Essay about War of the Worlds by Herbert George (HG) Wells
HG Wells’ 1898 Science Fiction novel WoTW, written at the peak of the British Empire, is an account by an anonymous amateur scientist and tells of the impacts of a Martian Invasion in Southeast England. My understanding of the context in which Wells produced the novel helps me interpret the ideas it conveys. Through the knowledge of Wells’ Atheist views, and the time and place of the Novel relating to the British Empire, I have achieved a further understanding of the views the novel conveys on the loss of belief and British Imperialism, shown through the invasion by the Martians and mass hysteria the follows. Through this he adapts the genre Invasion Fiction, a popular genre that reflected on 1890s European concerns about the war, to critique British Imperialism and its moral foundations. The novel explores these ideas using generic conventions and language features like plot, setting and symbolism.
Through further research, I have been able to conclude that WotW challenges the idea of British imperialism. Wells shows this by inverting the power dynamic of the first encounter, reversing colonised and coloniser. In the novel, Martian’s land on earth with the intent to conquer it for their personal use. The English are the people faced with an invader that is technologically more advanced than them. They try but fail to interact with and understand, whilst the invader has no interest in understanding them. Some found it a ‘pity they make themselves so unapproachable’, as they are curious about ‘how they live on another planet.' This naïve curiosity paired with the hope for peace thwarted by the invaders' attacks is linked with the idea of the British Empires' ruthless attacks on indigenous people. Knowing this novel was written at the height of the British Empire helps me realise its intent, as Wells uses this novel to call out the Empire. In the novel, we also see evidence of a superiority complex in humans. They seem confident in their power as they are sure ‘the troops’ would have the strength to ‘capture or to destroy the Martians during the day’. The milkman suggests they shouldn’t be killed if it could ‘possibly be avoided’. This supports the idea that the English believe themselves to be the higher power. The novel uses symbolic language through “I had the sunset in my eyes” to represent not only the idea of darkness coming, but the fact the humans are at first blinded by superiority. It can also be used to assume the sun is about to set on the British Empire.
This leads to the idea of loss of faith. In the novel we see the humans losing faith, in God and their empire, shown through panic and confusion. With the knowledge of Wells’ atheist views, I can see this idea more. Wells uses the loss of belief so the reader can question their own belief and how they use it. At the start of the novel, the British are confident in their countries ability to rid themselves of the threat and protect them. In comparison, later in the novel, we see the loss of belief in suicidal questioning. Wells uses this to create a question on whether there is a blessed race, as that is what the British Empire believed themselves to be. As the novel's target audience is the British citizens, by writing WotW to show the questioning of belief, the readers also would begin to question it and the idea that they are the blessed race. They wonder if they can hurt other people due to their supposed holy nature; with Wells’ atheist views, we can assume that he is using the novel to question the people who use their religion and beliefs as a weapon. During so, he is unbothered to question the idea of God as he didn’t believe in a higher deity. Through this, he causes doubt in the reader's mind, not only about God and their blessings but also at the empire and how they manipulate their image to seem worthy, using that idea to cause pain. Wells also enforces loss of belief by saying God can’t save you by taking and killing the curate, who prayed to God for help throughout the novel. He goes through a spiritual crisis, questioning his belief, asking ' What sins have we done'. Later the Martians take the curate, which we can interpret as deliberate due to Wells' atheism.
We also see the loss of belief in life, as the narrator ponders suicide after he realises nothing can save him. An ‘insane resolve’ possesses him as he decides to ‘die and end it’. It is shown through the quote ‘I would save myself even the trouble of killing myself’ telling us the narrator would be committing second-hand suicide. He has lost faith in life, his country, and belief. Because of this, he resorts to escape. We also see symbolic language about death, describing the windows of houses as “eye sockets of skulls”. We see how the narrator has lost faith in the world by comparing how he feels about the night. At the start of the novel, he found peace admiring the stars with his wife, whilst now he hides ‘from the night and silence’ .
My extended knowledge of the context of WoTW is vital, so I can see the ideas Wells portrays through the novel. Without this awareness, I wouldn’t understand that Wells explores faith in higher power and loss of belief. This allows the target audience of the time questions their faith and how they use it to justify their empires faults. Knowing that Wells created this novel at the height of the British Empire, I can see him creating a comparison between the novel and the reality at the time. He creates sympathy for the colonised in his readers, further challenging the British Empire and its corrupt beliefs.
This gives me a greater understanding of the novel itself, and Wells’ views of the world at the time.