Still standing on the mound, the narrator takes stock of his surroundings, feeling that he’s studying the landscape of another planet entirely. “For that moment,” he writes, “I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow, and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house.” He characterizes this as a feeling of “dethronement,” a hint that humankind is no longer the “master” of earth.
Wells confirms here that The War of the Worlds is a story about the rearrangement of earth’s pecking order. By using the word “dethronement,” the narrator implies that humans have long been the rulers of the animal kingdom. Now, though, the Martians have forced humankind into submission, and the narrator finally understands what “poor brutes” like “rabbit[s]” and other animals have experienced during the reign of man.
Focusing on his hunger, the narrator moves toward a garden, sometimes wading neck-deep through thick patches of the red weed. He eventually finds onions and, later, mushrooms. By a stream, he notices that the red weed becomes even more magnificent when it encounters water, flourishing rapidly and with “tropical exuberance.” He notes now—in retrospect—that the red weed eventually succumbs to “a cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the action of certain bacteria.” Elaborating, he writes: “Now, by the action of natural selection, all terrestrial plants have acquired a resisting power against bacterial diseases—they never succumb without a severe struggle, but the red weed rotted like a thing already dead.”
Although the red weed succeeds in spreading far and wide, the narrator highlights the fact that it’s unfit for earth’s environment. Like the Martians themselves, whose bodies are advanced but less effective on earth than on Mars, the red weed has developed “by the action of natural selection” according to its own atmosphere. Because Mars has no bacteria, then, the red weed hasn’t built up a tolerance for micro-organisms. By explaining this, Wells clearly lays out the simple science behind Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is ultimately significant because many readers in the late 19th century were skeptical of Darwin’s theory.
Moving on through the ravaged woods and countryside—passing through abandoned towns—the narrator is troubled by the utter silence of the land, thinking that the entirety of human life has been “swept out of existence.” He wonders if the Martians have perhaps moved to some other city—Berlin or Paris—to find new food, since they’ve clearly exhausted all forms of sustenance in England.
When the narrator turns his mind to where the Martians have gone, he ultimately considers the notion of scarcity. Indeed, the aliens seem to have depleted England’s resources in the same way that they’ve depleted their own planet’s resources. With this thought comes the idea that the Martians are on a never-ending journey to find an environment that can sustain them. While this is an important element of survival, their inability to efficiently garner their resources implies a certain lack of foresight in the struggle for longevity.