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. 17 Nov. 2018. <>.

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2018.


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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 18 | Summary



In his moment of brilliance, Arthur's brief use of the Improbability Drive has not only caused Magrathea's missiles to vanish, but has also redecorated the ship's bridge rather spectacularly. Otherwise, nothing has changed, and the ship is still orbiting the legendary planet. Quite improbably, the missiles have turned into a bowl of petunias and a poor innocent sperm whale.

As the whale plummets toward the planet below, the record of its thoughts during its existence is quite short. Existential questions—such as "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?"—are followed by awareness of physical sensations. Self-awareness quickly leads to awareness of the large, flat, round thing coming toward it very fast. The poor creature's last thought before it hits the ground is, "I wonder if it will be friends with me?"

On the other hand, the bowl of petunias' singular thought as it falls is "Oh, no, not again." Perhaps if people knew what this meant, much more would be understood about the nature of the universe.


Use of the Improbability Drive has safely and improbably spared the four travelers from certain death. Other results of using the drive are predictably unpredictable, including the now fashionably redesigned ship's interior, and the transformation of the attacking missiles into a whale and a bowl of petunias.

The sudden presence of the whale is absurd, yet it is meant to inspire both compassion and thought. According to Douglas Adams, the whale came about in response to watching an American detective show in which victims were being killed one after the other as mere plot points. The fact that realistically they would have people mourning their loss or angrily demanding justice never made it into the script. The body count simply mounted to provide a reason for a police investigation. Adams decided to write a character whose sole purpose was to die to push the plot and to make his audience care about it. Apparently, he succeeded. He received angry letters saying how cruel and callous the incident was. He also presented, by way of the whale, some essential questions of life, which foreshadow the search for the Ultimate Question that emerges later in the story.

The bowl of petunias is another matter, mostly dealing with reincarnation. An explanation for the petunias' mournful "Oh, no, not again" does not appear until much later in the five-part trilogy. In Chapter 16 of Life, the Universe and Everything (third in the series), Arthur discovers that he and a being named Agrajag are somehow eternally linked. Agrajag has been born several times as a rabbit, a fly, a newt, and the like. Each time, he is killed in an untimely fashion by Arthur. Agrajag identifies the bowl of petunias as one of his prior incarnations.

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