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The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

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In Chapter 2 of The War of the Worlds, how is Ogilvy's first reaction to the movement of the cylinder top ironic?

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Ogilvy, an astronomer, is one of the first people to see the fallen ships that contains the first Martians. These are on the order of lifeboats, existing to get the Martians onto Earth safely. When Ogilvy sees the cylinder begin to move, he is immediately struck with the idea that it is made by an intellect, and that something alive is inside:

"Good heavens!" said Ogilvy. "There's a man in it--men in it! Half roasted to death! Trying to escape!"

At once, with a quick mental leap, he linked the Thing with the flash upon Mars.

The thought of the confined creature was so dreadful to him that he forgot the heat and went forward to the cylinder to help turn.
(Wells, The War of the Worlds, eNotes eText)

Ogilvy's reaction is to try and help, thinking that whatever is inside is injured and needs help. His altruistic notions are first thwarted by the heat, and then later as he attempts to negotiate with a white flag; the Martians kill him and others with a heat ray, proving their intentions to be hostile. It is Ogilvy's resistance to the idea of specific hostility that is ironic; if the Martians had been frightened, and lashed out in panic, it would have been possible to communicate with them. However, since the Martians never had any intention of acting peacefully, Ogilvy's desire to help an injured intelligent being becomes a symbol of his impending death.

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