The War of the Worlds

by

H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After wallowing on the floor, the narrator pours himself a glass of whiskey and goes upstairs to survey the decimated landscape from his study window. The Oriental College, which used to stand between his house and Horsell Common, has had its top blown off, and the narrator can see a “vivid red glare” around the pit. Against this light, black shadows of strange shapes move back and forth, working on something the narrator can’t identify. The narrator also sees a destroyed train on its tracks, pluming with flames and smoke. Studying the Martians’ large machines, he wonders how they’re operated—“did a Martian sit within each,” he writes, “ruling, directing, using, much as a man’s brain sits and rules in his body?”
The destruction of the Oriental College and the nearby train is symbolic of humanity’s collapsing infrastructure. The ruined college especially signifies the breakdown of the race, since it was once an institution where communication, knowledge, and innovation flourished. The gleaming fighting machines, on the other hand, represent the Martians’ power and dominance, their ability to quickly build an impressive empire that can force humanity into submission. 
Themes
Order, Subordination, and Hierarchy Theme Icon
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narrator hears a sound below and sees a man walking through his garden. He whispers down to the man, who tells him he’s trying to hide. Letting this stranger inside, the narrator offers him whiskey and waits for him to calm down. Finally, the newcomer says that he’s an artilleryman who was momentarily separated from his regiment when his horse tripped and fell. Right at this moment, his fellow soldiers—who were trying operate a large gun to shoot down the Martians in their fighting machines—were incinerated by a Heat-Ray. With his horse lying atop him, the artilleryman waited until it was safe to escape, at which point he made his way through ditches until finding himself in the narrator’s garden. Nobody else in Horsell Common, he says, seems to have survived this attack. 
For the first time since speaking briefly to the milkman, the narrator gets a chance to obtain information from a fellow human. The report the artilleryman delivers is incredibly grim, but the narrator has at least gained a companion. Once again, readers see how ordinary customs carry on in times of fear and disaster, as the narrator cordially offers the artilleryman a glass of whiskey in his dining room. Whereas earlier in the novel the continuance of the “social order” seemed irresponsible and misguided, here such customs help the narrator and his new friend cope with the dreadful circumstances, buoying their spirits in a small but still significant way.
Themes
Order, Subordination, and Hierarchy Theme Icon
News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon
The narrator serves the artilleryman mutton and bread, which they share in the darkness for fear of attracting the Martians by lighting a lamp. They then go upstairs to the narrator’s study and survey the charred land before them. “Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal,” the narrator remembers. Worse, the pit seems to have grown even bigger, and a vaporous green substance billows into the air above it.
Although the narrator and artilleryman feel more at ease after having found one another, there’s no doubt the situation outside is worsening. Furthermore, that the destruction wrought by the Martians is “indiscriminate” is especially harrowing, since it makes it even harder for the narrator to understand or contextualize what the aliens are trying to achieve. Unlike an invading army from a foreign country, which would target specific sites, the Martians appear bent on bringing about complete destruction.
Themes
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon