The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 2, Chapter 4 : The Death of the Curate | Summary

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Summary

After six days trapped in the ruined house, the narrator and curate fight over the food that remains, and the narrator believes the curate has become insane. By the eighth day the curate begins to rave loudly about God and judgment, and the narrator knocks him unconscious, possibly dead, to silence him.

A handling-machine becomes aware of the men's presence because of the noise they make. It inserts its metallic tentacle through the hole and drags off the curate. The narrator retreats to hide in the coal shed. The tentacle returns, opens the door of the coal cellar, and feels around the room. It comes close to the narrator, even touches his shoes, but does not find him. The narrator remains hidden in the pile of coal a full day.

Analysis

Wells brings all his skills of suspense and horror to bear in what is arguably the most frightening scene in the novel. The scene with the tentacles penetrating the ruins is fearsome because of what readers know about the aliens by now. The author spent the previous chapter describing the Martians is great detail and explained the gruesome end that awaits their captives, as well as the agility of the handling-machines. This preparation means readers have a sense of dread of what may be in store for the narrator, who is completely trapped. The slow unfolding of the scene and the repeat appearances of the cold, methodical tentacle build the suspense even more.

In the curate's rants about God's punishment, judged by the narrator to be the words of an insane man, Wells makes a final comment on the Church. It is nothing but a source of misery in the midst of suffering. Readers may go so far as to see the narrator's actions as the author suggesting that the voice of the Church be silenced as it cannot help man in times of need.

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