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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Red is a color used to warn of danger, and its prevalence in the novel reinforces the hostile invasion from Mars and the peril of humankind. The color red and imagery of blood and fire appear throughout the novel to reinforce the danger coming from the red planet, Mars. Red conflagrations from the Martians’ heat-rays streak across the countryside and in the cities. The Narrator reports that there were red reflections on the ceiling of his brother’s room the night his brother heard the report that the Martians were coming, foreshadowing the blood and carnage he would see on the road. The beams of searchlights that the Narrator sees vanish and give way to a red glow. The Narrator’s brother told him that he and his companions saw many instances of blood while they were escaping London, and he describes them with heightened visual imagery. The seeds the Martians sow grow into plants that are the color of blood and grow quickly to overtake rivers and other waterways, the countryside, and buildings. The red plants represent the complete takeover that the Martians plan. The blood that the Martians inject into themselves from living humans is red.
Wells uses noise and silence in the book to set the tone, and the contrasts of noise and silence create an eerie mood in key parts of the book. Several loud, unidentified noises lead to spates of utter silence, which highlights the fact that no one knows where the Martians will show up next or what they will do. There are conflicting and competing loud noises during the Martians’ destructive moves at Weybridge and Shepperton, and once the destruction is complete the Narrator describes the silence as peaceful. When the Narrator meets the curate, he tells him that they are in the middle of things, despite the silence. The Narrator describes quiet couples and a noisy carriage on the same street and relates the jangle and tumult of church bells over and over. In a chilling scene describing the battle in Surrey, the Narrator remarks on the stillness before the battle begins. Wells even uses the concept of noise as a reassuring agent when the Narrator claims the sound of fire was a relief. He describes the profound silence as he walks farther into London, and this does not produce a sense of calm.
Light and dark often stand in for good and evil, but Wells employs images of dark and light interchangeably to highlight humans’ fear of the unknown. Bad things happen both day and night, not just in the darkness, as is more typical in horror stories. This contributes to the unsettling and surprising events of the story. The Martians don’t need to sleep so they carry out some of their work and havoc in darkness, but they are the deadliest during the day when they are out in the open. Wells often sets a somber mood by saying that the sun was setting or rising, again mixing these images. Darkness and light are interchangeable to the Martians, and they can execute their harrowing deeds in either one. In London, the number of people walking the streets increased at night. Morning is breaking as the Narrator’s brother is forced to flee his rooming house as the black smoke makes its way through London. The poisonous black vapor turns day into night as Londoners try to escape. The horrible work of the handling machines was sometimes completed at night and sometimes during the brightness of day.