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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Book One: The Coming of the Martians
Chapter Four (The Cylinder Opens)
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.
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.