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What does the ‘War of the Worlds’ tell us about human nature Essay

H. G Wells was a man of new ideas and had strong political and moral views, which are prevalent throughout his 1898 novel ‘The War of the Worlds’. Wells was a staunch anti-colonialist, the very idea of Empires taking over ‘inferior’ races repulsed him and this greatly influenced his writing in the novel. Wells was also a supporter of the theory of evolution, and regarded life as an incessant struggle for survival. This idea is used prominently throughout the book and is one of the key themes that he shows repeatedly in his account.

Wells’ socialist ideas challenged the conventions of the time and this combination of detailed science and Wells own views inevitably sparked controversy. ‘The War of the Worlds’ asked readers to question the common beliefs of the time and to think about the consequences of mankind’s actions. ‘The War of the Worlds’ is now regarded as one of the first true science fiction novels and the fact that the ideas expressed in the novel still apply today is a testament to Wells’ modern thinking. Wells introduces a typical educated man of the early 20th century as the narrator.

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Like many middle class citizens of the time, the narrator was not vehemently opposed to colonialism, but through his experiences he sees the damage mankind has caused and becomes disgusted at the idea of enslavement. Through the narrator, Wells creates an everyman that we can connect to. As he suffers throughout the invasion, he becomes a moral guide to the reader. We are with the narrator as he learns and we learn from him. Wells puts a man that could well be you or I in an extreme situation to exemplify the problems mankind could face and its weaknesses.

The narrator recounts the events with the benefit of hindsight, “It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days”, and is surprisingly objective in his account. He details how men, “went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter”. Already there is a tone of humility and the narrator even compares humans to the micro-organisms of the world, “It is possible the infuriosa under the microscope do the same”. This attitude sets the tone for human views before the Martian invasion.

The narrator calls man vain, “So blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that intelligent life might have developed ”. He continually points out the ignorance and arrogance of mankind, “The chances against anything man-like on Mars are a million to one”. Indeed the Martians are revealed to be nothing like man, but the humans automatically assume that that an intelligent being would have to be similar to them to be conceivable.

When the first cylinder of the Martians arrives, it is treated as a curiosity, a remarkable event unto which many people from the surrounding villages converge, seeing it as a day out. No real precautions are taken, “There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the pit, with their feet dangling, and amusing themselves”. This blithe unconcern for any possible danger emphasises the universal sense of superiority, even toward the unknown. However, this attitude is not so surprising, for religion has taught men that they are in the image of God, and thus superior to others.

When the cylinder begins to unscrew, the narrator professes that, “Everyone expected to see a man, I know I did”. Even a man who seems to be well educated in science is swept up in the moment, when he had, at the start, acknowledged the slim chances of a man like species from a different planet. The narrator, on seeing the Martian describes it as best he can, using human terminology, drawing on what he can identify with, “It was rounded, and had, one might say, a face”. The crowd is then attacked by an, “invisible jet” that set alight everything on contact.

This is the first time that any human felt fear of what was happening; only at the cost of lives did the humans gain even an idea of what they were dealing with, and even after this sour turn of events, the majority of people were still ignorant. Indeed, the news of the massacre led to even more people visiting the cylinder. Even the seemingly level-headed narrator asserts his belief that, “They have done a foolish thing, they are dangerous because they are no doubt mad with terror. Perhaps they expected to find no living things, certainly no intelligent living things.

A shell in the pit, if worst comes to worst, will kill them all”. Granted, he admits that his inebriated state affected his judgement, but it is possible that his condition unlocked an idea in all of us that we are better than other species. The narrator even neglects to ponder the possibility that the Martians may have their own technology to overcome their physical ‘shortcomings’: “We all overlooked the fact that such mechanical intelligence as the Martians possessed was quite able to dispense with muscular exertion. ” However, in a short space time, the Martians begin to invade and resistance is practically non-existent.

The complacency of the humans led to them underestimating the tactical prowess of the Martians and their advanced machinery and while wide-spread evacuation occurs, we are introduced for the first time, to the fighting machine, which perhaps personifies Wells’ idea that humans are tiny in the bigger picture: “How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod higher than many houses. ” The sheer magnitude of the machines truly humbles the human race. For all the arrogance, the humans are insignificant to the Martians; only used as a source of food, “the fear and empire of man had passed away”.

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At this point, the narrator has realised the consequences of human dominance and even goes so far as to describe it as fearful. Through the Martians, Wells shows us that we are not the most intelligent or advanced race. Humans are effectively just another race in the struggle for survival. This sense of humility is conveyed throughout the novel and reflects Wells’ own views on natural selection, and some of the characters’ views, like the artillery-man: “Men like me are going to go on living: tough men. ” Before the invasion, humans were self assured about the situation. However it quickly became “a war between men and ants.

Humans are to the Martians what the ants are to us and the technology which seemed so advanced is crude compared to the Martian technology. This idea is taken up by the Artilleryman, “It’s bows and arrows against the lightning. ” He is drawing a parallel to mankind’s arrogance of being higher than even nature itself, but ultimately, falling flat. Furthermore, the humans are now put into a situation that the narrator describes as foreign: “I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow, and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house”.

Once again, there is the sense of being put down. This feeling is alien to the narrator, because, as a human, he has always been part of the undisputed ‘greatest’ species. Only the invasion of the Martians makes him stop and empathise, as the reader should, with the other animals with whom we share the world. Man believed that he was the most powerful, dominant species and expected the Martians to be weak or inferior: “Men fancied there might be men on Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary.

He was humbled by the Martians, but perhaps the most humbling factor of all, was that, ultimately, it was the smallest, simplest organisms that stopped the Martians. Where human technology failed, nature prevailed, showing us that no matter how advanced we become, we cannot transcend nature. In ‘The War of the Worlds,’ Wells explores how people react to extreme pressure. As the Martians begin their takeover, the government gives little support and even the members of the military mutiny as their innate sense of self preservation takes over.

In London, as soon as the defences fall, there is mass panic, “All about him people were dressing hastily as the first breath of the coming storm of fear blew through the streets”, and services begin to deteriorate quickly, “By ten o’clock the police organisation, and by midday even the railway organizations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency”. Evidently, it did not take the Martians much time to cause a “swift liquefaction of the social body” and this raises a question for the reader; what would happen if this situation was real? Would we cope?

Wells uses this panic and disruption to demonstrate how pressure can affect us. He describes how “people were fighting savagely for standing room in the carriages,” exhibiting early on the natural human survival instinct, even at the cost of others safety: “people were being trampled and crushed”. Even the policemen, who are supposed to stand for strength and stability, begin “breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect. ” These are signs that order truly has deteriorated, and is indicative of Wells’ views on how society would react in a large scale crisis.

The country’s population are all out to save themselves and social decorum is no longer in place, with men attacking ladies for their transport and looting taking place unchecked, revealing the opportunists among the population. When a man drops his bag of coins onto the road, the uncaring drivers run him down while he attempted to recover his money. This behaviour shows both the greed that people have for material possessions and how some people will put their safety first, regardless of the effect on others.

The mass exodus of the population allows Wells to explore how we change in the face of pressure; some will keep a steady head like the narrator and his brother, while others will lose their wits like the curate, or be solely concerned with their own affairs. Each member of the escaping group is described as “a dot of human agony” denoting insignificance. Paradoxically, even though they are physically a group who have “moved and suffered together” mentally, everyone is out for themselves as an individual – a harsh statement about humans’ sense of unity in a crisis.

Even the people who we would consider to have kept their head are forced to commit terrible acts in desperation, emphasising the dire situation they are in. The narrator speaks candidly about his attack on the curate, calling it “a thing done. ” When the curate endangers them both, the narrator endeavours to stop him with a knife. It is implied that he, in desperation, intended to use the blade but “with one last touch of humanity” he struck him with the butt instead.

In normal situations both would be considered morally disgusting, but perhaps if the narrator had not stopped the curate, both of them would have been discovered by the Martians. Less easy to dismiss is the narrator leaving the curate to the Martians. However, it was not a conscious decision to leave him, but a natural compulsion to hide from Martians. By displaying how the majority act in response to the Martians and the breakdown of order, Wells depicts society as a veneer for a more primal aspect of human nature underneath.

He uses characters to represent aspects of society, and, through them, criticises the society of the time and points out potential weaknesses. The curate embodies the religious aspect of society. However, instead of acting as a helper and guide to the people, the curate rambles insensibly in a manner reminiscent of Old Testament preaching. He himself has lost his wits under the pressure of the Martian invasion and the narrator’s comment parallels Wells’ view in reality: “What good is religion if it collapses at calamity? The curate is repeatedly unhelpful and is the opposite of the narrator’s pragmatic character: “We had absolutely incompatible dispositions. ”

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He even goes as far as to threaten the narrator with revealing their position to the Martians to get him to give up the rationed food. Oddly for a curate, he is described as “one of those shifty creatures full of a shifty cunning – who face neither God nor man. ” The narrator does admit that the curate’s insanity paradoxically kept him sane, serving as a constant reminder of the price of losing his mind.

The curate personifies Wells’ opinions of religion and his flaws epitomise the shortcomings of the church. These failings of society are further demonstrated by the flaws of the artillery-man, who represents security. As part of the military, he should be confident and strong enough to meet the needs of the army. In contrast to the curate, the narrator at first gets on well with the artillery-man, who is full of ideas about the future of the human race, “Why, you are a man indeed! ” He intends to start a resistance against the Martians, and engineer a perfect race to who can study the Martians and eventually defeat them.

The narrator is interested and supporting of this rather ridiculous plan, perhaps from living in despair for long. Even so, as he spends more time with the artillery-man, the narrator gets a suspicion that while the he has the ideas, the artillery-man has neither the will nor the means to follow through with his plan. The artillery-man is a fantasist, full of glorious plans, but someone who would rather sit and play card games than put them into action: “I could divine the stress he laid on doing nothing precipitately.

Unlike the curate, the artillery-man is never at conflict with the narrator or overtly insane, but he is a man too wound up in his own ideas to look at the world realistically. He is representative of the government failure and the false hope the military gave to the people. Examples of society’s members failing their duties are numerous in the novel, such as a doctor escaping at the first sign of trouble. When people were getting injured he was one of the first to escape. A doctor would be expected to stay and help as much as he can despite the danger.

One of Wells’ most compelling themes in the novel is the idea that we have done what the Martians are doing to countless other species and races. The narrator asks us not to judge the Martians too harshly: “We must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has caused, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. ” We are effectively the same as the Martians in terms of treatment of other species. They planned to take over because their planet was no longer suitable.

This is just the next step up from eradicating a race to set up more space for an empire and therefore it would be contradictory to condemn the Martians for doing something that humans would most likely have done as well, had our technology permitted it. The War of the Worlds shows different aspects of human nature by explaining what would happen in a large crisis. We see different reactions to the danger: some good, altruistic people come out, but also the universal survival instinct that Wells believes we all possess.

The greed and selfishness of humanity is exposed in numerous examples throughout the book, of people thinking only for themselves and refusing to unite. The novel criticises the main aspects of society such as the army and religion, presenting them as facades, covering our darker, more primal nature. The actions of the curate and artillery-man typify the problems within these institutions and attack the inherent corruption of some of their members. Humans as a whole are humbled; they are subjugated to a position lower than another species and only then do they learn to empathise with other animals, who also suffered from the humans.

However, after the defeat of the Martians, their technology opens a new horizon and Wells questions the ethical restraint of man in the face of such amazing new technology: “If the Martians can reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose we can’t, and when the slow cooling of the Sun makes this planet uninhabitable, should we conquer? ” Indeed, this question is still relevant. With new technologies allowing us to change genetic make-up or grow embryos, will our morality draw a line with what we can do and what we should do?

Wells asks us not to judge the Martians too harshly, but to realise that they did to us what we have done to others for less justifiable reasons. So, who are we to judge them? Who are we to sit smugly and condemn the Martians for something we have also done to countless others? Ultimately, Wells shows we are all insignificant beings in a struggle to survive. Our job is not to judge, but to learn from these situations and to accept, in the same way that the narrator accepted, that nature, not man, defeated the Martians, that we are as small as the microbes in the grand scheme of things.

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What does the 'War of the Worlds' tell us about human nature Essay
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H. G Wells was a man of new ideas and had strong political and moral views, which are prevalent throughout his 1898 novel 'The War of the Worlds'. Wells was a staunch anti-colonialist, the very idea of Empires taking over 'inferior' races repulsed him and this greatly influenced his writing in the novel. Wells was also a supporter of the theory of evolution, and regarded life as an incessant struggle for survival. This idea is used prominently throughout the book and is one of the key themes tha
2017-10-31 17:01:06
What does the 'War of the Worlds' tell us about human nature Essay
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