The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 2, Chapter 2 : What We Saw from the Ruined House | Summary



The morning after the landing of the fifth cylinder, the narrator observes the pit and a new Martian technology, the handling-machine. He describes it as a metallic spider with five legs and three tentacles that moves as if it were alive.

The narrator describes in detail what he notices about the anatomy of the Martians in the pit next to his hiding place, as well as what later autopsies reveal about their internal makeup and means of sustenance. He speculates that Martians evolved from creatures not unlike humans, becoming less animal and more intelligent. Finally he notes that Martians have no germs or pathogens.

The narrator explains the red weed and the auditory and vocal mechanisms of the Martians' bodies. He positions himself as the human with the most authority on the Martians because of his extended observations of them at close range during his time trapped in the ruins of the house. The narrator explains the mechanical makeup of the Martian machines.

The narrator observes the handling-machine using parts from the cylinder to build what he suspects is a copy of itself.


Wells uses scientific details and real places to create the realism in an otherwise fantastic tale. Citing fictional but believable sources, he blurs the line between fiction and reality, making readers question where one ends and the other begins. The narrator offers a scientific analysis and explanation of Martian anatomy. Professor Howes, whom Wells claims identified the hand of the Martians through information obtained from autopsies, was a real zoology professor at the Normal School of Science, the author's alma mater, and worked closely with Wells's mentor, T.H. Huxley. Using a real scientist together with a fictitious scientific claim lends believability to the narrative. The narrator uses such names, including fictional ones, with confidence, throwing out things such as "according to Phillips, blue and violet were as black" to alien eyes. The author continues to blur the lines between fiction and reality when the narrator mentions and questions the reliability of a pamphlet with illustrations of the tripods, suggesting readers may have seen it. It is the scientific accuracy and authority with which the author describes the fantastic, imagined scenario that created the foundation of science fiction in the book.

The author introduces the concept of evolution in this chapter, speculating that the Martians may have descended from creatures similar to humans. According to Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest, the aliens have evolved to be more brain and less body. He describes them as "heads—merely heads" without the basic needs of humans such as food and sleep. When the author mentions "a certain speculative writer of quasi-scientific repute" who published a prediction of the Martians in Pall Mall Budget later satirized in Punch, he is actually referring to himself, Wells. He described evolved men, not dissimilar to the Martians, in the article "The Man of the Year Million" in 1893. The Martians use increased intellect to build machines to accomplish the tasks bodies once did, using and changing them the way people might change clothes. The tripods and the handling-machines do the work the Martians cannot.

Wells uses foreshadowing once again in this chapter. Later autopsies of the Martian invaders certainly suggest human survival and some level of Martian defeat. Readers are left to wonder how this might come about. The author also foreshadows the answer to this question when the narrator mentions that the "sanitary science" on Mars had long since eradicated the microorganisms that cause disease.

In this chapter readers learn more about the red weed, a motif that will recur in the chapters that follow. The narrator explains it came from seeds the Martians brought with them and thrives near water.

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