The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 2, Chapter 8 : Dead London | Summary

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Summary

The narrator continues walking through the city of London, passing many dead bodies, a drunken man, looted shops, and black dust. The city is silent, "condemned and derelict." He hears then the first of the howling, which increases in volume as he nears the city center. He comes upon a Martian making the noise who "appeared to be standing and yelling, for no reason," and who did not move. As he makes his way to get a closer look, he comes across a broken handling-machine that wrecked itself by driving straight into a house. He happens on another Martian, as still as the first. Suddenly, the howling stops.

As night falls the narrator becomes terrified and hides. In the morning he finds a third motionless Martian. In that moment he says, "An insane resolve possessed me" to walk up to the Martian and "save myself even the trouble of killing myself." He runs toward it to discover a great pit. The Martian hanging out of the hood of its machine is dead as are all the others and their machines, brought down by bacteria to which they had no resistance, just like the red weed. The narrator reflects that the Martians had been doomed since their arrival. His hope for humanity returns, and he thanks God.

Analysis

This chapter contains the climax of the story. All of the action and suspense has built rising tension to this moment of confrontation with the Martians. All the foreshadowing pointing toward the cause of their downfall becomes clear. In their death the problem of the novel is resolved. The invaders are no longer a threat to humanity.

The author reminds readers of one last important aspect of evolution in this chapter. Context is everything. Humans have adapted to survive on Earth. While superior in many ways, Martians evolved to survive on Mars and lacked defenses against the "humblest things that God, in his wisdom ... put on this earth."

The author again uses an intimate knowledge of the setting to lend realism to the novel. He describes moving through the city of London with great accuracy, mentioning which landmarks can be seen from which locations. This makes it easy for readers to imagine the events clearly. The destruction of London, the capital of the British Empire, has more impact because of this realism.

The narrator also compares the sudden destruction of the Martians to the work of the angel of death in Sennacherib's destruction. This is a reference to the biblical account of the overnight deaths of 185,000 Assyrians under the command of King Sennacherib as they sought to conquer Jerusalem during the rule of King Hezekiah around 700 BCE. When the narrator says he thought "God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain them in the night," he imagines London as Jerusalem and the Martians as the invading Assyrians. He imagines God repenting for allowing the Martians in the capital and sending his Angel of Death in the night to kill them, thus saving the city.

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