Study Guide

The War of the Worlds Book 1, Chapter 5

By H.G. Wells

Book 1, Chapter 5

The Heat-Ray

  • The narrator keeps flitting between fear and curiosity – he is "a battleground" between these two feelings – but eventually, his curiosity wins and he goes to find a better view of the pit. Although it's getting dark now, which is not the best time of day to examine Martians, especially in a chapter titled "The Heat-Ray." (Although perhaps the narrator can be forgiven for missing the clue of the chapter title since this is the first appearance of the phrase "Heat-Ray" according to the Oxford English Dictionary.)
  • Many of the other people are also bucking up and returning to the pit. Some of these people (fools?) walk really close to the cylinder, waving a white flag to signal their peaceful intentions.
  • Later, the narrator learns that Ogilvy, Henderson, and Stent were in this group. (If you ever find yourself making contact with aliens, please don't assume that they will know that a white flag means "we come in peace." It's very possible that on Mars, a white flag means "Your mom.")
  • There's a flash of light in the pit and some bright green smoke. As the people get closer to the pit, a dome-like object rises out of the pit and…
  • Nowadays, we have lasers and flamethrowers, so this might not sound so amazing to us, but imagine reading this in 1898: "It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire" (1.5.14).
  • The narrator is so shocked by this that he doesn't realize that people are dying. "All I felt was that it was something very strange" (1.5.16). He is so shocked that he doesn't move and would've died, but the Heat-Ray happens to miss him.
  • Eventually he realizes his situation – aliens are shooting a Heat-Ray at him – so he decides skedaddle. He runs, weeping silently like a child (his words, not ours – none of the children we know weep silently, but maybe things were different in the 1890s).