The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds Essay Questions

  1. 1

    The Martian invaders are terrifying in every aspect, but they possess one particular ability that was uniquely scary at the turn of the 20th century. What is this ability, and why would it have inspired terror among British readers?

    The novel was published in 1898, just five years before the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, and hot air balloons were already in widespread use. There was fear that an enemy nation—most likely Germany—might use hot air balloons to conduct warfare from the air. The description of an enemy able to move through the air was a real and palpable fear for readers, who could quite easily replace the Martians in their imagination with soldiers from another European power.

  2. 2

    What is the narrative effect of the narrator's first-person narration being set six years after the events he describes? How might the narrative have been different if it had been written in the form of a daily journal as events are taking place?

    The first person point-of-view automatically primes readers to identify with the human perspective of the narrator as he faces the horrors of a superhuman war and the concomitant genocide. The narrative probably would not have been as compelling in a journalistic style because much of the background information on the Martians would not have been logically or rationally available to the narrator at the time of the invasion. The time lag provides a narrative explanation for why the narrator knows as much about the invaders as his narration demonstrates.

  3. 3

    If the fear of an army invading England from the sky indicates adds to the terror for the reader, what elements of the novel might make them consider their own country inspiring fear as an invading force?

    The Martians function as an interplanetary stand-in for England and its imperialist aims. The idea of a flying enemy conducting warfare inspired terrifying images of foreign pilots for British readers, but the larger portrait of a civilization with finite resources needing to colonize foreign lands for the purpose of supporting their needs and desires could be extrapolated as a symbol of any powerful nation taking over a less dominant civilization. This was a frequent occurrence in European history, including Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, and England under Queen Victoria. Thus, the Martians can be considered a kind of double symbol that shows how terrifying the concept of colonialization is for everyone: even if life can sometimes be good for the subjugator, the overall concept puts everyone involved under constant threat of being invaded or subordinated at one time or another.

  4. 4

    In the first few chapters of the book, it takes a long time for the populace to realize the dangers of the Martian invasion; even after the cylinder on the Woking commons opens and vaporizes the peace delegation, most people are unaware of the threat. Do you think this would be different if the story was set in the modern era with modern technology? Why or why not?

    Ironically, we might still end up doubting this kind of Martian threat with our modern, instant access to worldwide information—we might even doubt it more than those in the narrative did. Most people would assume that the videos and reports of Martians were a joke or a prank; high-quality video editing software now makes it possible to spoof a Martian invasion convincingly. Moreover, most people do not want to assume that their way of life is threatened, so they would likely stick their heads in the sand and avoid the invaders entirely until it is altogether impossible to do so.

  5. 5

    How does the narrator's identity influence the reader's experience of The War of the Worlds?

    The narrator is an English man who has lived a life of peace and tranquility—he has never experienced war, invasion, or colonization before. Had the novel been narrated by someone who came from a culture that had experienced these things, the reader might have experienced less fear or disorientation since the narrative voice would have better known what to expect and how to survive. Also, the narrator has no children or other dependents to look after in the midst of the chaos, which puts the focus more on the concept of superhuman invasion/genocide rather than on the family life of any particular, fleshed-out character.