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Summary of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS


Chapter Four - The Cylinder Opens


Summary


There are now a few hundred people about, all struggling to get a better view despite the constant shouts to “‘Keep back!’” The crowd’s pushy movements have already resulted in one man, a young shop assistant, falling into the pit.

While he attempts to get back out, the lid of the cylinder continues to unscrew, extending out for about two feet before it clatters to the ground. The crowd prepares for the appearance of a creature similar to men. Then tentacles begin to project from the cylinder, and the onlookers move hurriedly backwards, looks of horror on their faces.

The creature from Mars emerges with slow and pained movements, made so by the effect of gravity and an unfamiliar atmosphere. It is about the size of a bear and grayish in color, with the appearance of wet leather when the in the sunlight. It has what could be considered a face, rounded and with two big, “intense, inhuman” eyes. Saliva drops from the V-shaped mouth, which lacks lips, as well as a chin beneath it.

Then it disappears from view, as it manages to pull itself out of the cylinder and fall to the ground. Another creature appears from the darkness as the narrator runs away, his eyes still on the pit, coming to a stop behind a cluster of trees. Many others have acted similarly, staring intently at the scene from around tree trunks and bushes.

For a brief moment, the dark figure of the fallen shopkeeper can be seen against the sun, still struggling to escape from the pit. Then suddenly he drops again below the surface, but a deep fear prevents anyone from coming to his aide.

Unable to see much, the people stand about and watch the pit with growing fear.



Notes


The setting sun in the beginning of the chapter is a metaphor for the end of familiarity. The life that humans have had for lifetimes is about to change, as the first creature from Mars emerges from the cylinder. In a sense, it is the end of the world as they knew it. This is added to by the image of the lone figure of the young man trying to get out of the pit. Against the backdrop of the red sun, it is foreshadowing of the future bloodshed and death to come.

There is another possible allusion to the coming change in life. The sand piled up around the pit of the creatures could be interpreted as a parallel to human evolution, when the first beings began to emerge from the ocean. Just as man once did, the creatures from Mars are also going to come out from the depths and change the world. As Wells had a science background and Darwin’s ideas were published before, he was likely familiar with the idea of evolution and could have worked this into the chapter.

The “Gorgon groups of tentacles” is a reference to mythology. There were three Gorgons (one of which was Medusa), creatures with snake-like hair that would turn a man to stone if he looked at them.


Chapter Five - The Heat-Ray


Summary


Out of the pit rises a pole with an awkwardly spinning disk at its top. Now very concerned about what could be happening, the fear-stricken onlookers begin to move cautiously about, forming up in two groups. The narrator heads toward a higher vantage point, stopping to speak briefly to one of his neighbors before going on.

Others are beginning to move forward slowly, encouraged by the lack of movement in the pit and the presence of more people coming in from Woking, the nearby town. The Deputation, a small group of men bearing a white flag, arrive and lead.

The advance halts when three bright puffs of green smoke rise in the air, illuminating the frozen figures around the pit. A hissing noise, followed by a loud humming, announces the appearance of a domed object. Silent flames flashed out from it, directed at one man after another. A brief moment of fire, followed by a stumbling fall, pronounced the death of each. Trees, bushes, and buildings burst into flames as the concentrated heat came.

The narrator finds himself standing right in its the path, but is unable to move, transfixed and uncomprehending. Before reaching him though, the object lowers back down into the pit, leaving behind some smoking remnants and an eerily undisturbed silence.

Fear struck the narrator with a sudden blow, and he turned and ran. His quiet tears were accompanied by a strong sense that the cylinder’s death would reach him right before he reached safety.


Notes


Light and fire, traditionally symbols of life, are instead used in this chapter to be the destruction that the Mars creatures’ inflict. Not only has this “heat-ray” killed men, but it also scorched the attempted peace mission. Although it is quite possible that the creatures did not understand the white flag, they were never interested in peace. They have landed on Earth with the intent of invasion, not the spread of goodwill. The first deaths (aside from the unfortunate shopkeeper) and the ruin of the white flag are the buildup towards war.

The narrator’s overwhelming anxiety and conviction that his fate is an inescapable destruction is a small-scale version of the fear that will soon spread over Earth.


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Summary of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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