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Free Study Guide-The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES

Book One: The Coming of the Martians

Chapter Sixteen (The Exodus from London)

Summary

As the massive emptying of London continues, the trains soon become a center of brutal fighting. Since midnight, they have been leaving the station loaded; a few hours later, there are people being trampled and stabbed as others fight for their lives to secure a spot. The brother is even at the scene when a train runs right through a crowd of near-hysterical people. Then the trains stop returning to London, the engineers fearful of both the Martians and the people.

After failing to get a ride on a train, the brother walks through the streets and is able to take advantage of the raiding of a shop to get a bicycle for himself. Although he has to abandon it when the wheel rim breaks, it does help him reach Edgware quickly. He gets some food while many others start to arrive. The townspeople stand about in amazement at this sudden flow of travelers. There is little new information about the Martians, but as the town starts to get crowded, the brother decides to take some back roads to go to a town where some of his friends live.

While traveling, he sees two women in a carriage, fighting off three robbers. He immediately rushes to their defense and fights the men while the carriage rides off. He manages to knock one out and hit another in the face, but it is not enough. Luckily for him, he is saved when one of the women returns, a revolver in hand. The men take off after a single shot is fired.

The brother joins the two women in the carriage, whom he finds out are the wife and younger sister of a surgeon named George Elphinstone. The man had heard of the Martians and, upon his return home, had sent the two women off to seek safety. The plan had been for him to stay behind to alert the neighbors and he would catch up with them earlier that morning. By then he is more than four hours late and there is no sign of him.

The three wait a bit and then decide that there is nothing to be done but to keep going. Knowing the trains would be crowded over capacity, they chose instead to follow a route that will take them out of the country. The brother leads the pony along the path while the hot day wears on.

They pass by a number of people, all looking worn out and unsettled. There are flames shooting up over the houses in front of them. Suddenly the carriage comes in view of a great mass of people, all scared, thirsty, and tired. There is no distinction anymore, as homeless plod alongside clerks, all fleeing in fear of the Martians. They walk along the side and try to avoid getting in the way of the many, varied vehicles that fill the street. Constant calls to keep moving northward mingle with one man’s shouts of “Eternity!”


One man is searching for water for the dying Lord Garrick. Farther down the street is a man with a bloody leg, fortunate enough to have two friends with him. Then there is the incident with the man whose bag of money breaks open, spilling everywhere. As he frantically tries to pick it up, he is run over by a horse and cart. The narrator’s brother gets some help and they attempt to move him to safety but the man keeps trying to grab his fallen money. The brother looks up at the sound of a crash and, during that moment’s distraction, the injured man bites his wrist in an attempt to get back to the coins. The brother narrowly misses getting hit by a horse’s hoof and he lets go of the man to move back. The man with the money gets crushed under the wheels of an anxious cart.

The brother turns the carriage around and travels away from the packed street, though he soon realizes that he must go into it. This he does and they follow along in the great crowd until they collapse, wiped out, near where people are fighting for water and packed trains pass by. The three spend a sleepless night here and watch as people rush along the trail, some going in the opposite direction of the carriage.

Notes

The word “Exodus” can refer to the escape of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt or, in a more general sense, to any movement of a large number of people. Similarities to the Biblical reference include the poor condition of the travelers, the heat, and the want of water.

From most of the scenes in this chapter, it is evident that men’s moral standards are falling apart. Although it is the Martians who have brought this decline, they are not completely to blame. The machines have destroyed homes, churches, and other buildings of institutions as well as using the Heat-Ray and the vapor to kill many. But people have also chipped away at humanity in the many widespread instances of bloodshed.

If dust is thought of as the state that people return to after dying, then the dust that clings to the crowd fleeing from the Martians is foreshadowing of the death and destruction still to come.

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