The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 27 | Summary

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Summary

Slartibartfast's study is a terrible mess, but there's no help for it. A malfunction in a life-support computer some 30,000 years ago has left the planet's cleaning crew short-staffed. The old man rummages around and hands Arthur Dent a couple of stripped wire ends, and the Earthman is instantly transported into a recording of the day Deep Thought delivered the Answer to the great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

The Time of Waiting is over. The streets are crowded with ecstatic and jubilant people. Some are descendants of the philosophers Vroomfondel and Majikthise. Inside the building where Deep Thought's main console is housed, two men—Loonquawl and Phouchg—sit respectfully before the terminal, waiting. Seventy-five thousand generations have been waiting for this moment. Slowly, Deep Thought prepares to speak. Before revealing the Ultimate Answer, however, the computer warns the two men that they are really not going to like the answer. Excitedly, the men urge Deep Thought to tell them anyway. With infinite majesty and calm, Deep Thought announces that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is "Forty-two."

Analysis

In this chapter, the Ultimate Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is revealed. Seven-and-a-half million years of computing has deduced it. Far from anything expected, the answer is "Forty-two." As foreshadowed in Chapter 25—seven-and-a-half million years ago—Deep Thought seemed to know that the results of the program would not be satisfactory. Now, before revealing the answer, the computer cautions Loonquawl and Phouchg that they are not going to like the answer. This suggest that the computer to come after, "whose merest operational parameters I [Deep Thought] am not worthy to calculate, but which it will be my fate to design," may be showing up soon.

Over the years, people have tried to ascribe some deep, symbolic significance to the number 42. Douglas Adams has said that it was chosen simply because "it was a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also by six and seven." In typical Adams fashion, he adds, "In fact, it's the sort of number that you could, without fear, introduce to your parents." Curiously, however, the number may be significant after all. Molybdenum is a chemical that could have been vital to creating organic life. It is an essential trace element for virtually all life forms, and its atomic number is 42.

Arthur Dent finds himself projected into the historical scene on the Day of the Answer in a way that is practically magical. The whole experience is a recorded projection and is described as so extraordinary that it "knocked six-track seventy millimeter into a cocked hat." This is a reference to a film and sound format—70 mm film and 6-track stereo sound—that, at the time The Hitchhiker's Guide was written, had created a vastly improved sight and sound experience for moviegoers. Standard film is 35 mm with 2-track stereo. To knock something into a cocked hat means to beat or surpass it.

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