The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 5 : The Heat-Ray | Summary



The narrator finds himself irresistibly drawn back toward the crater to see more. He observes a long pole with a circular disc on its end rising from the pit. Other people linger, seemingly rooted to the spot in a mix of horror and curiosity. Heartened by a lack of alien movement for a period, onlookers begin to slowly advance toward the pit.

The Deputation walks toward the pit with a white flag. The narrator later learns Ogilvy, Stent, and Henderson were part of the group. A flash of light, three puffs of green smoke, a hissing sound, and a dome-like object rise from the pit. With a droning noise, the group of men suddenly burst into flame. As the "invisible, inevitable sword of heat" rotates, everything it touches turns to flame. The rotating Heat-Ray stops before it reaches the narrator, and he realizes he was "helpless, unprotected and alone." He flees in fear with the disturbing feeling he is "being played with."


Although the cylinder is evidence enough of Martian intelligence, the author uses the attack to begin to establish the character of the Martians. He illustrates the damage they will inflict on Earth, as foreshadowed earlier. Seemingly without provocation, the Martians wipe out a group of humans with their white flag, a sign of peace, who simply wanted to communicate with the aliens as fellow intelligent creatures. Human intention means nothing to the Martians, who make no effort to communicate. They have no desire for peace, which may have meaning only for humans, which they are not. Readers get a sense of the cold ruthlessness of the Martians and the power they wield.

The author continues to develop the idea of helplessness by demonstrating the vast capabilities of the Martians' Heat-Ray, which instantly reduces anything it touches to flame or rubble. As the narrator's awareness of his own helplessness dawns on him, he realizes his position to the aliens is one of subordination, like an object or a pet at the mercy of its owner. Even when humans feel safe, they are not protected from such strange forces.

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