The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz is a typical Vogon: primitive, green and quite hideous to look at, with a thoroughly vile disposition. Furthermore, he doesn't like hitchhikers. Unfortunately, it is on his flagship of the Vogon Constructor Fleet that Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent have hitched a ride.

Arthur is, understandably, bewildered by the turn of events. To help clarify things, Ford introduces him to the electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and shows him how it works. The book, which also speaks, explains that Vogons "are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy." Also, under no circumstances should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.

Ford further explains that The Guide is designed to help hitchhikers see the marvels of the universe for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day. As a researcher for The Guide, he had hitched a ride to Earth, intending to stay for a week, and had gotten stuck for 15 years. This brings up the painful subject of Earth's recent and total destruction. Before Arthur can panic completely as this bad news sinks in, Ford presents him with a small, yellow fish and says he will need to have it in his ear. Arthur begins to object, but Ford claps his hand to the Earthman's ear, and the little fish wiggles in and slithers down into his aural tract. Moments later, an announcement in Vogon coming across the ship's tannoy, or public address system, translates—to Arthur's ears—into perfectly straightforward English.

Analysis

Once again, Adams pokes fun at bureaucracy and presents Vogons as the ultimate civil servants: bad-tempered, officious, callous, and bureaucratic. The outlined journey of a document—"signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters"—is bizarre and exaggerated, yet familiar. It seems that bureaucrats and bureaucracy everywhere are the same.

Adams also has some fun with UFO sightings, which Ford Prefect calls "teasers." The 1970s were the heyday of alien sightings in the United Kingdom. According to Ford Prefect, these are just rich kids with nothing to do. "They cruise around looking for planets that haven't made interstellar contact yet and buzz them."

Human behavior is another target of Adams's humor. As Ford tries to help Arthur Dent cope with the bewildering turn life has taken, he struggles with the human habit of stating and repeating the obvious. Waking to the darkness of the ship, Arthur observes, "It's dark." When Ford agrees, Arthur feels the need restate the fact, saying, "Dark, no light." Ford has concluded that, for some reason, humans must keep exercising their lips, but despite the puzzling habit, he quite likes them anyway. Throughout the story, he tries, with some success, to mentor Arthur and to convince him that hitchhiking the galaxy is really not so bad. The electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is of some help, and the book's slogan, DON'T PANIC, appeals to Arthur. He spends much of the novel trying to follow that advice.

This chapter also introduces a small, but significant, yellow fish and the Vogon language. The latter is first heard over the alien ship's tannoy. "Tannoy" is a trademark for a British public address system. While the Vogons come from an entirely different place in the Universe, they apparently use a similar system on the ship for making general announcements.

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