The War of the Worlds

by

H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Early one morning, what seems to many to be “an ordinary falling star” streaks across the sky, leaving behind a glowing streak of green light. Ogilvy sees this and believes it to be a meteorite. Estimating that it  landed in the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking, he rushes out of his house to find it. When he comes upon the object, he sees that it has made a massive hole in the earth and that it is a cylinder of some sort. The Thing, as the narrator calls it, is quite large and covered in a scaly substance that is too hot to touch or approach. From inside, Ogilvy can hear faint sounds, but he attributes them to the “unequal cooling” of the cylinder’s surface. 
Ogilvy’s encounter with the fallen cylinder is the first time in The War of the Worlds that a character comes into direct contact with the unknown. Wells accentuates this by calling the cylinder “the Thing,” a vague title that speaks to Ogilvy’s inability to comprehend or contextualize the otherworldly object. What’s more, by attributing the sounds coming from the Thing to “unequal cooling,” Ogilvy again proves himself unwilling to entertain ideas that lie outside his established understanding of the world. Once more, he tries to use science to avoid acknowledging the unknown.
Themes
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
The only person in Horsell Common, Ogilvy studies the Thing. As it cools, its outer layer begins to flake off, and soon the oblong end sticking into the air starts to rotate. The cylinder, Ogilvy realizes, is unscrewing. “Good heavens!” he cries. “There’s a man in it—men in it! Half roasted to death! Trying to escape!” Finally, he remembers the flashes from Mars and immediately connects the two things in his mind. He rushes toward the Thing, excited by the idea that men might be inside, but is forced to stop because of the immense heat radiating from the cylinder. Turning, he climbs out of the cratered pit made by the Thing and runs toward Woking. On the way, he passes a wagoner, but when he tries to tell the man what he’s seen, he sounds beside himself and looks disheveled, having lost his hat in the pit. The wagoner drives on.
It’s significant that the wagoner refuses to listen to Ogilvy simply due to the astronomer’s excited temperament and disheveled appearance. The wagoner’s reluctance to pay attention to poor Ogilvy denotes the extent to which humanity—and perhaps especially British society in the late 19th century—values order and civility. Unfortunately, this preoccupation with appearances blinds people to the severity of their situation, and Wells shows that humans too often invest themselves in trivial matters instead of paying attention to the most pressing concerns.
Themes
Order, Subordination, and Hierarchy Theme Icon
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon
As he rushes on, Ogilvy encounters a bartender closing up his pub. Like the wagoner, though, the man thinks Ogilvy is crazy and even tries to lock him inside the taproom. Escaping, the astronomer finally finds a London journalist named Henderson, who agrees to accompany him back to the pit. When the two men arrive, the sounds from within the cylinder have stopped, but the top has screwed off enough so that a silver threading is visible, air rushing through the newly opened space. Henderson and Ogilvy approach, rapping against the Thing but receiving no response. They then rush back toward town, where Henderson sends a telegraph to London. “The newspaper articles had prepared men’s minds for the reception of the idea,” the narrator writes. He notes that by eight in the morning, a group of people have set out to see the “dead men from Mars.”
Although the newspaper articles about the flashes from Mars were primarily written in jest, they succeeded in at least “prepar[ing] men’s minds” for the arrival of the Thing. This demonstrates the large impact newspapers have on the narrator’s society, which is clearly influenced by the media (even when the media fails to take its job seriously enough). The impact of such news organizations is worth remembering as The War of the Worlds progresses, as characters descend into chaos with the eventual loss of access to such sources of information.
Themes
News and The Dissemination of Information Theme Icon