The War of the Worlds


H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 1, Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

In the morning, the narrator speaks to the milkman, who laughs and says, “This lot’ll cost the insurance people a pretty penny before everything’s settled.”  He goes on to inform the narrator that the woods are still on fire. When he leaves, the narrator walks toward Horsell Common, and on his way comes across a group of soldiers who ask him what the Martians look like. Despite their eager talk about “shelling” the aliens, it’s clear they know nothing about the situation. Later, the narrator fetches a newspaper, but is disappointed to learn nothing new. In the afternoon, gunfire can be heard coming from the Common.
The consequences of poor reporting and a deficit of information slowly become apparent when the soldiers reveal their ignorance. After all, these men are supposed to be the ones in control of the situation, but they know nothing about what has happened or what they’re up against. The fact that the narrator, who has only caught glimpses of the Martians, must fill in the people who have been sent to control the situation shows the extent to which the hierarchy of humankind is already beginning to crumble. Not only is humankind failing to communicate effectively, but it’s also failing to uphold its own social structures. 
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That evening, the narrator has tea with his wife while the war rages on outside. Looking out the window, he sees trees burst into flames and the tops of buildings vanish entirely. The chimney of his house cracks, and he realizes the Heat-Ray has destroyed everything between his house and the Common. At this point, he resolves to leave with his wife, suggesting that they go to Leatherhead, where they have relatives. Hiding his wife along the road, he rushes off to the Spotted Dog, an inn owned by a man who possesses a horse and dogcart. The narrator offers the innkeeper two pounds to borrow both, promising to return them by midnight. Riding back to his wife, the narrator passes a soldier fleeing in the other direction, who tells him the Martians seem to be on the move. Collecting his wife, he sets off for Leatherhead.
Within the space of a single evening, the narrator goes from calmly drinking tea to frantically running through burning streets in order to escape. In this way, Wells allows the strange everyday habits of England’s social order to sit alongside the harrowing new reality of the Martian invasion. But even amidst such chaos and danger, elements of normal order prevail, as is the case when the narrator pays the innkeeper to borrow his horse and dogcart, thereby upholding the dictates of society and its commitment to capital gain even in highly unusual circumstances that may very well render money useless.
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