Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The narrator represents order and morals amidst the destruction and death caused by the Martians. Perhaps his writing on moral development has brought the narrator more in tune with his own morals, so that he is able to hold onto them with more success than others in the book. Therefore, even when the organization of society has collapsed, he still reluctant, and saddened afterward, to hit the curate while elsewhere people are being trampled to death by a heedless crowd. That the only trial he has for possible murder is the one he gives himself shows that the only morals that were left were his personal ones. Also, the narrator rejects the life of the artilleryman, which is full of vices, though he could just as easily have stayed.
As a protagonist, the narrator is a good choice. He is an average man who wants only to live his life peacefully with his wife. He is not always above reproach, such as when he takes the dog cart when he knew the innkeeper would need it. But overall he acts remarkably well, especially considering the circumstances.
The narrator has a practical, scientific side as well. It is what puts him into conflict with the curate but also what keeps him alive for so long. He is able to paddle through scalding water and ration himself because it is what is necessary.
One thing the Martians represent is imperialism. When life on their world becomes difficult, they see Earth and set out to take it over with no attention of pursuing peaceful cohabitation. There are frequent remarks made by the narrator about the uncertainty of the Martians’ view of men, whether they saw humans as creatures capable of thought and feeling. Much of the same thing could be said for imperialism, when European countries set out to take over native people and often failed to treat them appropriately.
The meaning of the Martians can also be applied in a broader sense, to the awful power of all wars. The Martians are portrayed as technologically capable beings, but show few signs of emotion. The narrator sees towns and people wiped out of existence with careless ease. However, one of the most powerful parts is when the narrator has to fight the curate, not when the Martians are firing the Heat-Ray at many more people, though this still horrible. Therefore, it can be interpreted as a warning against total war. As mechanical abilities expanded in Wells’ time, technological possibilities became less of a determinant in warfare, so that restraint was left up to men.
Besides being impersonal killing contraptions, there is another side of machines that can be seen in the book. The Martians have created them to do the tasks that they are not able to; without the machines though, they are weak. Industrialization was in full swing in Wells’ time and this forced many of working class into factory jobs, tending to machines. The ruins that the Martian machines cause can therefore be interpreted as a metaphor for the destruction of the quality of life during industrialization.
As might be expected from his job, the artilleryman represents the military. There are different views of fighting presented here, as distinguished by the separate times that the narrator is with him.
The artilleryman in the beginning is the only one of his group that survives, as the result of an accident-his horse trips and he ends up pinned under it. This indicates that fighting often involves heavy loss of life and many mishaps. He is useful in that he teaches the narrator to take provisions and to avoid danger when possible.
When the narrator sees him again, this has gone to the extreme and the artilleryman is concerned only with food and drink. Though he thinks up great plans, he is not able to carry them out. Most meaningful are the card games played to divide up London. This is a criticism that the military does not take war seriously enough. The narrator does not approve of this lifestyle, as Wells, a strong advocate of world peace, did not.
The curate represents religion, though in a very negative light. Like the artilleryman, by his very occupation, the curate is attached to the church. When this is destroyed by the Martians’ Heat-Ray, he quickly falls apart and is left with nothing but fragmented thoughts that he has committed sins. This is Wells’ criticism of organized religion, which he seems to feel is merely a product of society that has little basis beyond guilt.
When the narrator first meets him, the curate can only focus on the flames at a distance but the narrator wants water. The flames represent Hell and the eternal punishment that the curate is terrified of, whereas the narrator’s water represents earthly matters, meaning that when religion focuses on the afterlife, it ignores the immediate concerns of life itself.
The curate’s frequent emotional outbursts and general lack of helpfulness indicate that religion has nothing practical to offer believers. When the narrator tries to reason with him, it is representative of the debate between science and religion, and this book clearly favors the former. This is not because of a lack of belief in religion on Wells’ part but more to point out the problems he saw in the practice of religion.
A part of the story primarily to add an experience besides that of the narrator, the brother represents the similar ideas of civilization. He risks his own life to save the two women and later the man with the broken bag of money. He is levelheaded in his actions, going into the fleeing crowd even though he does not want to because he knows he must, and persuading Mrs. Elphinstone that she must come along on the ship out of Britain.
It is also important that the brother is a medical student in London. He also flees when the Martians approach. As he is introduced to the story immediately after the curate, this indicates that science as well does not have all the answers.