The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 5 how does Douglas Adams satirize UFO sightings?

In the 1970s, unidenified flying object (UFO) sightings hit a peak in the United Kingdom. In Chapter 5, Douglas Adams uses a story told by Ford Prefect to have fun with the phenomenon. Arthur Dent inquires how Ford got stranded on Earth and learns that he had hitched a ride with a "teaser." Ford explains that teasers are bored rich kids who look for planets that haven't made interstellar contact yet. They find some isolated spot and land in view of a lone observer. They then strut around wearing antennas on their heads and making beep beep noises, knowing full well that no one will ever believe the poor person. This fits well with the records of most reported UFO sightings—events which seem most often to take place in remote areas, with few witnesses. In his explanation of the events, Adams casts them in an absurd light, making those who claim to have seen a UFO seem like gullible victims of a joke. On the other hand, he does not deny that interstellar visitors exist; that witnesses have really experienced close encounters. In fact, from a galactic perspective, these people may be closer than most to experiencing the Universe as it really is.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, at the end of Chapter 5 why would seeing a small packet of cornflakes be a comfort to Arthur Dent?

Ford Prefect has just shown Arthur Dent a small yellow fish in a jar and told him he must put it in his ear. Arthur now knows Ford is a man from Betelgeuse and not an out-of-work actor from Guildford. He also knows he and Ford are in the Dentrassis' sleeping quarters aboard the Vogon Constructor Fleet flagship. Earth is gone, and life has suddenly become very bizarre and complicated. Something as simple and recognizable as a box of cornflakes might provide a bit of normalcy Arthur's mind could grasp and use to stabilize itself, like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man.

How does the Babel fish function as a creative plot device in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 6?

Traveling throughout the galaxy, a hitchhiker is bound to encounter any number of alien life-forms that speak another language. In most science fiction involving alien beings, this fact is ignored and everyone conveniently communicates without difficulty, usually in English. In Chapter 6, Adams's solution to the dilemma is absurd, yet neat; the Babel fish. When stuck in a person's ear, the Babel fish feeds on brainwaves from every surrounding source but its host. It then excretes energy in the form of brain waves that instantly allow its host to understand what was just said. Once Arthur Dent has the Babel fish in his ear, he can understand whomever he is speaking to, no matter how alien. This device addresses the problem of language and allows the plot to move forward without further questions or contrivances. Readers assume the Babel fish remains in place in Arthur's ear throughout the rest of the story.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 6 what absurdity does Douglas point out in the application of logic to religion?

In Chapter 6, an entry in the electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy provides information on the Babel fish. Douglas Adams uses this information to raise this question: Can logic be used to prove or disprove the existence of God? According to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Babel fish has been used by some philosophers to prove that God does not exist. These thinkers reason that such an amazingly useful creature could not have evolved by chance, but that it required divine design. Yet, belief in the divine, or God, demands faith. If the Babel fish proves God's existence, then faith is eliminated, and God "vanishes in a puff of logic." The absurdity of the argument is this: It begins with the premise that there is a divine designer; the Babel fish is proof of it. How else would such a wondrously useful creature come into being? The Babel fish cannot be proof of God's existence and, at the same time, be proof of God's nonexistence, except in the absurd world of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Adams seems to be suggesting that, while logic may be applied to the question, it may not provide watertight answers.

Why does Arthur Dent pass out in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 6 and awaken sobbing for his mother?

The utter destruction of Earth and all that this signifies has at last gotten through to Arthur Dent by way of a most fundamental memory: the memory of his mother. Arthur and Ford Prefect have hitched a ride aboard the Vogon Constructor Fleet flagship. They and the ship have just shot through hyperspace, landing them six light-years from the place Earth used to occupy. Arthur at last has a moment to think about the obliteration of Earth. Unable to feel the impact of the whole Earth being gone, he tries thinking about people and places that no longer exist. But the ideas come to him in a detached, abstract way, and he feels little or no reaction. Then he hits upon a symbol to which great emotional significance in Britain is attached: Nelson's Column. It was gone and the outcry should be huge, but there is no one left to protest. England is gone. Intellectual understanding still does not pull open the doors to emotion. Then, as Arthur ticks off in his mind a list of other things that are forever gone, the most mundane item—a McDonald's hamburger—suddenly swings those doors wide open. Arthur passes out. He awakens crying for his mother, not unlike a dying soldier on a battlefield is wont to do. A loving mother is the source of life and nurturing comfort to a child, and at the moment of direst need, even the adult child may cry out for her.

What is Douglas Adams's view of poetry, as expressed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 7?

Adams does not say much about good poetry in Chapter 7. It's safe to assume, however, that he is measuring bad poetry against some benchmark for good poetry. From his descriptions of the worst poetry in the Universe and the painful scene in which Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz reads his poetry to Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, Adams felt that exposure to bad poetry was akin to being tortured. The awful effects of hearing it read include internal hemorrhaging and destruction of civilization. Adams mocks self-absorbed poetry that focuses on trivial topics, like "My Favorite Bathtime Gurgles." He also helpfully describes absurd methods for surviving a reading of bad poetry, such as gnawing off a leg. All in all, Adams seems to believe that the best fate for bad poetry is what happened to the writings of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England: They were destroyed along with Earth.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 7 what do the young Vogon guard's actions reveal about his character?

The young Vogon guard's actions reveal that he is a perfect fit for employment within a bureaucracy. Working aboard the Vogon spaceship, he does not question his position in the hierarchy of authority nor the rules and procedures he must follow. He just does as he is told, and while his job is often monotonous, he sees no reason for change. His job is "stamping around, throwing people off spaceships, and shouting." He especially enjoys shouting "Resistance is useless!"which breaks up the tedium of his job and is the first phrase he learned upon joining the Vogon Guard Corps. Trying not to get thrown off the Vogon spaceship, Ford Prefect urges the Vogon to consider how lousy his job is and to question why he keeps doing it. It doesn't work. The dull Vogon is unable to think that deeply or to imagine an alternative to his bureaucratic, mind-numbing job. Content with his lot and disinterested in changing, he thanks Ford for his interest, and then he flings Ford and Arthur Dent into the airlock, where soon they will be popped into space.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 8 how is a flashback used to foreshadow future events?

In Chapter 8, the flashback occurs when the narrator mentions a party six months ago where Arthur Dent met a woman whom he liked. A party-crasher came along and lured her away. The telephone number for the flat in Islington, where the party took place, coincidentally matches the odds of Ford Prefect and Arthur surviving, unprotected, in space. These details foreshadow events when, despite the odds, Arthur and Ford are picked up by the starship Heart of Gold. In Chapter 13, they meet up with Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian. By the wildest coincidence, Trillian turns out to be the girl Arthur met at the party, and Zaphod turns out to be the party-crasher, as well as Ford's semi-cousin. Just as coincidentally, the ship's computer offers a bit of data that alerts Trillian that the hitchhikers may not have been picked up by accident: Most people's lives are governed by telephone numbers. Not only does the flashback foreshadow future events, but it also sets up amazing coincidences that point to a larger, more meaningful pattern of events.

How does the description of space relate to the improbability of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent's rescue in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 8?

Chapter 8 provides an entry from the electronic book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It states that "Space is big. Really big." The narrator goes on to explain that even the book cannot adequately describe the vastness of space. The enormity of the distances "will not fit into the human imagination." Examples of the time necessary for light to travel between the stars—such as four years from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Proxima—help somewhat. Even so, the time and distance from one side of the galaxy to the other is mind boggling. This information clarifies Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent's terrible predicament once they are tossed into space by the Vogons. Floating in all that vast emptiness, they have approximately 30 seconds to live. The chances of being picked up in time by a passing starship are astronomical. Therefore, the fact that the two hitchhikers are indeed rescued is too improbable to be good luck or a coincidence, and the event points to some larger force at work in the Universe.

How are Shakespeare's play Hamlet and the Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive related in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 9?

The Heart of Gold is powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive, which features an Infinite Improbability generator. When the starship's drive is powered up and reaches infinite improbability, it passes through every point in the Universe at the same time. This makes traveling across vast parsecs of space in no time at all a cinch. Other results of its use, however, are entirely unpredictable. When Zaphod Beeblebrox steals the Heart of Gold and uses the Infinite Improbability Drive to escape, he intends to zap the starship across the galaxy to the middle of the Horsehead Nebula. Instead, the ship ends up in the sector of space where Earth used to be, just in time to rescue Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. This intersection of events is highly improbable. In fact, the improbability factor is two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against. At the same time, use of the drive has produced an array of random effects. Among them is the appearance of an infinite number of monkeys interested in discussing the script for Hamlet with Arthur. As unlikely as it seems, the Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive has succeeded in proving a theory first suggested in 1913. This theory proposed that an infinite number of monkeys typing at random on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Only the Infinite Improbability Drive could have conducted the experiment on a scale large enough to achieve the predicted results.

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