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

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS

Chapter Three - The Days of Imprisonment


Summary


A second machine appears, and fearing that it could see in, the narrator and curate abandon the window. They soon figure that the brightness of the outside will obscure any view inside the shadowy kitchen in which they are hiding. Curiosity overcomes fear and they return to the window.

Though it was clear from the start that they had conflicting personalities, the confines of their current situation emphasize this. The narrator is becoming quite annoyed with the curate’s fragile emotional state and is concerned over his rate of consumption of their limited supply of food and drink. The curate however continues to act this way and only by using physical force can the narrator get him to show some control for a little while.

There are three more machines at the pit and a second handling-machine has been built. It is tossing dirt into a new machine, out of which comes a white powder. This then travels to another machine, but all the narrator can see of it is some wisps of green smoke, since it is behind a pile of dust that grows increasingly larger throughout the day. The result of this process is shiny new bars of aluminum and the machines are able to produce more than 100 of them in just a few hours.

The curate is looking out at the Martians when he suddenly becomes panicked and upset. Although the narrator thinks at first that it is because the Martians realized they were there, he comes to realize it was something else when he goes to the opening. He watches as one of the machines, with a Martian inside, stretches a tentacle into the container on its back. It lifts out a man, who, judging by his dress, was well-off and important just a few days earlier. Then he is hidden from sight by the pile of dust, but shortly thereafter screaming could be heard, along with the sound of the Martians releasing air before they began injection.

At this, the narrator turns and runs into the scullery, with the curate following quickly. The narrator figures that their best hope is that the Martians will abandon, or at least stop guarding, the pit. Then, after seeing for the first and only time the Martians feeding, this time on a young boy, he decides to dig his way out. When the hole collapses noisily, he is forced to give it up, demoralized.

A day or two later, when the pit is nearly empty, the narrator hears a dog howling. There is the sound of large guns firing off six shots, followed by six more, and then the night continues on quietly.



Notes


The body of the wealthy man fighting in vain for his life against the night sky is reminiscent of the shopkeeper struggling to get out of the pit in the beginning of the story. First of all, the time of day is symbolic; whereas the shopkeeper was at sunset (right at the advent of the war), the wealthy man was at night (in the middle of the war). Secondly, the social status of the victims is important. As the war goes on, those of higher, and of all, ranks in society are feeling the effects. It is a similar case to the buildings, when originally the targets were individual houses, and now institutions like schools and churches are becoming ruins.


Chapter Four - The Death of the Curate


Summary


The narrator is staring out the makeshift window on the sixth day when he notices the curious absence of the curate, who was usually close by waiting for his turn. Finding him in the scullery drinking, the narrator becomes insistent on the need to ration, dividing the food up so it will last ten more days.

Through occasional physical fighting and constant watching, the narrator manages to keep the curate under some control. However, the curate’s mental stability has been deteriorating since he first encountered the Martians and has become insane. By the eighth day, he is speaking out loud of his regret over his sins and his want of more food. For the latter, he threatens the narrator that he will become loud enough to blow their cover with the Martians. Though the narrator does not give in, the curate does not carry out his threat, but that day and the next his speech gradually gets louder.

When the curate becomes so insane that he starts shouting, the narrator hits him over the head with the butt of a meat chopper, knocking him unconscious, possibly killing him. It was too late to prevent the Martians from hearing though.

One of the machines stuck a tentacle in through the gap that had served as a window. It pulls the still body of the curate out into the open and examines it. The narrator is unsure whether the Martian had seen him when it approached or is able to figure out his presence from the curate’s injury. Despite being paralyzed, and then trembling, with fear, the narrator manages to get into the coal cellar. He closes the door and hides among the firewood and coal.

At one point the door to the cellar is opened and an investigating tentacle reaches about, even touching the heel of the narrator’s boot. After some long, tense moments when the narrator is uncertain if it is still there, and not until after cleaning out the pantry, the tentacle withdraws for good. But the narrator remains where he is for another day, finally emerging on the eleventh day.


Notes


There is a reference made to Briareus, a somewhat obscure figure from Greek mythology who had 100 hands and 50 heads. He is mentioned in connection with the handling machine that the Martian is in.


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