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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Book Two: The Earth Under the Martians
Chapter Seven (The Man on Putney Hill)
After breaking into an inn that night, the narrator sleeps on an actual bed and fills himself and his pockets with some biscuits that have escaped the notice of previous looters. With his improved circumstance, he is able to think-of the curate’s death, which brings up feelings of sadness but not of regret since he did not foresee it and it is therefore not a crime; of the Martians, whose current location the narrator is unsure of; and his wife, whom he prays for and misses, with the idea of going to Leatherhead and then tracking her flight. He remarks that if “nothing else, this war has taught us pity.”
In the morning, he sees the remains of the mass flight from the area. Going further on, the narrator reaches Wimbledon Common, an open and sunlit area where he is stopped by an armed man who claims the nearby land and what food remains on it for himself. Suddenly the two men recognize each other-it is the artilleryman with whom he spent the last night in his house. At this, the artilleryman becomes friendlier and the two move under the cover of bushes to talk.
The artilleryman says that the Martians have moved past London but from the lights he sees at night he thinks they have built a new machine and are now capable of flight. At the narrator’s response that there is nothing stopping the Martians from taking over the world, now that they can move from continent to continent, the artilleryman tells him that mankind has lost. Though he had not thought of it in such terms before, the narrator finds it difficult to counter. He does try to argue that he only saw ten shots from the observatory, but the artilleryman remains convinced that the Martians are continuing to come, just landing in different areas of the Earth.
The artilleryman has become certain that the Martians’ plan, after taking out society’s organization, is to capture and selectively breed men, like “edible ants.” Those without any spirit will not mind this new life as animals and will grow dependent, even adopting a new religion around it.
He on the other hand, has turned back from the crowds rushing south in order to secure food and develop his idea of the new, independent lifestyle. The artilleryman’s plan is to form a group of strong men and women and live in London’s underground drains. They would leave the Martians alone, while all the while stacking up on scientific knowledge so that one day they might overthrow them. He takes the narrator to see the ditch he has been working on and its lack of progress puts the first dent in the narrator’s acceptance of the artilleryman’s plans.
Just the same, the narrator works alongside him, while the questions mount in his mind, until the artilleryman decides after a bit to stop. They go out on the roof of the nearby house and survey the scene around them. The artilleryman tells him of a story he heard about a party that had been held when the lights of London came back on. One of the Martian machines watched for some time and then grabbed about 100 drunken Londoners.
Then the two go down into the cellar of the house, where they eat, drink champagne, and smoke cigars. As the night wears on, the narrator begins to realize the extent of the artilleryman’s insanity, especially when they play cards, dividing up London between them. The narrator goes back onto the roof to see the lights of the Martians but instead sees the purple glow given off by the red weed. He reflects with deep regret over the time spent with the artilleryman, who has big dreams but little motivation to fulfill them, and sets his mind to resuming his travels.
That the only trial the narrator had for the death of the curate was in his head adds to the idea that society’s structure has crumbled. The last remnant of justice is in individuals. The idea that the Martians would train men to hunt other men was at first discounted by the narrator but the artilleryman has already threatened him with a cutlass.
Throughout their time together, it becomes clear that the artilleryman is gripped by the idea of a game. Not only does he use the word in talking about how the world order has changed, but he says that it might be possible once the group of underground dwellers is formed, to keep watch on the Martians. Then they can make occasional trips to the surface, to play cricket and such. He is insistent on playing cards while the surrounding world lies in ruins around them. Unable to take even his own plans seriously, the artilleryman has come to see everything as a game, in the face of the Martian domination.
Several parts of this chapter, especially in the comment that the war had taught them to pity those they ruled over, point again to the idea of imperialism. Even the title can be suggestive of the arrival of Europeans in already-occupied lands, though, with the British’s rapid industrialization, the battles between immigrant and native peoples probably seemed at times to be as hopeless as a fight between men and ants. By Wells’ time, the British had come to rule a vast empire, and a frequent theme in Wells’ books is commentary on the problems of his society. He also has the artilleryman insist that the weak of the race should be allowed to die off, at a time when many of the British poor were dying from their horrible living and working conditions.