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The Narrator and the curate hide in a small house, trapped by black vapor. After two days, a Martian vehicle arrives and uses a steam jet to dissipate the black vapor. The two leave the house. The Narrator is determined to reach his wife in Leatherhead and believes that all the Martian vehicles will be traveling in the opposite direction, through London. There are scattered dead bodies everywhere. He watches as one of the vehicles grabs several people and places them in a large metal basket attached to the vehicle. Finding a neighborhood that is still standing, the Narrator and the curate search for food. They stop at a house that has a full pantry. There is a loud explosion and the house collapses around them. The Narrator crawls through the rubble and sees that one of the falling Martian cylinders has struck the house.
The Narrator and the curate hide in the ruined house. Its kitchen and pantry are intact, but the rest of the building is destroyed. Peering through a small gap in the rubble, the Narrator can see that the cylinder completely destroyed the neighboring house and then splashed earth and bricks in all directions. The house that he is hiding in is buried under debris, other than the side facing the cylinder.
The Narrator watches the Martians carefully, and states that no other human was able to watch them so closely, or for so long. The Martians are actually not much more than round heads, four feet in diameter. They contain only a heart, lungs and large brain. Instead of eating, they draw blood from living creatures and inject it into themselves. The Narrator reveals that the Martians do not sleep and have no discernable gender, as they procreate through budding, like a plant. He also notes that the Martian world contained no microorganisms. He watches as the five or six Martians go about, building things in the pit beside the house, without communicating. The Narrator proposes that the Martians are telepathic and that the noises that they make are not for communication.
The Narrator and the curate fight over who gets to watch the Martians through the peephole. The Narrator states his dislike of the curate, who does not ration food and cries for long periods of time. After several days of hiding, the Narrator witnesses one of the vehicles return and unload a human captive. He does not see what happens, but he hears screaming and hooting noises from the Martians. The Narrator plans to escape. He tries digging in a direction away from the pit but finds that it makes too much noise. While watching the pit, he hears six distinct booms, like large guns firing, followed by another six.
The Narrator tries to reason with the curate, but he becomes increasingly irrational. The Narrator rations out the food for ten days, but he must regularly wrestle the curate to stop him from eating. After nine days of hiding, the curate starts shouting and heads toward the peephole in the kitchen. The Narrator overtakes him and knocks him unconscious. A Martian appears at the peephole and a long metal tentacle snakes into the kitchen. The Narrator hides and watches from the pantry as the curate's body is dragged away. The Narrator hides in the coal-cellar off of the pantry. The metal tentacle searches the pantry and even opens the coal-cellar door, but the Narrator is not discovered. After the tentacle is gone, the Narrator stays hiding in the coal-cellar for an entire day, despite his hunger and thirst.
The Narrator leaves the coal-cellar and discovers that the Martian tentacle took all the remaining food. Desperate for water, he eventually uses a loud pump handle beside the sink, even though he fears that the Martians will hear him. To his surprise, a dog wanders into the kitchen. The Narrator investigates the pit. All of the Martians are gone, as well as their machinery. He walks out into the pit and looks around. Red Martian plants have grown over the area, but there are no signs of Martians anywhere.
The Narrator feels as if he is on the landscape of another planet, surrounded by burnt ground and red plants. He fears that humans are no longer the dominant species on Earth and that they will become subservient to the Martians. He scrounges for food, finding some vegetables in a nearby garden. He wanders to the Thames and sees that it is choked with the red Martian plant. He comments that the red plant died out not long after it spread so quickly, as it had no immunity to Earth’s bacteria. He travels farther without seeing any humans, still scrounging for food. He wonders whether the Martians have gone to destroy Berlin or Paris and whether he will be one of the few remaining humans.
The Narrator spends the night at an inn on Putney Hill. He searches for more food and travels toward Leatherhead. He thinks about the death of the curate, for which he feels no remorse. He worries about where the Martians are and also what has happened to his wife. While traveling, he comes across a desperate-looking man holding a sword. He recognizes the artilleryman that was at his home and they speak a while. The artilleryman tells him that the two of them should start a new society in the sewers and subway tunnels, like rats. They should only allow the strongest survivors to join and someday overthrow the Martians. The Narrator fears the world that the artilleryman describes, but he agrees to help the soldier dig into the tunnels. They dig for a while and then eat, drink, and play cards. By the next day, the Narrator decides that he wants to find his wife and that he will leave the “undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony.”
The Narrator’s assertion that the Martians communicate through telepathy suggests that their technological superiority gives them an advantage over the humans. Telepathy would allow the Martians to communicate with one another in real-time, eliminating any inconsistencies that arise in a long chain of sources. The Martians communicate directly with one another, while the majority of humans rely on information from newspapers that a select number of people create. The Martians’ superior means of communication gives them a strategic advantage over the humans.
The curate’s weak-willed behavior symbolizes the church’s resistance to innovation in society and science. In different circumstances, the Narrator may not have been so perturbed by the man of the cloth, but the curate’s fear of the situation has led him to a crisis of faith that causes him to wallow in self-pity and become an albatross around the Narrator’s neck. The curate’s choices are self-serving, and he refuses to engage in forethought because he stubbornly believes that a clergyman should be able to count on his belief in a higher power to sustain him through crises. The two men’s differing opinions on God, endurance, and the unknown lead the curate to become an albatross around the Narrator’s neck, and his wasteful ways are the last straw that leads the Narrator to plot his solo escape.
The Narrator’s realization that the curate has lost all ability for rational forethought renders the Narrator’s actions against him less violent. Fear has reduced the curate to his basic instincts, a fact that the Narrator fully understands because he is behaving rationally despite also being in survival mode. He understands that the curate is now a direct threat to him because the curate cannot predict the consequences of his actions. The fact that the Narrator is able to remain quiet in the cellar despite his own needs and the violence he has just witnessed is further evidence that his actions were the result of his rationality, not of revenge. His lack of remorse for the curate’s death illustrates that he will do what is necessary to survive without deriving pleasure from cruelty or punishing himself when extreme measures are necessary.
The tentacle exploring the coal cellar shows that the Martians are looking for ways to adapt to and conquer their new environment. The fact that the Martian tentacle takes all the food out of the pantry suggests that the creature knows the Narrator is still there and will need to eat. When a dog wanders into the kitchen, its animal hunger parallels that of the Narrator and highlights that the Martians’ arrival of the Martians has changed Earth’s creature hierarchy. Just as humans once conquered the animal kingdom by adapting to their environment and utilizing critical thinking to outmatch animals’ superior physical abilities, the Martians are conquering humankind by constantly morphing to outwit their prey.
The artilleryman’s belief that the human race can be saved if only the strongest are allowed to breed is an example of a type of thinking called, “social Darwinism,” which modern scientists and ethicists do not support. Proponents of this line of thinking often use their rationale to support racism and the concept of a so-called “master race.” The artilleryman believes in his innate superiority over other humans just as the humans previously believed in their innate superiority over the Martians. Unlike others in the story, the artilleryman appears unafraid to face the unknown, though this is more likely due to ignorance than bravery. This depiction of his bravado, the fact that he feels that humans must resort to living in degradation in the sewers, and the Narrator’s poor opinion of him suggests that he is an unsavory person.