The War of the Worlds

by

H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At this point, the narrator describes his brother’s experience of the Martian invasion. His brother is a medical student living in London and doesn’t even hear about the aliens’ arrival until Saturday morning, long after the narrator himself first came into contact with the violent beings. When the papers finally circulate in London on Saturday, they include a “brief and vaguely worded telegram” that is “all the more striking for its brevity.” The message reports that the Martians—frightened by crowds of people—killed a group of men with a “quick-firing gun.” The article ends by saying, “Formidable as they seem to be, the Martians have not moved from the pit into which they have fallen, and, indeed, seem incapable of doing so. Probably this is due to the relative strength of the earth’s gravitational energy.” The narrator adds, “On that last text the leader-writers expanded very comfortingly.”
By shifting the narrative to his brother’s experience, the narrator is able to demonstrate just how slowly and inaccurately information about the Martians travels. Indeed, readers once again encounter the false notion that Martians can hardly move because of earth’s gravity. Once again, those who read this news take solace in its optimistic report, reveling in the idea that there are confident “leader-writers” among them who will “comfortingly” explain that the general public has nothing to fear. At this point, readers understand that this kind of misinformation is quite dangerous, since it completely disarms Londoners and puts them off their guard. 
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Later that day, two other newspapers report that all communication with Woking has ceased. The narrator’s brother decides that, merely because he’s curious, he’ll visit the narrator, wanting to see the Martians before they’re killed. When he tries to take a train to Woking, though, he’s told there’s been an accident on the tracks preventing all travel. Still, nobody in London is overly concerned, and the narrator points out that it isn’t until Monday morning that the true panic sets in, since most Londoners don’t read newspapers on Sundays.
Much like the narrator himself, the narrator’s brother shows himself to be overly curious. Rather than displaying an appropriate amount of fear regarding the Martians, he wants to travel to Woking in order to catch a glimpse of the otherworldly creatures. In this case, fear isn’t what stops him—as it is with the narrator—but rather the destruction of railways, a fact that should (but doesn’t) alert him and his fellow city-dwellers to the seriousness of the situation. 
Themes
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The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
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The narrative that the Martians are “sluggish” and unable to move with ease prevails in London because none of the newspapers have access to eye-witness accounts of the deadly creatures. In the morning, the narrator’s brother goes to church at a nearby Foundling Hospital, where the service vaguely references the Martian invasion. After saying a “prayer for peace,” he leaves the church and, reading a newspaper that somewhat disturbs him, he again goes to the train station, where he learns that hordes of people are traveling into London from the outskirts of the city. The station slowly descends into chaos and alarm, and when the narrator’s brother finally leaves, he picks up yet another newspaper. The tone of this paper is much more dire; “Dreadful catastrophe!” reads the headline. “Fighting at Weybridge! Full description! Repulse of the Martians! London in Danger!” Aghast, the brother pays threepence for the paper.
When the London newspapers finally catch up to reality, they portray it in a sensationalist manner. Rather than responsibly spreading the news regarding the dangerous Martians, the papers publish alarmist headlines clearly written to make money. Because like most people he wants to remain up-to-date, the narrator’s brother quickly pays threepence for a copy of this paper. Considering the fact that destruction is imminent—the paper even says that London is in danger—the newspaper should be affordable, since the importance of money pales in comparison to the importance of spreading information about approaching danger. Nonetheless, the newspaper proprietors cling greedily to their profit-making scheme, sowing panic for profit and ignoring their responsibility to warn all of London’s citizens—not just those who can afford to buy the paper.
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News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
Finally, the narrator’s brother begins to comprehend “something of the full power and terror of these monsters,” learning at last that they aren’t “sluggish” and that they command “vast spider-like machines, nearly a hundred feet high,” and that they are fast, and have guns that shoot beams of “intense heat.” Nonetheless, the paper retains an optimistic tone, referencing the single fighting machine felled by military guns in the Thames. The article ends with “reiterated assurances of the safety of London and the ability of the authorities to cope with the difficulty.” 
Despite the newspapers’ sensationalist headlines, the articles are still full of misinformation and unwarranted optimism. The faith the writers of these papers put in the “authorities” just goes to show how eager they are to believe in the strength of the power structures under which they’ve lived their entire lives. Blatantly unwilling to admit that the “social order” is in the process of collapsing, the newspapers strike a bizarre balance of sensationalism and optimism—neither of which helps Londoners prepare for danger.
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News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
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London grows frantic as refugees stream into the city. The narrator’s brother moves between the groups of people, hoping to hear news about Woking to determine the safety of his brother. Later in the evening, he hears gunshots coming from south London, and something like sheet lightning plays across the sky.  That night he’s awoken by bells and commotion in the street. “They are coming!” he hears a policeman scream. “The Martians are coming!” Once outside, he hears people shouting “Black Smoke!” He finds a newspaper vendor and buys yet another paper, which informs him: “The Martians are able to discharge enormous clouds of a black and poisonous vapour by means of rockets. They have smothered our batteries, destroyed Richmond, Kingston, and Wimbledon, and are advancing slowly towards London, destroying everything on the way. It is impossible to stop them” and the only hope for survival is to flee immediately.
By the time the newspapers finally accurately report the situation, it’s too late: it’s already time to evacuate the city. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the narrator’s brother would know next to nothing about these circumstances if he didn’t buy so many newspapers. Indeed, he consults no less than five newspapers in this single chapter, the last of which he acquires in the middle of a city-wide frenzy. As such, Wells shows that, though newspapers are often flawed in the way they spread information, they’re ultimately important when it comes to keeping the public at least somewhat cognizant of pressing issues.
Themes
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