The narrator spends a restless night at an abandoned inn atop Putney Hill, unable to stop thinking about the curate’s death. He turns to God, praying that, if she is dead, his wife died a swift and painless death. Upon rising in the morning, he goes outside and finds a man dressed in rags hiding behind a thicket of bushes. “Stop!” yells this man, approaching. He brusquely explains to the narrator that there’s no food in the area, saying, “This is my country,” and all the food I the area is for him and him alone. When the narrator says he’s trying to go to Leatherhead to find his wife, the renegade is astonished, and the narrator realizes that the man standing before him is the artilleryman he traveled with before meeting the curate.
The artilleryman’s first words to the narrator in this scene are indicative of his overall cutthroat attitude toward survival. Rather than rejoicing in having found another living person, he tries to send the narrator away, claiming that the entire area is off-limits. In this way, the artilleryman is highly territorial and hell-bent on preserving his own means of survival. This competitive mindset is yet another example of how humans often turn against one another in the midst of the Martian invasion, completely focusing on fending for themselves.
The artilleryman fills the narrator in on what’s happened in the past two weeks, explaining that the Martians have gone to London, where they’ve set up a larger encampment. He even dares to say that they’ve invented a flying machine. The narrator is astounded by this, saying, “It is all over with humanity. If they can do that they will simply go round the world.” Although this depresses the narrator, the artilleryman appears unperturbed, taking pleasure in saying, “We’re beat” and, “it’s all over.” He insists that humanity’s struggle against the Martians was never even a war, since humans are mere ants when compared to these unstoppable creatures.
There exists an odd form of optimism in the artilleryman’s outlook, as if it’s a relief to finally give up on humanity. Taking pleasure in this defeatist attitude, he seems unmoored from society—almost happily so, as if humankind’s rule was a burden rather than a privilege. Unlike his fellow humans, the artilleryman has no qualms about embracing the unknown life that lies ahead of the race. The fact that he feels this way implies that he has perhaps always had problems with human society, though what exactly these problems are is not yet clear.
“What will they do with us?” the narrator asks the artilleryman, who tells the narrator that he has thought a great deal about this question. He explains that he has observed people’s reactions to the Martian invasion, and remarks that “most of the people were hard at it squealing and exciting themselves.” He asserts that “it’s the man that keeps on thinking [who] comes through.” Assuring the narrator that he has thought it out, he goes on to explain his theory: that humanity has grown soft, has become accustomed to superfluous luxuries that obscure the importance and hard work of survival. The artilleryman believes the Martians will take over the earth, eventually enslaving humans in cages. Many of the most spineless and bourgeois humans will simply accept this fate. Others, like the artilleryman himself, will go on living “for the sake of the breed.”
In this section, the artilleryman outlines his critique of humanity, saying that the race has become complacent and that England’s posh society has gone astray. In a sense, he seems to be saying that humans have been evolving in the wrong direction; rather than growing stronger, they’ve been getting weaker and more comfortable, which will only lead to more weakness. It becomes evident that the artilleryman is actually deeply invested in the fate of humankind, as he insists that the race is intrinsically worth saving, even if only “for the sake of the breed.” The artilleryman, then, is determined to use what powers he possesses—chiefly the capacity to “think,” he says—to set the human race back on track to evolve and advance.
The artilleryman’s plan is to live underground in a network of tunnels that connect to London’s sewer and subway systems. “The risk,” he tells the narrator, “is that we who keep wild will go savage—degenerate into a sort of big, savage rat…” He plans to form a group of “able-bodied, clean-minded men,” resolving to banish “weaklings” from the posse with the aim of avoiding such a fate. Saving the human race, though, is not the only objective. Rather, the artilleryman points out that they must preserve and advance human knowledge. The narrator, he says, will come in handy because he’s an intellectual. The underground human race will educate and improve until it understands how to match the Martians’ technology. At this point, they will be able to sneak into the fighting machines and finally resist the aliens.
The artilleryman’s zealous plan to save the human race indulges a line of thinking known as Social Darwinism, a scientifically disproven theory that humans can influence the process of natural selection by selectively breeding a race of “able-bodied” people with strong genes and desirable traits. An offshoot of Darwin’s ideas, this theory is often used to promote racist and bigoted ideas. Wells uses the artilleryman to explore this concept, and though the eager man often expresses ideas about survival that ring true to the narrator, his low estimation of humankind and its ability to survive without resorting to this sort of debasement suggests that Wells himself condemns this kind of thinking.
The artilleryman is so convincing in his vision of humanity’s way forward that the narrator follows him back to an abandoned house, where the artilleryman has been digging in the basement. The idea is to dig until they intersect the sewers. Together they work all day, and the narrator ponders the plan, finding many logistical problems in it now that he has time to fully reflect. One misgiving he has, for instance, is that instead of blindly digging a tunnel from this house, they could simply go into the underground system from a manhole and then dig back to the house. The artilleryman suggests that they take a break after a while, saying that one can’t always work. Taking a break on the roof, the artilleryman reviews his “grandiose plans,” making it clear that he wants to be the one to steal a Martian fighting machine.
When the narrator realizes that the artilleryman has suggested an inefficient way of digging tunnels, readers begin to see that there are most likely other flaws in this elaborate plan. For somebody so obsessed with only allowing the smartest, most competent people into his inner circle of survivors, the artilleryman suddenly seems a bit lacking in intelligence. Furthermore, he isn’t even a hard worker, which is troubling considering how much he talks about needing strong people devoted to the cause of survival. When he reveals his desire to drive the Martian fighting machine, it’s clear that his eager attitude comes from a place of vanity, not will and devotion.
Going downstairs, neither the narrator nor the artilleryman want to resume work, so they eat a meal instead, and the artilleryman urges the narrator to play cards. They play many games and then have another meal accompanied by cigars and champagne, which the artilleryman finishes. The narrator leaves the drunk artilleryman downstairs and goes to the roof. Staring across the fiery landscape and the glowing sky, he sees the red weed glowing purple in the night, and this awakens his “sense of wonder” and understanding of “the proportion of things.” Suddenly he’s ashamed of having indulged the artilleryman’s rhetoric, feeling like a “traitor” to his wife and to all humankind. With this realization, he decides to “leave this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony,” resolving to go to London, where he thinks he’ll be able to better discern what his “fellow-men” are doing.
If the artilleryman had a “sense of wonder” like the narrator, he would likely not be so pessimistic about the human race. The fact that the narrator refers to him as an “undisciplined dreamer” given to “gluttony” confirms the fact that Wells disapproves of the twisted logic set forth in theories of Social Darwinism. Rather than promoting pessimistic ideas about survival, then, the narrator indulges a more hopeful, healthier conception of humanity’s continued existence—one based upon a “sense of wonder” at the marvel of life, even when that marvel is challenged by something vast, foreign, and unknown.