The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 8 : Friday Night | Summary

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Summary

The narrator reflects on how few people were initially impacted by the first use of the Heat-Ray and how slowly the arrival of the Martians became known. Henderson's editors in London did not believe Henderson's report, as he was unable to confirm it, and they did not print it. Even people in the surrounding area continue with their daily activities "as though no planet Mars existed in the sky." However, those near the common are very much aware and curious, and a few more people are killed by the Heat-Ray when they try to approach the hole. There are sounds of hammering coming from the pit.

The narrator compares the cylinder ominously to a poison dart, whose poison "was scarcely working yet."

Toward midnight two companies of soldiers arrive, and the narrator judges them properly aware of the threat. The next day the newspapers reports more military reinforcements are on their way. Just after midnight the second cylinder falls.

Analysis

The narrator questions the lack of alarm felt over the arrival of the Martians, as he reflects on those events later. He mentions their presence and threat "certainly did not make the sensation that an ultimatum to Germany would have done." Wells is referring to a fear of invasion felt at the time in much of Europe after what was seen as the aggression of Germany against France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, during which Germany beat the largest army in Europe in less than two months. This fear gave rise to the literary genre invasion literature, the first example being The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney. Authors of invasion literature imagined all sorts of invaders threatening home shores. This was somewhat unusual given England's status as the world's imperial superpower of the day with colonies across the globe. In any case what the narrator finds most interesting at this point of the narrative is how little fear the people seem to show, given that a much greater probable threat than Germany has landed in their midst.

The author creates a sense of inevitability by comparing the cylinder to a menacing poison dart. Once struck, it is too late. Nothing can be done. The effects of the poison cannot be avoided, and the resulting "fever of war ... would presently clog vein and artery, deaden nerve and destroy brain, [although it] had still to develop."

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