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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How is the electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy more useful to a galactic hitchhiker than the great Encyclopedia Galactica as described in the Prologue?

The absurdity of the contents of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy better fits the absurd galaxy through which a hitchhiker travels than the contents of the Encyclopedia Galactica. As explained in the Prologue, the Encyclopedia Galactica was once the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom. While duller than The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it nevertheless is older and more complete, and its entries are much more accurate. In comparison, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has many omissions and contains much information that is either made up or wildly inaccurate. However, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica in many parts of the galaxy. The reasons may be as follow: Entries in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reflect a skewed view of the Universe, with detailed descriptions of how to mix exotic drinks and the importance of a towel, and a two-word entry for planet Earth. Considering the course of events in the novel in which Earth is utterly demolished and possession of a towel is vital, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy clearly beats the Encyclopedia Galactica in usefulness. It is also slightly cheaper, and the words DON'T PANIC are inscribed on the cover in large, friendly letters.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 1 how do the influences of Mr. L. Prosser's ancestry conflict with his character?

In Chapter 1, Mr. L. Prosser is a 40-year-old civil servant with a nervous, worried nature who has been sent to oversee the destruction of Arthur Dent's house. He is not a forceful man. When Arthur stubbornly refuses to let the bulldozers knock down his house, Mr. Prosser is powerless to win Arthur over by strength of argument or will. He finally sees that somebody has been appallingly incompetent in this matter and fearfully hopes it isn't him. Nevertheless, Mr. Prosser is also a direct male-line descendent of the fearsome Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan. As such, he often has visions of dreadful violence, and at the moment, these involve Arthur. Mr. Prosser also likes axes. His dream home would be a nice, quiet cottage far from the busy world and with axes over the door, instead of a less-hostile ornament like climbing roses. Mr. Prosser's mildness and timidity are at odds with the visions of violence he finds terribly attractive as well as unnerving. The whole thing, in fact, makes him quite uneasy.

In what ways does Douglas Adams effectively satirize bureaucracy in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 1?

A bureaucracy can be an efficient administrative system. Too often, though, it is governed by unnecessary procedures, inflexible rules, and red tape. Adams presents a circular argument to effectively mock the bureaucratic mindset. He then proceeds to point a finger at complicated procedures and red tape. Within a bureaucracy's chain of command, everyone has a defined job and must execute it without question. Readers learn in Chapter 1 that Mr. L. Prosser works for the local council and is a perfect example of the bureaucratic civil servant. He has been assigned the job of knocking down Arthur Dent's house to make way for a bypass, and without question, he's going to do it. When Arthur objects and asks why a bypass is necessary, Mr. Prosser replies absurdly, "It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses." He then goes on to tell Arthur that his house is not that nice anyway and that he will like the bypass. In other words, the house must come down to make way for a bypass that must be built because it's a bypass and bypasses must be built. This is a circular argument that defies logic but serves bureaucracy well. The situation effectively mocks the bureaucratic mindset, which says an unnecessary job must be performed to justify the existence of the bureaucracy and because someone higher up the chain of command has said so. Adams goes on to satirize bureaucratic procedure and red tape. Mr. Prosser speaks truthfully when he says the plans for demolition "have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months." In bureaucratic fashion, however, their existence was not announced so as to prevent any objections. They were also located in the most inconvenient place possible: in an unlit basement, at the bottom of a locked file cabinet, which was stashed in an unused lavatory marked by a sign warning "Beware of the Leopard." While absurd, the point is effectively made that bureaucratic procedures and red tape are designed to confuse people and issues.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, end of Chapter 2 when Ford Prefect attempts to reveal his true identity, what conclusion can be drawn from Arthur Dent's reaction?

At this moment, Arthur Dent struggles to understand the strange turn the day has taken. He wonders if he is somehow at fault. His house is in danger of being knocked down. Ford Prefect insists the world is about to end and wants Arthur to drink three pints of beer for lunch as a muscle relaxant. Then, in Chapter 2, Ford asks Arthur how he would react if he (Ford) said, "I'm not form Guildford after all, but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse." Arthur fails to take the question seriously, responding, "Why, do you think it's the sort of thing you're likely to say?" Arthur is sure the day's confusion is only temporary, and, if he just keeps going, things will sort themselves out. In fact, the problem may be simply that it is Thursday, and Arthur "never could get the hang of Thursdays." Blinded by a very human sense of self-importance, he is unable to grasp that the problem is far more global than this. Even as the absurdities of the day mount, he still believes he is somehow in control, and, if he can only do or say the right thing, life will return to normal. This seems to be his way of keeping things in perspective and at a manageable level.

What does the possession of a towel indicate about Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 3?

In Chapter 3, Galactic hitchhiker Ford Prefect keeps his towel in the leather satchel habitually slung around his neck. According to the electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is the single most useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. A man who knows where his towel is, is prepared for whatever hardship, pleasures, or dangers he may encounter in the galaxy. Its practical uses include lying on it, drying off with it, or using it for an improvised sail. Its psychological uses include impressing non-hitchhikers so they willingly lavish the hitchhiker with an array of useful gifts. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy states that "any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with." Ford's possession of a towel shows that he is a "hoopy frood"—an experienced hitchhiker who is "really amazingly together" and a man to be reckoned with.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 3 what question is raised by the barman's end-of-the-world intuition before he calls for last orders of drinks?

There is sad absurdity in the fact that the barman at last intuits the end of the world is near, and all he can think to do is call out to patrons for last orders. His understanding cannot save him. This raises the question of the usefulness of intuition that comes too late to be acted upon. Like Arthur Dent, the barman at the Horse and Groom pub does not quite believe Ford Prefect's statement that the world is about to end. There is nothing about the day or the scene in the pub to indicate that anything has changed. Even so, he picks up a peculiar sensation from Ford that unsettles him. It is a sense of tremendous distance that Ford himself is experiencing. He is 600 million light years from his place of birth in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and under threat of death in less than two minutes. It's a powerful and pathetic longing for home. The barman reels from the sensation, though he does not understand it. Yet it lends weight to Ford's assertion that the end is near. Almost without willing it, the barman calls out for last orders, as if accepting the truth without comprehending its dreadful finality. There is no time to think it through or to panic or to alter the course of events.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 3 how does the destruction of Arthur Dent's house parallel the destruction of Earth?

Readers learn in Chapter 3 that on one Thursday, both Arthur Dent's house and the Earth are destroyed. Besides occurring on the same day, the reasons for the destruction are similar; Arthur's house is being knocked down to make way for a bypass. Earth is being vaporized to make way for a hyperspatial expressway. The beings in charge of the projects—Mr. L. Prosser and Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz—differ only in their species. Otherwise, they are both civil servants and bureaucrats at heart. Both explain that the plans for demolition have been available in the local planning offices and all someone had to do to find them was go there. Of course, the existence of these documents was unannounced. Furthermore, the plans for demolition of Arthur's house are buried in an unlit cellar, at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, in an unused bathroom featuring a sign that says, "Beware of the Leopard." The plans for Earth's destruction, even harder to find, are located in distant Alpha Centauri. Both Prosser and Jeltz have no sympathy for the objects of destruction. Prosser observes that Arthur's house is not a particularly nice one. Jeltz refers to Earth as apathetic and unworthy of sympathy. Together, the destruction of Arthur's house and of Earth displace Arthur permanently and begin his hitchhiking adventure through the galaxy.

How does Douglas Adams satirize politics in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 4?

In Chapter 4, Douglas Adams uses the presidency of Zaphod Beeblebrox to satirize politics, especially a political system built on deceit and hidden agendas. When Zaphod is elected President of the Imperial Galactic Government, many people in the galaxy see it "as clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas." What they don't understand is this: Because Zaphod is completely unqualified for the job, he is "ideal presidency fodder." He is a controversial choice—an infuriating but fascinating character—and as such, draws attention away from the true source of power in government. And this is the Galactic President's real job, though only six people in the galaxy know it. Adams is mocking a system of government that operates on deception, setting up a powerless figurehead to fool the people being governed. As the government grows in power, the figurehead must be able to distract the people's attention from what is really going on. For this reason, an adventurer, ex-hippie, good-timer extrovert like Zaphod is perfect for the job. What is unknown and unsettling is who is really wielding the ultimate political power.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 5 what does Ford find very human about Arthur Dent's comment, "It's dark," as Arthur regains consciousness aboard the Vogon spaceship?

In Chapter 5, Arthur Dent states the obvious when he comments, "It's dark." Hitching a ride aboard a spaceship of the Vogon Constructor Fleet, he and Ford Prefect have ended up in a small, unlit cabin, which is dark indeed. Over the years, Ford has noticed the human tendency to state and repeat things that are apparent to everyone else. It is a habit peculiar to humans. At first, he believed it was caused by a physical need to keep the lips moving, otherwise the mouth would seize up. Later, he theorized that if the lips stop moving, the human brain starts working. After awhile, however, this seemed a rather contemptuous point of view. Ford rather likes humans and realizes that the idiosyncratic habit is harmless, so he politely agrees with such statements and overlooks their absurdity.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 5 how does the presence of the Dentrassis on the Vogon ship advance the plot?

As shown in Chapter 5, the Dentrassis are huge, furry creatures serving aboard the Vogon Constructor Fleet spaceships. Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent have ended up in their sleeping quarters. According to Ford, they are great cooks and the best drink mixers, but their personal habits are awful. Their cramped quarters are squalid, with "grubby mattresses, unwashed cups and unidentified bits of smelly alien underwear." The Dentrassis like to annoy the Vogons and have brought the hitchhikers aboard for this purpose. They then gleefully report them to Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, just to cause trouble. Once Ford and Arthur are betrayed, the Vogon captain throws them off the ship into space, where they are picked up by the Heart of Gold for the next phase of the adventure.

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