Academic | Essay Contest

Angelica Hicks

Angelica Hicks

One of the enduring themes of Western civilization is the struggle between man and nature. Even today, the knowledge of the harm humans have done to the Earth and its species does not stop the human race from engaging in environmentally destructive behaviors. The notion that nature is ultimately more powerful than man is a prominent message in many works of literature, including The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. In the novel, Wells describes the invasion and eventual demise of a race of Martians; the destructive actions of the Martians, however, are comparable to those of humans in 2010. The Martians' utter disregard for the Earth and its inhabitants mimics 21st century humans' environmentally and ethically unsound habits. By establishing the ultimate victory of nature over the Martians, Wells warns the current generation of its eventual susceptibility to nature's will.

Initially, Wells sets up a comparison between the invasion of the Martians and various exploits of the human race. When the narrator says, "Before we judge of them [the Martians] too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals," he immediately creates a connection between the cruelty of the Martians and human cruelty (3). Moreover, he specifically references the human tendency to annihilate creatures it considers to be "inferior animals" (3). This claim, that humans feel entitled to destroy creatures of the Earth as it suits them, has significance today. Thousands of animals are on the endangered species list, mostly as a result of human behavior. Poaching and the illegal pet trade remain a threat to endangered wildlife. Additionally, millions of animals are slaughtered daily in factory farms across the world for the benefit of humans. The narrator describes Martians' feeling that Earth creatures are "as alien and lowly…as monkeys and lemurs…to us" (3). Thus, by comparing humans with the Martians, he acknowledges the presumption of the human race.

Likewise, Wells' description of the aliens' disregard for the environment on Earth parallels modern human impact on the environment. The Martians use heat rays to incinerate obstacles (14) just as humans burn whole sections of the rainforest to make room for farming. The Martians release a black poisonous gas that brings "death to all that breathe" (54) into the atmosphere just as human overuse of vehicles and factories creates toxic smog in Tokyo. Finally, Martians carry with them an invasive type of alien weed, called "red weed," that chokes the British countryside (105); likewise, foreign weeds negatively affect ecosystems all over the world as a result of human irresponsibility in transporting the plants. In the case of the environment, then, people today are as careless as the Martians in Wells' novel, continuing the battle for control over nature.

However, the end of War of the Worlds reveals Wells' true message: that no matter how intelligent or clever a species is, nature will always have dominion over it. The narrator finds the Martians on a hilltop dead from bacterial infection. Though the aliens have advanced technology and weapons, they are unable to overcome simple bacteria, "the humblest things that God…put upon this earth" (105). Moreover, the narrator asserts that the Martians were "irrevocably doomed," and that their death was "inevitable" (106). Here, Wells reveals that humans, too, are ultimately under the auspices of nature; no matter what technology humans develop, they will eventually, and inevitably, die. That revelation is the culminating piece of Wells' work that is relevant to readers today; regardless of the methods of transportation, economic plans, or farming systems man devises, he must eventually answer to nature's call to death.

H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds is set one hundred years in the past, yet it applies to a current audience. The novel continues to draw readers because its antagonists, creatures from another planet, share characteristics with the very humans reading the novel. Wells uses alien invasion to condemn the still-prominent issues of human cruelty to other creatures and disrespect for the environment. In doing so, Wells creates the age-old, but still applicable, theme of man versus nature- and nature wins.


For information on the 2009-2010 Signet Classics Essay Contest, click here.


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