The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 2, Chapter 3 : The Days of Imprisonment | Summary



The narrator and the curate fight each other to see the aliens through a single crack but hide underground in the scullery when they fear they might be seen. With food running out, the proximity of danger, cramped conditions, and opposing personalities, the two come to blows at times. The narrator seems ashamed of this but explains it is the result of being in torturous conditions.

Outside, more fighting machines congregate at the pit, and the handling-machines work to assemble a new type of machine that makes bars of aluminum out of clay. The narrator remarks again that the machines seem more like living beings than the sluggish Martians.

The two men observe a man taken into the pit, and they hear his shrieks and the hooting of the Martians. The narrator says witnessing this "culminating atrocity" reduced the curate to a mere animal, without reason. He claims his reaction was the opposite. He weighed all the options and remained hopeful. The narrator sees the Martians feed on a boy, so he begins to dig a tunnel to escape but abandons the plan.


In the narrator's conflicts with the curate, he uses the curate as a symbol of the Church. The narrator was sent to the "verge of craziness" by the "curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity of mind." As an evolutionary socialist and a member of the Fabian Society, Wells believed in the value of education to better humanity, placing a high value on the power of persuasion and reason to bring about change. In contrast the narrator compares the curate to a "silly woman" and a "spoiled child." In the face of adversity the curate is reduced to "the level of an animal." Wells makes it clear the Church may present no help when humanity faces the apocalypse. Clearly the fittest will survive, and they are the ones who can learn and adapt. Indeed, it is the narrator's education and cool, logical mind that enable him to respond differently from the curate. He continues to hope and goes over all the possible plans of action. He uses his reason to see their best hope in the chance the Martians will simply leave the pit at some point. He uses his captivity to observe them and to learn more about their machines.

In this chapter readers learn about the ways Martians use humans. This answers the question of why they have not exterminated all human life and the purpose of the carriers into which they place people. Martians drain blood from living victims. This trope from vampire horror is made modern in its scientific explanation. The Martians transfer blood from the living to themselves to bypass the need for digestion and the corresponding organs. It is more efficient, more evolved.

The author once again shows readers the superiority of Martian technology. The narrator observes new machines, each with a different purpose. He is amazed at their mysterious construction as well as how the Martians direct their movement without making a sound. The narrator comments on how much more lifelike the machines are than the Martians themselves, raising the question of whether continued technological progress will have the same effect on humans.

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