The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 4 : The Cylinder Opens | Summary



As the sun sets, the narrator returns to the pit, where a few hundred people have gathered. A boy warns the narrator that the end of the cylinder has unscrewed itself, and the narrator forces his way to the front of the crowd to get a better view. Ogilvy warns the people to stay away and reminds them of its unknown contents. One man is pushed into the pit by the jostling of the crowd. The end of the cylinder comes off and falls into the pit. The narrator and the crowd are horrified by the grotesque octopus-like appearance of an alien who slowly and painstakingly emerges from the cylinder. The narrator and the crowd run away from the pit, but many, including the narrator, stop to watch the aliens from the nearby tree line. The sun sets, leaving enough light to just see the silhouette of the shopkeeper as he tries and fails to get out of the pit alive.


The author introduces the theme of fear in Chapter 4. The foreshadowing of danger in previous chapters begins to dawn on the characters as the little boy runs away from the cylinder as it opens and Stent cries, "Keep back! Keep back!" The crowd presses in, and with a growing sense of alarm even Ogilvy seems wary about the contents of the cylinder. The appearance of the Martian who emerges from the cylinder is so strange it elicits instant fear in the observers, causing one woman to scream and the narrator to be gripped by "ungovernable terror."

The author uses the final sentences of the chapter to illustrate that those things that give humans a sense of safety and control, represented by the crowd, experts, tools, vehicles, and horses, are useless in the face of the Martians. None of those things are able to help the ill-fated shopkeeper. Helplessness when faced with the unknown is an idea the author will continue to develop.

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