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 August 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 31 | Summary

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Summary

Traveling through a wormhole in the fabric of the space-time continuum, Arthur Dent's comment, "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style," sparks a terrible misunderstanding between two warring alien races. Misinterpreted by one side as the most dreadful insult possible, war breaks out for centuries and decimates the distant Galaxy. Eventually, it is realized that the whole thing has been a ghastly mistake and the source of the offending remark is our galaxy. The two races join forces to launch an attack on this mutual enemy. Their ships tear across the empty wastes of space for a thousand more years and dive toward the first planet they come across: Earth. They have sadly miscalculated their relative size, however, and the entire fleet is accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Those who know say this sort of thing is going on all the time.

Meanwhile, Arthur and Slartibartfast have arrived to where the mice are waiting. Also present and sitting around a large table laden with exotic food are Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, and Ford Prefect. There's a brief, but happy, reunion followed by introduction to the two mice, Benjy and Frankie. Then the mice dismiss Slartibartfast, after explaining that they won't need the new Earth any longer. The old man leaves the room, dismayed to think how much time and work he has put into creating the glaciers of Africa.

Now the mice get down to business. They explain that they are sick of this search for the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer. The thought of doing it all over again is unbearable. Their timely escape before Earth's destruction was pure chance, and they have made their way back to Magrathea because it is a gateway to their own dimension. Before returning home, they need to come up with a question that at least sounds good and fits the answer "Forty-two." Arthur can help them out. He is a last-generation product of the computer matrix and was present right up to the end of Earth. There's a good chance that the structure of the question is encoded in the structure of his brain.

All this sounds interesting until the mice explain that they will need to remove and dice up Arthur's brain to obtain the information. From their point of view, he has no choice in the matter.

As Arthur, with the help of his companions, is trying to escape, every alarm on the planet suddenly goes off.

Analysis

Even though this chapter embodies the crisis of the story, it begins with a story-within-a-story about the importance of words. Words have meaning, and misunderstandings can result from a seemingly innocent comment. This is taken to an extreme in an absurd situation, but the point being made is valid.

Back on Magrathea, Arthur Dent is reunited with his fellow travelers. None of them seem to have suffered from being gassed, and all are eating heartily. Once Slartibartfast delivers Arthur to the mice Benjy and Frankie, authoritative and insensitive bureaucracy asserts itself. The mice coldly inform Slartibartfast that all his work on Africa is no longer needed. In fact, the partially finished New Earth is no longer needed and will be dismantled. The old man is plainly shocked and hurt to have the work in which he takes great care and pride thrown away.

It seems that, like the philosophers Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the mice are not above selling out to get what they want, which is to go home and forget repeating the Earth experiment. There is a very profitable 5D chat show and lecture circuit contract waiting for them. All they need is a question to the Ultimate Answer—any question they think they can get away with. An approximation extracted from Arthur's brain will do. The fact that they must remove and cut up his brain to get at it is unimportant. They are as insensitive to the outcome as a human scientist in a lab might be while experimenting on mice.

At this point, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, and Ford Prefect pull together as a team to face the crisis and help Arthur escape. This dire threat at last has forged them into an alliance. They aren't doing so well, but at least they are trying. The unexpected—perhaps improbable—ear-splitting din of alarms comes to the rescue.

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