Arrogance and Knowledge: The Significance of the Artilleryman in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds

Essay by trait47College, UndergraduateA-, February 2005

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In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells uses the artilleryman's plan to illustrate the conflict between the arrogance the British possess and the knowledge that Great Britain has. Because the artilleryman does not have the same arrogance as the British upper class citizens, he accepts that the aliens are capable of dominating over the humans. He also believes that by acquiring more knowledge, humans will be able to overthrow the alien reign. By showing that the British maintain an arrogant ideology, proving knowledge is the key to retaining humanity, and showing how arrogance renders knowledge useless, Wells points out that the arrogance of the British impedes their nation against the Martian invaders and in real life.

Initially, Wells uses the soldier's perspective of humanity to show how arrogance can be a hindrance. The soldier, who does not maintain the British upper class perspective, says that a human being is capable of "[degenerating] into a sort of big savage rat" (158).

Since the narrator does maintain the upper class view, he "can find nothing to bring against [the soldier's] reasoning" (157) because the concept of humanity reverting back to being another species of animal never occurred to him. Furthermore, since the artilleryman considered the possibility of humanity regressing back into an animal form, he also thought of a solution, unlike the educated philosopher. By contrasting the two characters, Wells illustrates how arrogance and overlooking obvious possibilities can encumber an empire.

Also, Wells provides evidence that the faith the upper class British show in their monarch may lead to their downfall. Wells shows that the narrator would be less likely to survive than the artilleryman; because the less educated solider accepts that the British Empire may fall, he may be able to survive in a world dominated by aliens. For example,