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The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells
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What is the narrator’s reaction to the use of the heat ray in The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells?

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In Chapter 5, the Martians deploy the heat-ray, to devastating effect. The narrator is at first dumbfounded. He "stood staring," feeling nothing other than that "it was something very strange." When the narrator perceives the heat-ray moving towards him, he is initially "too astounded and stupefied to stir." He is only able to watch the heat-ray, or rather the bursts of flame which indicate the path of the heat-ray, while he stands "motionless, dumbfounded, and dazzled." The triplet in this last quotation emphasizes the extent of the narrator's helpless, paralyzing amazement. He realizes that if the heat-ray continues on its path, it will "inevitably have slain (him) in (his) surprise."

When the heat-ray and the "black, dome-like object" from which it emerged finally disappear, the narrator is left to reflect on a scene of darkness and desolation. He remarks that the scene was "dark almost to blackness," "grey and pale," and "suddenly void of men." The desolation, and also the stillness of the scene at this moment, reflects the despair of the narrator. Having just witnessed the spectacular and devastating effects of the Martian ray-gun, the narrator realizes just how powerful the Martians are. He suddenly feels a fear, "a panic terror not only of the Martians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me."

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After the first Martian exits the cylinder, a deputation led by the Astronomer-Royal Stent makes the mistake of trying to make contact. They think that if they approach the Martians in peace, carrying a white flag, then they'll be safe. This turns out to be a catastrophic error of judgment, as Stent and the other men in the welcome party are killed by a heat-ray, the Martians' main offensive weapon.

The narrator's initial reaction is one of puzzlement rather than fear. He's too confused to be frightened, as he doesn't really know what's going on. It's only when people watching this scene of carnage from a distance start to panic and run that the narrator realizes what's happening and quickly joins them in trying to escape.

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