The War of the Worlds

by

H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the morning, the narrator and the artilleryman set out together, traveling north in order to avoid the third cylinder, which lies between Woking and Leatherhead. In their travels, they pass a group of cavalry soldiers who tell them to travel to Weybridge so that the artilleryman can report to a military official. On their way, they come upon another group of soldiers, this one with hidden guns pointed toward Woking. In Byfleet, they see that the soldiers are having a difficult time convincing residents to flee the area. “Do you know what’s over there?” the narrator says to one man who seems particularly hesitant to leave behind his possessions. The man tries to explain that his belongings are valuable, but the narrator cuts him off, yelling, “Death! Death is coming! Death!”
The narrator’s eruption at the man wanting to stay with his possessions marks the first time that he shows that he fully understands the gravity of the current situation. No longer is he somebody who will doubt the Martians—now he knows that the creatures bring nothing but “death,” and he tries to spread this news. Unfortunately, others are unprepared to hear such messages, perhaps because they’re reluctant to accept this reality. In this way, the narrator himself takes on the job the newspapers should be doing, taking it upon himself to spread whatever information he can in order to help others survive.
Themes
News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon
Upon reaching Weybridge, the narrator and artilleryman can’t find the military headquarters amidst the chaos of confused pedestrians and eager traffic. Moving on, they try to cross the Thames River—a difficult endeavor, since there aren’t enough boats to ferry everybody across. At that moment, a “muffled thud” sounds in the distance, and then the narrator hears gunfire. At once, four Martian machines arrive, destroying everything in their path. Aware of the Heat-Ray, the narrator instructs everybody to jump into the water. Just as the nearest machine is about to use its Heat-Ray, one of the large guns operated by soldiers finally hits its target, smashing the hood of the machine and sending it whirling down. In its descent, it decimates a church before falling into the river. 
Again, the narrator uses what little knowledge he possesses to help others, quickly spreading his idea to jump in the water to avoid the Heat-Ray. On another note, the fact that the dying Martian topples over a church on its way down is highly symbolic; in this moment, Wells suggests that even if humans are able to defeat the Martians, life on earth as they know it will still be damaged greatly, perhaps beyond repair.
Themes
News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon
When the fighting machine hits the water, the Heat-Ray sends massive quantities of steam into the air and creates an enormous wave of blisteringly hot water. The other three Martian machines approach, and the narrator dives deep underwater. When he emerges for air, he sees that the fighting machines have crowded around their fallen comrade. People take this opportunity to get out of the river and run into the woods, but one of the machines smites them with its Heat-Ray, which swoops across the river and creates another large wave. In the scalding water, the narrator rushes to the bank and falls down, where he lies incapacitated and exposed, expecting “nothing but death.” He vaguely remembers a Martian machine walking right by his head as it carries—along with the other two machines—its fallen comrade. Then all is quiet, and he realizes he has survived.
If the destroyed fighting machine is to be read as symbolic, then the aftermath of its death is also significant. Indeed, when it falls into the water, it sends up an enormous wave of hot water that no doubt kills many humans. As such, Wells implies that humans will be hard-pressed to survive battles with the Martians, since even just one alien death results in so many earthly casualties.  
Themes
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon