Attitudes Toward Colonialism
One of the themes of War of the Worlds is Wells’ attitudes towards the idea of colonization. At the time of the novel’s publication, the British empire had already colonized most of Africa for it’s resources. Wells’ Martian invasion not only reflects the callousness with which Britain invaded Africa, but also illustrates the sense of helplessness the English might feel, should the tables ever be turned against them.
A visible correlation between Wells’ novel and colonialism, is the stark contrast in development between invaders and their victims. Britain’s ability to conquer Africa was due to superiority in military, technological, and economical capabilities. Despite Africa’s rich history and culture, the British were able to use their force to invade in a way similar to how the Martians are able to quickly able to invade England. In the case of the Martians, their advantage rests in their technology( tripods, heat ray, etc.) through which they are able to enslave mankind. Another aspect of colonialism mirrored in War of the Worlds is the spread of British ideals in Africa. This is signified in the novel by the Martian red weed that spreads throughout England while the Martians are in control.
Well’s makes reference to England’s inability to handle themselves in a scenario of reverse colonization. He critiques British culture through the clueless manner in which the British initially react to the coming of the Martians. An example of this is how the narrator calmly has tea with his wife at home despite his having witnessed the disastrous power of the Martian heat ray. Another example is the way that the Curate, a mouthpiece for Victorian moralism, goes into a state of utter panic, going so far as to almost sacrifice himself and the narrator to the Martians. The absurdity of these reactions goes to show, not only how far removed the British were from the consequences of colonization, but also how utterly hopeless they would be if they ever found themselves in the shoes of the nations that they themselves had invaded.
Religion and Deification
Religion, its presence and absence, and the notion of a higher power are prominent themes in The War of the Worlds. Wells’ novel deals with the in/ability to retain faith in the wake of devastation and catastrophe. He provides the reader with insight into higher powers through the curate character, as well as the Martians themselves.
The curate is, from beginning to end, a broken man. When the narrator first encounters the curate, the later bombards the narrator with questions of fire and brimstone: “Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then- fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah!” (96). The comparison to ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ rings clear enough; the curate believes this to be the divine apocalypse. He plainly refers to the invasion as, “The great and terrible day of the Lord!” (97), but it is his description of the harbingers of this great end that reveals Wells rhetorical and thematic motives.
After the narrator informs the curate that a Martian was killed earlier that day, he ripostes by asking, “Killed? … How can God’s ministers be killed?” (97). The curate believes the invading force is heaven sent, servants of a truly higher power. Wells’ character’s hysterical enfeeblement in the face these presumed gods runs parallel to the rhetoric of many real-world European colonial narratives, in which the conquered are often detailed submitting to the colonizers as though they were gods. Wells is very likely criticizing this rhetoric of ideological superiority, as the reader (through the narrator) does not take the curate seriously. He is irrational, entirely without hope, and a determent to the survival of the narrator. The curate’s rhetoric (his actual voice) is what perturbs the narrator enough to silence him (155 – 6), a possible suggestion from the author that similar discourses should be hushed as well.
Wells’ commentary on religion in the novel fleshes out the parallels to both pro-colonial and pro-imperialist literature and discourse. The curate and his thoughts on the Martians are as ridiculous to Wells as they are to the narrator, as Wells is challenging the deification of colonizers, conquistadors, and imperialists alike.
The destruction of the telegraph wires and the railroads add to the hysteria and panic that the Englanders encounter. The inability to communicate leads to the dissolvement of governmental-agencies that could potentially help protect and fend off the invaders. In addition to this, the inability to communicate accurately, i.e. for the newspapers to print accurate stories and for the readers to identify with those stories, is displayed by the lack of care or involvement citizens display when they read about deaths occurring elsewhere around the country.