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 December 11, 2018.


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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 9 | Summary



Just where Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent have ended up, they cannot say. At first, it looks like the sea front at Southend, a British seaside town and resort. But the Universe is heaving and rolling in a sickening way, and the sea is holding steady while the shoreline rocks and the buildings wash up and down. Amid strange sights and sounds—including great ugly bulges in the fabric of space-time—the only sensible thing is a female voice calmly stating several measurements of probability. As Ford gradually turns into a penguin and Arthur's limbs float off one-by-one into the sunset, the voice assures them that there is no need for alarm. They are safe aboard the starship Heart of Gold.

Suddenly, Ford realizes the cause of these odd effects. The Heart of Gold is being powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive! His excitement is lost on Arthur, who is busy trying to hold shut the door to the pink cubicle they now occupy. Outside are an infinite number of monkeys who want to discuss a script for Hamlet that they have worked out.


Reason in this chapter is "in fact out to lunch." Improbable sights and sounds are everywhere. Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent experience bizarre physical changes, and the changing scene around them is impossible to interpret. All this is a sample of what can happen when the starship Heart of Gold's power source—the Infinite Improbability Drive—is put to use. Fortunately for Arthur and Ford, the ship's drive hit the improbability ratio required to rescue them from certain death, as mentioned in Chapter 8: two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against.

As the first number in the ratio decreases, normality slowly returns, but not before producing the infinite number of monkeys interested in discussing their script for Hamlet. This is an allusion to a theory first suggested in 1913. It proposed that an infinite number of monkeys typing at random on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. It provides a powerful image of an impossible event made probable if attempted on a large enough scale. Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive has apparently succeeded.

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