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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

A comprehensive description and analysis of the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
by

Justin Hancock

on 23 September 2012

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Transcript of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams By: Justin Hancock SETTING MAIN
CHARACTER PLOT TONE QUOTE THEME PERSONAL RESPONSE CONFLICT/
RESOLUTION TIME The novel does not clearly state the time period, but it can be presumed that the events occur in the late 20th century. PLACE The first part of the novel takes place in West Country (Southwestern England). MOOD As the novel is mainly set in space and in fictional locations, the mood created is generally nonsensical, whimsical, and altogether improbable. While in the Heart of Gold, the irrational occurrences establish a perplexing tone, and the farfetched technology leads to almost total suspension of disbelief. The main character of the novel is Englishman Arthur Dent. Physical Characteristics There is little physical description of Arthur in the novel, except that he is about thirty, dark-haired, and "never quite at ease with himself". Intellectual Characteristics Arthur is not described as terribly intellectual or cunning, but neither is he as daft (intentionally or unintentionally) as Zaphod Beeblebrox. Emotional Description Arthur is generally presented as very pessimistic and passive, although he can be spirited (defending his home from the bulldozers). Social Description Arthur seems to have difficulty feeling grief at the vaporization of his parents, but becomes nauseous at the concept that McDonald's no longer exists. Philosophical Description Despite not despairing at his relatives' death, Arthur seems to have a strong sense of right and wrong, despite being easily persuaded. Conflict There is no real main conflict, however there are many lesser external conflicts, due to the novel being an adaptation of a radio show. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a charmingly comedic and slightly eccentric adaptation of a radio series of the same name. The novel describes the misadventures of Earthling Arthur Dent as he is whisked off to unfathomable realms of science fiction after the untimely destruction of the Earth. A Galactic President steals a spaceship, hyperdimensional beings appear as mice, and where do all the ballpoint pens go? Hilarity ensues. The first conflict that occurs in the book is Man vs. Man, in which Arthur deals with his house being bulldozed to make a bypass. This is paralleled in the Vogon destruction of Earth to make a hyperspace bypass, in which the dialogue of the previous conversation is parodied. A recurring theme in the lesser conflicts is the conflict of bureaucracy and humanity, beginning with Arthur's house and seen in Zaphod's presidency. Each conflict is resolved relatively quickly, (e.g. escape from Magrathea) and the book ends with all conflicts resolved, yet allowing for continuation. At the conclusion of the novel, Arthur with the help of his friends, escapes with his brain intact and makes it to lunch. "...an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." “What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away you know.” "... six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it." These quotes appropriately describe the author's tone- witty, sarcastic, and wry. The first quote (taken from the preface) quickly establishes Adams' sardonic view of modern society. "Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it . They are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy - not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters." This quotation, while succinctly describing the Vogons, demonstrates the eccentric, verbose, and comedic mood perceived by general audiences. The quotation also shows why the novel is often characterized as arbitrary, confusing, and generally "out to lunch". MEANINGLESSNESS I chose meaninglessness as the theme, because most people associate 42 with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the novel, 42 is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything; and baffles the beings who designed the supercomputer that finds the Answer. This can be interpreted as Adams' condemning searching for answers without a rationale, which results in meaninglessness. Meaninglessness is also shown by the lack of closure in the novel. When I first finished the book, I thought, "You must be kidding me; how am I to make sense of this?" But as I sought to understand the book's key themes, I began to recognize the deeper meaning behind the story. i.e. Adams wants the reader to allow the novel to just be an odd, comedic, slightly sarcastic, science fiction tale, without esoteric, abstruse symbolism. That being said, the Guide was thoroughly entertaining, a masterpiece of British charm and wit, and I was chuffed with the overall message. The novel itself was composed in the 1970s. The novel begins on a Thursday, but the passage of time after this is incoherent. After the destruction of the Earth, the events occur on a Vogon demolition ship, the planet Damogran, the ship Heart of Gold, and Magrathea. Arthur is almost always seen in a dressing gown and slippers. As such, Ford Prefect, being energetic and constantly upbeat, can be thought of as a foil for this aspect of Arthur. Also, Tricia McMillian (Trillian) left Arthur at a party for "Phil" (Zaphod), displaying his social ineptitude. The second quote further substantiates the derogatory attitude toward humanity demonstrated throughout the novel. The last quote plainly reveals Adams' profound distaste for bureaucracy, in an allegorical manner. Arthur seeks the reasoning behind the destruction of the Earth, and the Vogons' limited answer satisfies him because he does not ply further. Similarly, the novel ends with the characters grabbing a quick bite to eat, not providing an answer to what most readers wished to see answered. This once again reiterates the futility of seeking answers to unknown questions, which only results in confusion and meaninglessness. Adams wishes readers to accept the Universe for its mysteries, and to see that the cost will often outweigh the benefits of seeking answers.
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