H.G. Wells was a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, a proponent of the theory of natural selection. In the novel the conflict between mankind and the Martians is portrayed as a survival of the fittest, with the Martians whose longer period of successful evolution on the older Mars has led to them developing a superior intelligence, able to create weapons far in advance of humans on the younger planet Earth, who have not had the opportunity to develop sufficient intelligence to construct similar weapons.
The novel also suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function. The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth, and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment. This publication is probably Wells's own "The Man of the Year Million", first published in the Pall Mall Gazette on November 6, 1893, which suggests similar ideas.
Colonialism and imperialism
At the time of the novel's publication the British Empire had conquered and colonised dozens of territories in Africa, Australia, North and South America, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Atlantic and Pacific islands.
While Invasion Literature had provided an imaginative foundation for the idea of the heart of the British Empire being conquered by foreign forces, it was not until The War of the Worlds that the reading public was presented with an adversary completely superior to themselves. A significant motivating force behind the success of the British Empire was its use of sophisticated technology; the Martians, also attempting to establish an empire on Earth, have technology superior to their British adversaries. In The War of the Worlds, Wells depicted an imperial power as the victim of imperial aggression, and thus perhaps encouraging the reader to consider imperialism itself.
Wells suggests this idea in the following passage:
And before we judge them [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?—Chapter I, "The Eve of the War"
This also challenged the Victorian notion that the British Empire had a right to rule by their own superiority over subject races.
The novel also dramatises the ideas of race presented in Social Darwinism, in that the Martians exercise over humans their 'rights' as a superior race, more advanced in evolution.
Social Darwinism suggested that the success of these different ethnic groups in world affairs, and social classes in a society, were the result of evolutionary struggle in which the group or class more fit to succeed did so; i.e., the ability of an ethnic group to dominate other ethnic groups, or the chance to succeed or rise to the top of society was determined by genetic superiority. In more modern times it is typically seen as dubious and unscientific for its apparent use of Darwin's ideas to justify the position of the rich and powerful, or dominant ethnic groups.
Wells himself matured in a society wherein the merit of an individual was not considered as important as their social class of origin. His father was a professional sportsman, which was seen as inferior to 'gentle' status; whereas his mother had been a domestic servant, and Wells himself was, prior to his writing career, apprenticed to a draper. Trained as a scientist, he was able to relate his experiences of struggle to Darwin's idea of a world of struggle; but perceived science as a rational system, which extended beyond traditional ideas of race, class and religious notions, and in fiction challenged the use of science to explain political and social norms of the day.
Religion and science
Good and evil appear relative in The War of the Worlds, and the defeat of the Martians has an entirely material cause: the action of microscopic bacteria. An insane clergyman is important in the novel; but his attempts to relate the invasion to Armageddon seem examples of his mental derangement. His death, as a result of his evangelical outbursts and ravings attracting the attention of the Martians, appears an indictment of his obsolete religious attitudes; but the narrator twice prays to his god, and suggests that bacteria may have been divinely allowed to exist on Earth for a reason such as this.