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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 11 what does Zaphod Beeblebrox's reaction to rescuing the unknown alien hitchhikers reveal about his character?

Zaphod Beeblebrox is not pleased with having picked up alien hitchhikers. He has stolen the Heart of Gold, and the police will be looking for him. It's unwise to stop and pick up anybody. He thinks Trillian is responsible for the rescue and chides her, saying, "Okay, so ten for ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?" She points out that the hitchhikers were floating unprotected in space and asks, "You wouldn't want them to have died, would you?" While this is true, Zaphod still cannot concede that she did the right thing. He is concerned first and foremost with his own safety and objectives. Here and throughout the story, Zaphod displays a strong sense of self-preservation and narcissism. His wants and needs—whatever is driving him at the time—top those of anybody else. Yet, unlike the Vogons who tossed the hitchhikers into space, he is not mean-spirited and doesn't suggest getting rid of the new arrivals. It is noted by the narrator that Trillian suspects Zaphod never really understands the significance of anything he does.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 11 how does Marvin's intelligence relate to his depressed view of life?

Marvin cannot help but be depressed, considering his superior level of intelligence. When the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation started building robots with Genuine People Personalities, Marvin was a personality prototype. The kinks in the program had not been worked out, so Marvin's artificial mind was not shielded from negative emotions. He is self-aware and very conscious of the fact that he is underused and underappreciated. He is also aware of the sad absurdities in life. As would be expected for a robot serving aboard a starship, Marvin is vastly more intelligent than the humans he assists. Even so, he is expected to do the most trivial jobs: "Here I am, brain the size of a planet," he complains to Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, "and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't." The result is boredom and hopelessness. Marvin describes this particular duty as "probably the highest demand that will be made on my intellectual capacities today." He is also aware of the absurdities in life, like the starship's sighing, self-satisfied doors, and a sentient whale called into existence to die moments later on the surface of Magrathea: "Life," he says, "don't talk to me about life." Marvin is intelligent enough to realize his emotional outlook on life is terribly dreary and may affect the people around him: "I'm not getting you down at all, am I?" he asks. "I wouldn't like to think I was getting you down." Nevertheless, he is helpless to rise above his despair: "What's up?" Ford once asks him. "I don't know," Marvin replies, "I've never been there."

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 12 what is significant about the connection between improbability, Trillian's telephone number, and Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent's rescue?

From the moment Earth is demolished and Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent hitch a ride on a Vogon spaceship, a string of improbable events bring them, step by step, to the starship Heart of Gold. One absurd event leads to another, with Improbability, Trillian's telephone number, and Ford and Arthur's rescue all adding up to more than coincidence. It seems something is conspiring to bring the four travelers together. The two hitchhikers are ejected into space by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz and picked up one second before certain death by the Heart of Gold. Their timely rescue and the presence of the Heart of Gold in that sector of space is almost miraculous, it is so improbable. As readers learn in Chapter 12, the ship's Infinite Improbability Drive was programmed to zap the starship into the middle of the Horsehead Nebula. Somehow, passing through every point in the Universe, it found where Earth used to be and picked up Ford and Arthur. The chances of this happening are two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against. Coincidentally, this is also the number of the flat in Islington where Arthur first met Trillian who now travels with Zaphod Beeblebrox on the Heart of Gold. Zaphod is Ford's semi-cousin and on his way to Magrathea, the planet where Earth was constructed. The belief that these events are not associated may be why they seem oddly coincidental. In the absurd world of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, however, when improbable events collide, it may not be mere coincidence, but part of a larger plan.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 13 in what ways is Trillian well suited for traveling in space with Zaphod Beeblebrox?

As revealed in Chapter 13, Trillian is highly intelligent, well educated (with degrees in math and astrophysics), and adventurous enough to hitch a ride on a spaceship. Known as Tricia McMillan on Earth, she meets Zaphod Beeblebrox at a party, where he introduces himself as a guy from a different planet. Upon learning he wasn't kidding, she boldly hitches a ride with him. While her degrees in math and astrophysics are doing her no good on Earth—she's unemployed—they serve her well aboard the starship Heart of Gold. Here, her job includes managing the controls and navigating the ship. She seems to understand this well enough and certainly better than Zaphod, who is mechanically inept. In fact, part of her job is to prevent him from touching anything accidentally that could blow up the ship. She shows no sign of struggling to adjust to life as a space traveler, and never planned to return to Earth, though she is disturbed by news of its destruction. On the whole, Trillian seems well suited for her new role in life and less upset by its absurdities than her fellow Earthling, Arthur Dent.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 14 why are Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Ford Prefect, and Arthur Dent troubled to find themselves traveling together aboard the Heart of Gold?

The Infinite Improbability Drive was supposed to zip the Heart of Gold straight into the middle of the Horsehead Nebula. Instead, the starship ends up in the sector of space once occupied by Earth just in time to pick up Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. This ties together a string of coincidences too improbable to ignore. There seems to be something else going on here; some other force at work that has brought the four together aboard the starship. To begin, how and why would the Heart of Gold—on its own—contrive to pick up the two hitchhikers? How would it know they were stranded in space, and why would this prompt a rescue? Other questions involve the chance relationships between Trillian and Arthur, Arthur and Zaphod, and Zaphod and Ford. While events that brought them together are bizarre and unpredictable in nature, they nevertheless seem to have a pattern and purpose. It is as if some force beyond their control is at work, which is a troubling idea, especially when the intent is unknown.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 16 how does Marvin relate to people differently from how the other computerized devices on the Heart of Gold do?

In Chapter 16, readers learn that like all other computerized devices on the ship, Marvin is equipped with a Genuine People Personality (GPP). With GPP, the devices are programmed to communicate pleasure when performing their assigned tasks. Doors sigh pleasantly when opening and closing. The ship's computer cheerily assures everyone that it's ready and exceedingly eager to be of service in any way. Marvin is the exception. He is a personality prototype robot and has the misfortune of being chronically depressed. Even so, he seems aware of people in a way that is not programmed. He relates to them directly, even though glumly, and can engage in conversation. At times, he goes so far as to hate them. Yet, he is sensitive and knows that he is depressing to be around and offers to go away and rust, if that will make everyone happy: "If you ignore me," he says, "I expect I shall probably go away." On the other hand, the doors and computer relate to people in purely mechanical ways and are unable to respond outside of their programming. Even, Eddie, the ship's computer, which seems to interact with people, is limited by his understanding of appropriate emotional responses. When Zaphod Beeblebrox or Trillian request a simple task, rather than getting to work, Eddie chattily assures them how much he enjoys helping out and that it is a pleasure to know he can be of service, and so on. When the starship is in danger of being annihilated by missiles, Eddie gaily announces no evasive action will save it and wishes everyone good luck.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 16 what does Arthur Dent's quest for tea reflect about his character?

Arthur Dent's quest for tea reflects his Englishness and his humanity. In the face of the absurd, he tries to find order in routine and tangible comforts, such as making a cup of tea. The Heart of Gold is orbiting the legendary planet Magrathea as its spectacular double sunrise fills the ship's viewing screens. Trillian has just explained to Arthur about the planet's celebrated past as a builder of planets. Arthur blinks at the screen, unable to comprehend it all. Too many things like this have been happening recently, and his capacity to absorb them all is overloaded. He is sure he is missing something important. Suddenly, his mind latches onto the idea of a cup of tea. Now, he can ignore the absurdity of his being on an alien starship in another part of the galaxy, circling an alien planet. He can focus on a beverage from an intact and ordered world, where the galaxy and its inhabitants were remote, unknown, and unimportant; where normalcy, as Arthur understands it, still held sway. This quest for tea is an expression of his humanity—his former membership in the ordered world of the human race, which is now gone along with Earth.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 17 how does Eddie's response to the missile attack reflect on the concept of computers with Genuine People Personalities?

Eddie is the Heart of Gold's computer. As missiles launched from Magrathea speed toward the Heart of Gold, Eddie's response is melodramatic singing broken by occasional reports on the time until missile impact. The reaction is inappropriate and unhelpful. While Eddie's choice of song is meant to bolster the spirits of the crew, its performance only adds to the general confusion. The fact that Eddie responds at all to the crisis is due to the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. It gave its new generation of robots and computers Genuine People Personalities. As Eddie demonstrates, however, this does not necessarily mean the devices have self-awareness or truly relate to the world around them. They simply respond as best they can, based on their programs. This calls into question the usefulness of the concept. Eddie not only responds by singing, but he fails to offer any beneficial assistance.

What is the effect of applying anthropomorphism to the whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 18?

The whale becomes a sympathetic vehicle for asking important life questions. The Heart of Gold is under attack by two missiles launched from the planet Magrathea. Arthur Dent engages the Infinite Improbability Drive in a desperate attempt to save the starship. As a result, the missiles disappear and a sperm whale and bowl of petunias are called into existence several miles above the planet's surface. The whale is a sentient being—self-aware and questioning. As the unfortunate creature plummets toward the surface of Magrathea, it begins asking questions about its existence, such as Who am I? and What is my purpose in life? This awareness of self leads to an awareness of physical sensations, and the whale tries to understand its feelings and the environment. These are very human questions and impulses. Most people, as they mature, begin to ask existential questions, and by nature, humans define their world by labeling the things in it. It is a way of providing a context for existence. The whale's humanness adds to the tragedy of its short life. There is a dreadful dramatic irony in the fact that the creature's questions go unanswered, while readers understand the sad absurdity of its life and death.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 20 how is verbal irony evident in Marvin's observation, "Life, ... loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it"?

Verbal irony occurs when a speaker says something contradictory to what is intended. The speaker's words convey a meaning that is opposite to or at odds with their literal meaning. The statement "Life, ... loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it" is made as Marvin and the four travelers hike down into a crater on Magrathea recently created by the impact of the unfortunate whale. They all try not to look at the grisly remains of the poor creature that was winked into existence by the Infinite Improbability Drive and had only moments to come to terms with life before it ended. It is at this point that Marvin makes his grim observation. The irony is that the robot is looking at evidence of a sad and terrible death. He's not talking about life at all, but its end point, which is death. Loathe life or ignore it, the end is the same, and it is death that you cannot like.

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