The War of the Worlds

by

H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds: Book 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the sixth day of their confinement, the narrator finds the curate drinking wine in the kitchen. After wrestling with him, the bottle breaks against the floor. The narrator stands perfectly still, waiting, and when nothing happens, he goes to the pantry and divides the remaining food into rations, firmly telling the curate that he can’t overeat or overdrink anymore. The curate is incensed, but the narrator stands between him and the food, forcing a standoff that lasts throughout the night. In the coming days, the curate psychologically unravels, whimpering for food. On the eighth day, he gives up whispering and dares to speak at full volume. “It is just, O God!” he repeats. “It is just. On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have fallen short.”
The curate’s audacity in this moment aligns with the narrator’s previous suggestion that fear has robbed the man of all reason. Food, it seems, is the only thing left that the curate cares about, and when the narrator takes it away, he has no reason to keep quiet. After all, he has lost all “forethought,” meaning that he no longer considers the consequences of his actions. This is why he speaks so loudly, invoking God and inviting punishment.
Themes
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As time wears on, the curate verbally assaults the narrator, pleading loudly for food and threatening to shout to the Martians. When the narrator tells him to be still, he yells, “I have been still too long, and now I must bear my witness. Woe unto this unfaithful city! Woe! […] to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet—” He jumps to his feet goes into the kitchen, saying, “I must bear my witness! I go! It has already been too long delayed.” The narrator finds a heavy knife and clubs the curate over the head with its handle, knocking him unconscious. Unfortunately, he’s too late, and a Martian handling-machine appears in the triangular hole of the kitchen wall.
When the curate goes into the kitchen shouting about how he must “bear witness,” it becomes clear that he has worked himself into some twisted delusion of martyrdom in which he will face the Martians and “bear witness,” as if they are somehow representative of God’s wrath. He even curses “this unfaithful city,” suggesting that anybody who doesn’t “bear witness” is a sinner. The narrator—a rationalist—thinks this is nonsense and tries to save the curate (and himself) by clubbing him over the head. 
Themes
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon
The narrator fumbles over to the pantry as a Martian tentacle worms into the kitchen. Opening a coal-cellar door, he hides in the darkness and hears the Martian moving about the kitchen. Soon the sound of the curate’s body being dragged across the floor is audible. In the cellar, the narrator burrows into a pile of coal. Several moments later, the cellar doorknob clinks, and the narrator realizes the Martians have discovered how to open doors. A tentacle twists into the cellar, sliding over the coal pile, searching for the narrator’s body. The slimy appendage brushes against his boot, then grips a block of coal and retracts, leaving the narrator alone once more. For an entire day, he stays in the cellar without moving. Finally, on the eleventh day of his confinement, he exits the cellar. 
The Martian does two interesting things in this scene. First, it opens the door using its tentacle, which implies that the aliens have a growing body of knowledge regarding human life and the way it operates in the physical world. Second, the Martian takes a piece of coal with it, a fact that suggests the creatures are still actively researching their new environment. This last idea is especially important to remember, as the Martians’ compatibility with earth’s atmosphere figures into the coming chapters.
Themes
The Other and The Unknown Theme Icon
Evolution and Survival Theme Icon