Not Quite Safe: Concluding The War of the Worlds
Although humanity survives The War of the Worlds, the ending of H.G. Wells’s novel really is not reassuring at all. Though there do seem to be some positive effects such as advances in science, the Martian invasion obviously has its bad effects too: it has seemed to cause some sort of mental illness for the narrator, and probably for many other humans too. Moreover, the narrator talks about the likelihood of another invasion, if not from Mars then from other planets.
One of the reasons that the novel’s ending is not reassuring is that the invasion seems to leave many of the humans with a kind of mental illness, probably post-traumatic stress disorder. The narrator tells us in the Epilogue that occasionally, when he is writing in his study, he ‘see[s] the healing valley below set writhing with flames, and feel[s] the house behind and about [him] empty and desolate’. Since this is in the Epilogue, we know the Martians are dead, so these must be hallucinations. The fact that he imagines the house ‘empty and desolate’ shows that the Martians have left behind a kind of sadness that stays stuck so strongly that the narrator has it embedded in his subconscious mind. We must not forget there are some good effects as well. The narrator says ‘the gifts it has brought to human science are enormous’ which is, of course, greatly reassuring, especially in the eyes of HG Wells, since he was a keen biologist. But a more important reassuring effect would be the narrator’s description of how they might deal with a future invasion from the Martians. He suggests ‘the cylinder might be destroyed by dynamite… or they might be butchered by means of guns so soon as the screw opened.’ This is very reassuring because we know humans will be more cautious now, rather than making the foolish mistakes they did the first time. However, even in this sentence in which the narrator attempts to reassure the reader, there is still a hint of a worrisome effect: the word ‘butchered’. It gives the reader the sense that humans have become crueler as a result of the Martian invasion and it is going to stay that way. Wells makes this clear when he says ‘for many years yet there will certainly be no relaxation.’ Here, Wells uses anastrophe to emphasize the fact that humans are going to stay cruel ‘for many years’. This phrase comes at the start of the sentence to give it the emphasis. However, some would argue that this is a positive effect of the invasion because the Martians deserve our cruelty and we are safer this way.
To add to this sense of anxiety, the narrator talks about the Martians ‘effecting a landing on the planet Venus.’ This tells the reader that even if it is over for humans, it is not over for Venus and in fact it is not over for any other planet in the universe. We know that Wells wants the reader to infer this because in the first chapter he compares us to ‘infusoria under the microscope’ and the Martians as the man observing us. But there are much bigger things than men, and there are much bigger planets than Mars: it is clear that in this analogy there is still space for other planets of the universe, indiscernibly far away from Earth, to be involved in various other wars. If Wells had just wanted a novel about a war between Earth and Mars, he probably would have called it ‘The War of Woking’, but we know it’s about more than that because the novel is called ‘The War of the Worlds’, indicating that there are clearly more than one world. Again, this all contributes to the effect of the ending of the novel not being reassuring.
One final point to add is that the last chapter mimics the first; they both start with some sort of bird’s-eye view of the situation of how Earth is doing at the moment before the narrator gets on with his own story. We know this because he starts the first chapter talking about everyone: ‘no one would have believed’ but by chapter two he is only talking about himself and a few others who are key to the story: ‘I was at home at that hour…’. In the same way, in the final chapter, Wells starts off with giving an accurate account of what happened, specifically what happened to the ‘Martians that were examined after the war’ and then goes on to say ‘I go to London and see the busy multitudes’. This is in no way reassuring either, because the last chapter is like the first, and the first chapter was followed by violent death and vicious destruction. Wells is trying to say that even more wars are soon to occur. Although this is not reassuring, it could be argued that it is still a tremendous way to end a novel as the end is linked to the start in a way that is almost poetic.
Despite the advances made in the field of science within Wells’s fiction, the end of the novel is not reassuring. Instead it leaves the human mind severely ill and foreshadows many further invasions soon to come, all over the universe.
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