for survival amidst the chaos.

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Who are the main characters in The War of the Worlds?

As befits a book about a Martian invasion, The War of the Worlds has a big list of characters, but the main characters are the unnamed narrator, the Martians, the narrator's brother, the artillery man, the curate, and Ogilvy.

The novel starts with the narrator, a writer of philosophical texts, explaining that planets such as Mars have been scrutinizing human behavior for years and insisting we don't judge 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.

He continues to explain how the Martians came to power and what life is like under their reign, describing the Martians as follows:

The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth—above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes—were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous.

The Martians first arrive in the narrator's town of Woking, but through correspondence with his brother, he also tells the reader about their later invasion of London.

They say there’s been guns heard at Chertsey, heavy firing, and that mounted soldiers have told them to get off at once because the Martians are coming. We heard guns firing at Hampton Court station, but we thought it was thunder. What the dickens does it all mean?

The narrator manages to escape with a driver from the artillery and hides out in a cellar with the curate—a preacher who believes the invasion is God's judgement.

Tragically, the curate goes mad, and the narrator is forced to sacrifice him to the Martians to avoid detection.

Ogilvy, the first to open the cylinder containing the Martians, also dies when he approaches the Martians with a white flag.

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Who are the main characters in The War of the Worlds?

The War of the Worlds is narrated by an unnamed man, usually considered to be a pastiche of H.G. Wells himself. The Narrator is very cool and collected, and able to think logically even in dangerous situations.

The Narrator's Wife is his reason for continuing to survive; she acts as the symbol of his sanity and normalcy, and even when he fears her dead he continues to try and find her. At the end, they find each other alive.

The Narrator's Brother acts as an example of the people trying to escape the city who have not directly seen a Martian. He helps several people escape on a boat, and survives to relate his story to the Narrator.

Ogilvy is an astronomer and the Narrator's friend. He is one of the first people to observe a Martian, and the first to attempt a peaceful negotiation with them; sadly, he is killed for his trouble.

The Curate is a priest whose faith has been shaken by the Martians; he slowly loses his sanity, and endangers the Narrator with his ravings.

The Artilleryman is a soldier with romantic notions of rebuilding humanity. The Narrator believes him to be a possible leader of a Martian Resistance until he realizes that the Artilleryman actually does nothing to attain his goals, preferring to survive alone with his dreams.

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How are the characters linked to the context in The War of the Worlds?

It is interesting that Wells in this seminal text of alien invasion and the annexation of our world presents various characters as representing different responses to the sudden appearance of aliens and the way that humans are actually shown to be so overpowered and weak all of a sudden. The context of the novel therefore is one that presents humans as suddenly being confronted by their own weakness and limitations after centuries of living as the master race.

The artilleryman for example seems to try and argue for the setting up of an alternative society in the sewers of the former civilisation. He paints glorious visions of how man will rebuild a new world underneath the noses of the martians. However, as the narrator realises, in spite of the impressive dreams he has, he is not really dedicated to them and can't be bothered to work to put them into reality. Illusion and dreams seem to be his escape from the horror of what is happening.

The curate that the narrator briefly spends time with is shown to respond to the situation in absolute panic and fear. This annoys the narrator, because he does not see the point of giving your life to religion if it does not allow you to face life with equanimity. The curate, in the face of food shortages when he and the narrator are trapped together, continues to eat and consume food wastefully and is shown to be unstable when he begins to cry out and threatens to draw the attention of the nearby martians. The curate therefore represents the way in which pre-existing ways of thinking and approaches to the world are shown to be lacking when faced with the context of the story.

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