The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

Douglas Adams

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, November 28). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

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Course Hero, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed September 25, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Arthur Dent is an everyday fellow. English and 30 years old, he is tall, with dark hair and "never quite at ease with himself." One Thursday morning, at eight o'clock, he wakes up with a dreadful hangover and a dim memory of being very angry about something he had found out the day before. As he muddles through his morning routine, he is vaguely aware of a large, yellow bulldozer glimpsed through the window. Suddenly, the significance of its presence snaps into place, and 15 seconds later, Arthur is out of the house and lying in the mud in front of the machine.

Mr. L. Prosser, a civil servant who works for the local council, is in charge of a project—and the bulldozer—scheduled to raze Arthur's house to make way for a bypass. He is a direct male-line descendant of the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan and is often plagued by visions of violence that make him feel very uneasy. He tries to reason with Arthur, but Arthur refuses to budge until his friend Ford Prefect shows up to insist that he come down to the local pub for a drink.

Ford is not all that he seems to be, an out-of-work actor from Guildford. He is, in fact, an alien from a small planet near Betelgeuse and a researcher for the remarkable book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He and Arthur have been friends for five years, and now he has something vitally important to share. After some clever negotiations, Ford convinces Mr. Prosser to take Arthur's place in front of the bulldozer and, in this way, defer demolition of the house. Then he and Arthur head for the pub. Arthur wonders aloud if Mr. Prosser can be trusted. Ford replies that he would trust him to the end of the Earth—which is about 12 minutes away.

Analysis

This chapter introduces two of the main characters: Arthur Dent, ordinary Englishman; and Ford Prefect, stranded alien. Arthur will soon find his world not just turned upside down but destroyed completely, and he will discover that things never have been as they appeared to be. Nevertheless, he will struggle to cope, though he rarely knows what is going on. But then, neither does the reader, so it helps when other characters have to explain things to Arthur.

Early on, when the story was being developed as a radio play, Arthur's name was Aleric B. The idea was to mislead the audience into thinking the character was an alien. As refinements were made, Douglas Adams decided he wanted a name that was perfectly ordinary, yet distinctive. He liked the solid "olde English" ring to the name "Arthur." The last name "Dent" was inspired by someone Adams knew at school. Also, it seemed appropriate for someone to whom so much happened. Adams claims to have based many of Arthur's characteristics on the actor who played him in the original radio broadcast.

Ford Prefect's name, on the other hand, is meant as a joke. As the story goes, it was chosen by Ford after arriving on Earth for being "nicely inconspicuous." Unfortunately, he skimped on his research and chose the name of a popular, but discontinued British car. According to Adams, Ford's real name is pronounceable only in an obscure Betelgeusian dialect.

Notable chapter references to people and places include:

  • Genghis Khan: ancestor to Mr. L. Prosser. He and his sons conquered and controlled the largest land empire in recorded history of the human race. It extended from the Pacific Ocean coast of China across Asia to Iran and the Adriatic Sea. Adams and Monty Python's Graham Chapman collaborated on a short and utterly silly story, "The Private Life of Genghis Khan." The contrast to L. Prosser is comedic. While Genghis Khan powerfully and ruthlessly conquered Asia, Prosser wears an ineffectual hat against the Vogon Construction Fleet.
  • Guildford: a country town of Surrey, England, and Ford's presumed home town. The reference to the British town helps tie Ford to Doctor Who, the sci-fi protagonist of a British show of the same name for which Adams wrote. Like Doctor Who, Ford is incompetent at his job.
  • Betelgeuse: star in the vicinity of Ford Prefect's home planet. It is the brightest star in the constellation Orion and one of the largest known stars. Doctor Who, Ford's prototype, was from the planet Gallifrey.

Here and throughout the novel, Adams lampoons bureaucracy, with its endless red tape, paperwork, hurdles, and blunders. This chapter presents a bizarre, yet recognizable, bureaucratic maze designed to block outside interference until it's too late. As Arthur discovers the day before demolition of his house is to begin, the plans have been "on display" for his approval (or disapproval) in the unlighted cellar of the planning office, at the bottom of a missing staircase, in a locked file cabinet, inside a disused lavatory marked with a sign "Beware of the Leopard."

This situation also foreshadows events to come when an alien fleet of spaceships shows up to demolish the unsuspecting Earth.

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