The War of the Worlds Study Guide

The War of the Worlds By H. G. Wells

The narrator is at an observatory where he and others witness explosions on Mars. Later, a 'meteor' lands southwest of London, close to the narrator's home. He is among the first to discover that the meteors are artificial cylinders from which Martians - bulky, octopus-like creatures the size of bears - are emerging, struggling with the atmosphere, and retreating back inside. The Martians incinerate the only human who approaches with a heat-ray, and they begin constructing alien machinery.

The narrator takes his wife to Leatherhead to stay with relatives, and returns home to see the towering tripods the Martians have built, armed with a heat-ray and a chemical weapon: 'the black smoke'. The Tripods defeat local armies and begin laying waste to communities. As he flees, the narrator meets an artilleryman who tells him that a cylinder has also landed between them and Leatherhead - he is cut off from his wife.

More cylinders land across England, and people start evacuating. A short 'war' later, and all organized resistance has been crushed. The Tripods roam that shattered landscape searching for more targets, and 'Red Weed', a Martian form of vegetation, has expanded swiftly across the countryside, ruining the ecosphere.

The narrator hides in a ruined building, and a cylinder lands nearby, trapping him inside with an insane curate who believes the Martians to be satanic creatures heralding the end of the world. The curate's outbursts attract the Martians, and they kill the curate while the narrator hides.

Eventually, he escapes and heads toward London. He meets the artilleryman again, and is introduced to plans to rebuild civilization underground, but it is obvious that the plans are fruitless. Just as the narrator decides to commit suicide by rushing at the Martians, only to find that they have all suddenly perished at the hands of terrestrial pathogenic bacteria to which they have no immunity. The narrator unexpectedly reunites with his wife, and they along with the rest of humanity must face the reconstruction of their lives with the knowledge that the universe is much bigger than they believed.

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Note how "the death of the curate" is referred to frequently in the narrative in indirect or passive ways. Why does Wells do this?

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