The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 16 : The Exodus from London | Summary

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Summary

The narrator describes the chaos in London on Monday morning as people struggle to evacuate the city. He picks up the story of his brother again, who takes a bicycle in the midst of the looting of a shop. The flood of refugees from London crowds the streets, so he takes a footpath eastward, where he chances upon two ladies and saves them from two thieves trying to steal their pony-chaise. In turn the younger lady saves him from the thieves with the use of a revolver. He accompanies them as they wait for a man who is the husband of one woman and the other's brother. They proceed on when Mr. Elphinstone does not arrive, and they feel anxious to be on the move. They reach a chaotic crossroads, flooded with people and vehicles, all fighting to get through. They witness a man crushed to death and force their way across—Miss Elphinstone brandishing the revolver—to continue their flight.

Analysis

The author develops the character of the narrator's brother showing his sense of chivalry in preventing the thieves from stealing the women's pony-chaise and accompanying them on the journey, which may not be entirely selfless, as their vehicle does provide him with transportation rather than leaving him to continue on foot. He feels compassion for the people he sees suffering around him, and he demonstrates his willingness to risk his life to save others a second time when he attempts to save the man in the middle of the road crushed by a wheel.

Readers see again just how quickly civilization crumbles. So too does civility and, one might argue, people's humanity with it. The suffering and selfish scrambling of the crossroads echoes the narrator's panicked flight from Woking earlier in the book.

The author complicates Victorian gender roles in this chapter. Although the narrator's brother plays the role of chivalrous hero/protector, he needs to be saved from the thieves himself.

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