The War of the Worlds


H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Each night, a new cylinder arrives. The Martians spend their time in the afternoons bringing items from new cylinders to their base in Horsell Common, where they work late at night under clouds of green smoke. Meanwhile, the narrator makes his way toward London. On his way, he finds an abandoned boat and paddles it with his hands through deserted towns. “It is a curious thing,” he writes, “that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead worried me excessively.”
Throughout The War of the Worlds, the narrator is a rather flat character. Most of his emotions tend to center around horror, disgust, and—occasionally—relief. Although his desire to find his wife is ostensibly his driving force, survival most often seems to be his main concern. However, in this moment he shows a strange emotional fluctuation that complicates his inner world—he admits to feeling angry at his wife. This is perhaps because he resents having to constantly worry about her safety—after all, he needs to focus all his attention on his own survival, so any energy expended thinking about his wife only puts him in greater danger.
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After beaching his boat in Middlesex, the narrator drifts out of consciousness, finally opening his eyes again to behold a curate sitting across from him. This man is hysterically lamenting humanity’s situation, saying, “Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? […] All our work undone, all the work—What are these Martians?” The narrator has little tolerance for such complaints, eventually barking, “Be a man! You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent, man.” As the two men speak, they begin to hear gunshots. In response, they jump up and run away together.
The narrator normalizes the catastrophe, trying to lend the curate some perspective on the situation even though the circumstances are indeed quite dire. Nonetheless, it’s true that that humankind has braved all sorts of disasters (“earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes”), and there’s no reason why the Martian invasion shouldn’t be seen as a similar obstacle to overcome. Religion, he argues, is supposed to give humans the faith they need to withstand hardship, but the curate seems to think otherwise, believing his religious devotion should render him exempt from pain and sorrow. The narrator naturally rejects this notion, arguing that nobody is “exempt” from this sort of calamity.
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