Throughout the book, Wells demonstrates the fragility of modern civilisation and the true awful nature of man revealed under stress. An example of the easily un-stabilized equilibrium of modern society is given at the beginning of Chapter Sixteen; “So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the greatest city in the world just as Monday was dawning” this shows how quickly a forceful, unstoppable panic can throw even the greatest example of civilised humanity (egotistically represented by him as London) into chaos.
Even the most basic authorities which glue society together and are the last trusted institutions when all else is lost, are shown to fall with little effort “by ten o’clock the police organisation, and by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body. ” This shows how the very structure of society is beginning to crumble leaving its lesser parts to run chaotically into non-existence just as that of the liquidating, collapsing corpse that society has become.
He then shows how this fast and facile degradation of social structure shows mans true brutal nature, how we so easily revert to our primal “fight or flight” instincts. Martians have not even reached London and already “revolvers were fired, people stabbed” and the police, society’s epitome of order and law are “breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect” the brutality of it all is shown in the words wells’ chooses to use, rather than the police forcefully creating order they are “breaking heads” some of the more gruesome imagery which could have been used.
Wells not only shows his disdain for man as a whole but focuses on his hate of imperialism (the British Empire in particular). He does so by drawing comparison between the Martians and a European invading force. An example of this would be in Chapter Seventeen “The tangled maze of streets would have seemed stripped black with streaming fugitives. ” This reference to fugitives seems very reminiscent of the chaos left during European imperialist invasions.
He also says that “the hugest armies Asia has ever seen would be a drop in the current. this is a comment on the devastation caused by modern western warfare against other less advanced armies elsewhere. The way in which the Martian attack is planned shows parallels to that of humans also. They cut the telegraph lines to disrupt communication and destroy lines of railway track to do so to organised travel. They blow up ammunition stores to render our only weapons useless all of which is intended to “hamstring” one’s opponent before they have time to plan and execute an adequate reaction which is notably characteristic of European imperialists in Wells’ time.
However Wells does not to seem to have quite given up on humanity as a whole at the time of writing this book. An example of this is that throughout the book the narrator describes all of the horrors which occur before his eyes with a decided sense of detachment which gives the reader the impression that he is almost emotionless, an inhuman representative of an insensitive species. However this is contradicted in the last few lines “and strangest of all is it to hold my wife’s hand again, and to think that I have counted her and she has counted me among the dead.
This is a definite proof that through it all man has a beauty and nobility which is no better summated than in his capacity for love. The focus on the inner beauty of man is given by the poetic devices Wells uses in these last few lines; by inverting it and is and by repeating the counting amongst the dead he creates a deliberate poetic style. Human nobility in general, it seems, is summed up in the narrator’s brother. A clear example of this is when he says “I dare not leave my people” a very dramatic and inherently noble statement.
This is also shown when the pitiful miser, who has been run over and paralysed by the speeding carts and is still scrabbling after his money is pulled hot of harms way by his brother even as he bites and hits at his arm whilst risking his own life in the busy street. This is in affirmation of his previous actions when he saves two defenceless women from three thieves by his own fist. This “damsel in distress” imagery is a classic stereotypical example of human nobility and chivalry.
Overall Wells seems to be trying to show that despite the seemingly sturdy and sophisticated nature of human civilisation, we are nothing more than tamed savages. That the only activity in which we are inherently successful is that of laying waste to those less able than ourselves, as the British did so efficiently in Africa and the like a venture to which Wells was most definitely opposed. Although he also says that through all of this degradation of morality and more generally humanity there is something which separates us from mere beasts and vermin; the capacity for chivalry, altruism and emotion.