The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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Course Hero, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

Traveling at unimaginable speed and for an immeasurable length of time, Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast enter deep into the heart of Magrathea. At last, they shoot out into a light-filled chamber so vast that it gives "the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself." It is also terrifying. Even Slartibartfast, who has seen it all before, confesses, "It scares the willies out of me." This place is, in fact, the planet-maker's factory floor. Though the galactic recession is not yet over, Magrathea has been reawakened to perform one extraordinary commission for special clients from another dimension.

Slartibartfast points out the work in progress, and Arthur immediately is struck by planetary shapes as familiar to him as the shapes of words. The old man cheerfully confirms that the Earthman is looking at a copy of Earth—Earth Mark Two, being copied from the original blueprints. Slowly, Arthur absorbs the idea that his planet, as the old man tells it, was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice. While humans were supposedly using mice for behavioral research experiments, the mice, in fact, were guiding human thinking in a most subtle, elegant way. The mice are actually "clever hyperintelligent pandimensional beings." Earth and its people formed the matrix of an organic computer running a ten-million-year research program. The planet's destruction by the Vogons was a colossal slip up. The mice were furious.

Analysis

Poor Arthur Dent has a lot of unexpected and absurd information to absorb. Not only was his home planet manufactured by Magrathea, but it was an organic computer bought, paid for, and run by little white furry mice. Its purpose was research, and the Vogons destroyed it five minutes before the two-million-year program had concluded. Magrathea has been awakened to build Earth Mark Two. Trying desperately to cope, Arthur asks Slartibartfast, "Look ... would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"

Slartibartfast is patient in his explanation and expresses quiet pride in his contributions to the first Earth. He had won an award for designing the lovely crinkly edges of Norway. This information foreshadows his unusual contributions to the design of Earth Mark Two.

The questions raised by this chapter are the following: What was the research project? Why does Slartibartfast say that, had Earth's destruction occurred five minutes later, it wouldn't have mattered so much? And what is so important that an Earth Mark Two must be built? A clue to the answers is suggested in the Introduction to the novel. A girl sitting in a café in Rickmansworth suddenly realizes how the world could be made a good and happy place. Before she can get to a phone to tell anyone about it, however, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurs, and the idea is lost forever.

Arthur mentions the psychologist Pavlov in connection to man's behavioral research on mice. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov is best known for his research and discovery of the conditioned stimulus response in dogs. Dogs naturally salivate when they see food. Pavlov showed that they could be conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with food. Upon hearing the bell, with or without the presence of food, the dogs would begin to salivate. This is called a conditioned response. Pavlov also performed behavioral research on mice that suggested conditioned responses might be passed from one generation of mice to the next. However, his inheritance experiments proved to be faulty, and Pavlov did not pursue this line of research. Of course, Arthur and the reading audience now might suppose that the mice most likely were experimenting on Pavlov.

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