The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 2 : The Falling Star | Summary

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Summary

The narrator recalls the night "of the first falling star." Although he speculates many must have seen it, and indeed he himself could have witnessed it, he names three astronomers who note its descent, including Ogilvy, who hurries to its landing on Horsell Common. There he discovers a large cylinder in a huge crater created by its impact. The heat of the cylinder keeps him away initially, but he moves to get a closer look when he hears noises coming from it and observes that the end of the cylinder is slowly rotating. Ogilvy realizes the object is not a meteorite but something he assumes to be humanmade and connected to the occurrences on Mars. He becomes alarmed about the welfare of the inhabitants inside, but the extreme heat of the cylinder prevents him from offering assistance.

In distress Ogilvy runs to the nearby village for help but finds no one who will listen until he meets the journalist Henderson, and the two return to the crater but are still unable to help anyone inside the silent cylinder. The men return to the village, where Henderson sends a telegraph message about the event to London.

By 8 a.m. people have gathered around the crater, and the narrator learns about the "dead men from Mars" from the paperboy and proceeds toward Horsell Common to see for himself.

Analysis

The author explores the false assumptions people make about those different from them. The cylinder is so unexpected and unlike anything Ogilvy has encountered that he must use the familiar to interpret the new phenomenon. When it behaves differently from a meteorite by rotating on one end, he recognizes that the object is designed and made rather than naturally occurring, but he assumes it is a humanmade vehicle with actual people inside. He also assumes the heat of the descent is burning the occupants in the cylinder. He is unable to imagine the differences between himself and the cylinder's occupants, so his assumptions are incorrect, and the author foreshadows the dire results by calling him "poor Ogilvy."

The author continues to build suspense through the use of foreshadowing. Because readers know the occupants of the cylinder are Martians as described in the previous chapter, they have a sense of foreboding about the cylinder that the characters in the chapter do not. The false assumption of the characters about men inside the cylinder creates suspense for readers as they imagine that taking different actions might help the characters avoid the harm that will befall them. It's the same technique directors use in horror films that makes the audience want to scream out of fear, "Don't go in there!"

The author uses the symbols of the telegraph and the newspaper to represent modern communication made possible by technological progress in England. These relatively recent advances meant that news of events was disseminated across a wide area more rapidly than ever before. The daily news and the ability to reach far cities and countries through these technologies generated confidence and a sense of security, which would be useless when faced with such events as the story will tell.

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