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The major external conflict of the plot is the humans’ fight to protect themselves and Earth from the invading Martians. At the conflict’s core, the Narrator, who gives voice to this human experience, wants to survive the Martians’ invasion, and the Martians want to take over Earth. The War of the Worlds is a story of survival. On a deeper level, the Narrator wants life to continue as usual and for his belief in the superiority of humans to remain intact along with society and its social structures and hierarchies. The Martians want dominion over Earth because Mars is too small and may not be able to support them for much longer. This fight for survival forces the humans to reconcile how their lives change, both during and after the invasion.
The Narrator tells the story in the first person six years after the events unfold. He also includes his brother’s experiences as his brother told them to him. The inciting incident is an astronomer’s report of a large offshoot of incandescent gas coming from Mars. As the action rises and events begin leading to the climax, humans find the first cylinder that has fallen to Earth. Humans display their egotism with their disbelief that Martians can be intelligent creatures or wish them harm. In their arrogance and ignorance, they expect the Martians to respond to a human signal of peace, a white flag, foolishly assuming that the Martians will know and care about the flag’s meaning.
The Martians’ response is shocking and violent, and the action rises and builds toward the climax as the Narrator discovers the Martians have one-hundred-foot-tall fighting machines that stride quickly and dexterously through country and city, burning whatever and whoever is in their way. This challenges the Narrator’s need to believe that humanity is at the top of the universe’s hierarchy, and it appears as if humanity’s status is very precarious. Hysteria sets in as the Martians arrive in London and society’s infrastructure begins to crumble. The Narrator’s brother’s description of humans clawing and fighting to escape serve to exemplify mass reaction to fear and the instinct to save oneself. The Narrator’s first action is to get his wife to safety, demonstrating his care for her, but he cannot resist the temptation of being in the middle of things and returns home. The artilleryman’s frightening news of the barbaric actions of the Martians confirms the Narrator’s worst fears, while the civilians who still have faith in their military are not ready to accept the truth. Humans still think that they are superior and can stop the Martian invasion, showing the arrogance of humankind, one of the themes of the novel.
The curate is a foil as well as a temporary antagonist to the Narrator, and he almost proves to be his downfall. The two have differing opinions regarding the cause of the invasion, the likely outcome of it, and the best way to conduct themselves in the midst of it. Even though the Narrator behaves more morally than this man of faith, the curate’s presence also shines a light on the Narrator’s misplaced pride in his perceived status as the one who has studied and watched the Martians more than any man alive. Just as the curate believes in his elevated status due to his religion, the Narrator believes that he is superior because of his skills of reason and his frequent proximity to the Martians. This proximity will prove too close for comfort during the build towards the second climax when both men watch with horror as the Martians extract blood from living humans. The climax comes quickly when the Narrator realizes that the curate has become a danger to him, and makes a split-second survival decision to knock him unconscious. The Narrator’s hubris is no longer as evident after surviving this horrifying event.
The Narrator reconnects with the artilleryman as the action begins to fall. While the interactions between these two men are not as fraught as those between the Narrator and the curate, the newly changed artilleryman also serves as a foil to the Narrator. Just as the Narrator begins to doubt the notion of human superiority, the artilleryman embraces his superiority to the fullest. This brief respite allows the Narrator to reassess his values, and he leaves the safety of this shelter to find what is next for himself and humankind.
In the resolution, the Narrator travels on foot returning to his house where he is happily reunited with his wife, like the hero of a Greek epic poem. His views of the safety and dominance of humanity are forever altered, leaving him with feelings of uncertainty and jeopardy. Bacteria resolves the conflict between the Narrator and his countrymen versus the Martians, but the Narrator’s internal conflict is not so easily resolved. He sees society fall apart and no longer believes that humans are the dominant creatures in the cosmos, revealing the possibility that the Martians will regroup and return. The Narrator believes that most people learned from their recent experiences, and he still has his abiding optimism. The Narrator’s experiences have changed him, and his more realistic views have added humility to the many traits that will ensure his survival.