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

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS

Chapter Two - What We Saw from the Ruined House


Summary


They finish eating and return to the scullery, where the narrator falls asleep. When he wakes up, he finds the curate looking out at the Martians. The narrator makes his way over to the window carefully and the curate, absorbed in the events outside, does not notice. He reacts with such intensity when the narrator touches his leg, that a large fragment of plaster is jarred loose from the ruins. Its fall leaves a thin vertical opening, out of which the narrator is able to see, thus providing the opportunity to watch the Martians more than anyone else.

The fifth cylinder has landed right on top of house where they had gotten the water and hatchet, smashing it into small, unrecognizable pieces. The pit its impact has made is already bigger than that of the first cylinder and a new kind of Martian machine is busily expanding it. The house that the narrator and curate are in now is on the edge of the pit. Its front section is destroyed and the rest, except for that side opening onto the Martians, lies under a deep layer of dirt.

The cylinder is open and the Martian in the machine that was standing guard has left it. The narrator mentions a popular pamphlet that came out after the war, which failed in its illustration of the tripod machines, portraying them stiffly rather than flexible and somehow almost life-like. The handlingmachines, as they came to be called, had this quality even more. They are something like a spider or crab, with five jointed legs and many tentacles and other extensions attached to its body. The one in the pit is using three of its tentacles to move objects out of the fallen cylinder.

Physically, a Martian himself is mostly brain and nerves, having a head four feet in diameter and little in the way of a body. It has two eyes, with a visual range similar to humans, though blue and violet look like black to them. There is no nose or ability to smell. It has a “fleshy beak” and two groups of eight tentacles (or hands) each near its mouth, which it likely used to move about on Mars. It has an ear in the back of its head, but the denser air of Earth probably made it useless. The heavier atmosphere and stronger gravity also strained its heart, which is ill-suited for such a world. It also has a lung. The narrator recalls a writer who predicted a similar form for humans as evolution continues.


Martians do not have any digestive organs and use a process of injection instead. This involves first expelling air, thereby causing the noises that people mistook for a sort of speech, though the narrator believes that the Martians communicated telepathically. Then, the blood is run from a living creature into the Martian. Men, similar to the six-foot bipeds with weak skeletons that they drained on Mars, are the preferred victims on Earth.

The narrator later learns three differences between Martians and men. They do not need rest, since they do not have a substantial muscle structure. They do not have sex and instead reproduce through budded growths, which is known since a Martian was born while on Earth. Finally, they either have gotten rid of, or never had, any microorganisms. On a more apparent level, the Martians do not wear clothes, but rather switch bodies to the one most appropriate for whatever task. Also, their technology does not involve the wheel or fixed pivot at all, but is far more complex.

After giving the curate a turn to look, the narrator returns to look and sees a new machine, involved in excavation. It gives off a green vapor that drifts by the makeshift window. The noise and vibrations it creates can be felt in the house.


Notes


The lack of a wheel in Martian machinery is explained by their use of other, more complicated means of movement. This makes sense since the wheel is an ancient human development and the Martians have lived longer as a race. There is also indication that the wheel has symbolic value. The narrator spends a good amount of time in describing the numerous types of conveyances that have filled the roads, everything from cabs to carriages, and all with wheels. There is also the mention in the previous chapter of the three bicycles that have been run over.

One possible interpretation of this stress of wheels is to point to society’s lack of progress. In contrast with the Martians, it becomes clear that most of men’s machines are based on a technology developed long ago.

It is also worth mentioning the switch in vegetation colors from Earth’s green to the Martian red, which helps to further the contrasts between the two worlds. The two colors are opposites on the color wheel. Additionally, red is normally the color of pain or injury whereas green is life.


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

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