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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapters 20 and 29 what is the significance of the initials Z.B. carved into sections of Zaphod Beeblebrox's two brains?

For some unknown reason, Zaphod Beeblebrox has been altering his two brains. He knows this because he left the initials Z.B. burned into the modified areas. For some time, he has had the feeling that part of his mind did not work properly, and he could not shake the idea he might be crazy. He knows his actions are often wild and impulsive—like stealing the Heart of Gold—yet somehow things always seem to work out. He gets the idea that someone else may be using his brains to generate good ideas. On a whim, he uses the instruments in the starship's medical lab to test his theory. Eventually, he discovers a section in the middle of each brain that has been altered to function independently from the rest. The cut-off parts relate only to each other. The question is, Why? Zaphod suspects that the parts hold secrets he dare not reveal to himself, understandably so: "I wouldn't trust myself further than I could spit a rat," he says. Yet this knowledge drives him to act with a hidden goal in mind. Zaphod discovers clues he left himself in the initials Z.B. Where they will lead is anybody's guess.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 24 what is very human about Arthur Dent's ability to recognize the planet under construction as a new Earth?

Arthur Dent is an average Everyman: one of the two last representatives of human life on Earth. In Chapter 24 when Slartibartfast takes him to Magrathea's factory floor, the old man doesn't need to identify the new planet under construction. Arthur recognizes Earth by its landforms: by their shapes, which are "as familiar as the shapes of words." Only a human would be so familiar with Earth's patterns and be able to put a name to them while the planet is unfinished. They are "part of the furniture of his mind." In other words, they occupy a permanent spot in memory, just as they might in any human mind.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 25 what details suggest that Deep Thought knew its program would fall short in the task of answering the Ultimate Question?

Deep Thought is designed to be the greatest, most powerful computer of all time. Its task is to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Once the Ultimate Answer is discovered, the quest for knowledge presumably will be over. Everything will be known and understood. Deep Thought seems to know otherwise. In Chapter 25, when the supercomputer Deep Thought is first turned on, the two programmers Lunkwill and Fook struggle with how to address it. Deep Thought calls itself "the second greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space." The programmers find this disturbing, as they designed Deep Thought to be the greatest. When they question Deep Thought about this reference to second best, they are perplexed by its claim: "There must one day come a computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate, but which it will be my fate eventually to design." What does this mean in relation to the task Deep Thought has been designed to complete? Deep Thought declares, "You know nothing of future time," which is true, and too much for the programmers to worry about: "Can we get on and ask the question?" says Fook. It will take seven-and-a-half million years for anyone to understand Deep Thought's meaning with regard to being the second greatest computer in the Universe.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 28 why is the Ultimate Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything mystifying?

In Chapter 28, readers learn that after running a program for seven-and-a-half million years, the supercomputer Deep Thought reveals that the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is "Forty-two." The computer is adamant that the answer is correct. The reason it doesn't make sense to anyone is that the proper question was never asked. In the beginning, when the computer programmers Fook and Lunkwill assigned Deep Thought its task, they failed to formulate a clear question. Instead, they vaguely asked Deep Thought to find a simple Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. Whether the answer is correct or not, it comes across as utter nonsense without the matching question. Unfortunately, Deep Thought is unable to supply it.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 29 what is the relationship between Yooden Vranx and Zaphod Beeblebrox?

Yooden Vranx is the former President of the Galaxy who advises Zaphod Beeblebrox on how to steal the starship Heart of Gold. Prior to his role as President, Yooden was a captain on an Arcturan megafreighter. He first met Zaphod at that time. Zaphod was just a kid and had decided to raid a megafreighter for fun, knowing it was equipped with the best defense shield known to galactic science. He takes Ford Prefect along as a witness to the adventure. When Zaphod successfully makes it to the megafreighter's bridge waving a toy gun, the captain—Yooden Vranx—is very impressed. He rewards the two young pirates with food, booze, and lots of conkers before teleporting them into the maximum security wing of the Betelgeuse state prison. Just before Yooden dies, he comes to see Zaphod, tells him about the Heart of Gold, and gives him the idea to steal the ship. The only way to do this, Yooden says, is to be present at the launching ceremony. This means Zaphod has to become President of the Galaxy, which he does. Why Yooden Vranx would encourage Zaphod to steal the starship remains locked away in Zaphod's two brains.

How is Slartibartfast a foil for the mice Frankie and Benjy in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapters 30 and 31?

Slartibartfast's artistic and emotional attachment to Earth, Earth Mark Two, and the Earthman Arthur Dent contrasts sharply with the cold detachment and cunning exhibited by the mice Frankie and Benjy. Slartibartfast is an elderly Magrathean who designs coastlines for planets and specializes in fjords. He is an artist at heart and takes quiet pride in his work. Though he says it is not important, he cannot resist showing Arthur the award he received for his design of Norway's coastline. He is not interested in the forces driving the Universe that have requested the creation of Earth Mark Two, but he is happy to be busy, designing glaciers for Africa. His gentle nature is revealed in polite concern for Arthur's well-being and his feeble attempt to threaten Arthur into coming with him in his aircar: "Come now or you will be late ... Late as in the late Dentarthurdent ... It's a kind of threat, you see ... I've never been very good at them myself, but I'm told they can be very effective." In Chapters 30 and 31, readers realize Slartibartfast is a foil for Benjy and Frankie, as the mice exhibit qualities in stark contrast to the old man. They are scientists, cold and calculating in their methods of getting things done. They are prepared to show no mercy in the quest for Arthur's brain. They are behind the order to build Earth Mark Two, but they have no interest in its artistic merits. Heartlessly, they tell Slartibartfast to dismantle his work when they decide it is no longer needed. When the elderly artist objects—"What? ... You can't mean that! I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"—Frankie acidly suggests that he "take a quick skiing holiday" on the glaciers before dismantling them.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 32 how are the philosophers Vroomfondel and Majikthise similar to the mice Benjy and Frankie?

Vroomfondel and Majikthise represent the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries, and Other Thinking Persons. When the computer Deep Thought is given the task of finding the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, they try to stop it. The Quest for Ultimate Truth is their job, and if the computer finds the answer, they are out of work. The two go so far as to threaten a Philosophers' strike if the program is allowed to run. Then Deep Thought explains it will take seven-and-a-half million years, during which time Philosophers can make a fortune capitalizing on the media market as they argue over their theories. This not only calms Vroomfondel and Majikthise, but enables them suddenly to visualize a future and lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams. With the promise of wealth and fame, they now are perfectly willing to sell out and let Deep Thought run its program. Benjy and Frankie are not much different. They represent the hyperintelligent pandimensional beings who commissioned, paid for, and ran the planet Earth to learn the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer. When Earth is destroyed by the Vogons five minutes before the ten-million-year-long program is complete, they are faced with doing the whole thing over again, and frankly, they are sick of it. An approximate answer—something that sounds good—is all they want. They have a fat contract waiting to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in their own dimension. Weighed against money and fame, the dignity of pure research and the pursuit of truth lose. Like Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the mice are willing to sell out. When they can't get an approximate answer from Arthur's brain, they make up a question that sounds very significant without meaning anything at all.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapters 30, 31, and 33 what factors influence Slartibartfast to help Arthur Dent and his companions escape from Magrathea?

Slartibartfast is an artist who is deeply offended when all his work on Earth Mark Two is suddenly to be dismantled. He was awakened along with others on the planet Magrathea to help build the second Earth, after the original was demolished. He is a very old, somewhat sad man who specializes in designing coastlines. He won an award for the fjords of Norway. Though he claims it makes no sense that "for a fleeting moment they [fjords] become fashionable and I get a major award," he is quietly proud of the achievement and shows the award to Arthur Dent. Therefore, when the mice Benjy and Frankie abruptly cancel the order for Earth Mark Two and mock Slartibartfast's dismay at having his works of high art—the newly designed glaciers of Africa—torn down, the old man's artistic soul is wounded. Shortly after, when Arthur and his companions need a means of escape from the interior of Magrathea, Slartibartfast's aircar is conveniently waiting for them, with printed directions for the controls reading, "This is probably the best button to push."

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 32 how do the two cops represent bureaucracy in the split between their feelings and actions?

Characteristics of a bureaucracy include inflexible rules, regulations and procedures, and impersonal relationships. People who work within a bureaucracy are expected to follow the rules without questioning the consequences. In Chapter 32, the two cops sent to arrest Zaphod Beeblebrox for the theft of the Heart of Gold work within a bureaucratic system. Their personal feelings cannot dictate their actions. When they corner Zaphod, Ford Prefect, Trillian, and Arthur Dent, the cops tell the four they don't like shooting at them, but they have to; it's their job. They are really two very sensitive, intelligent, humane guys, firmly opposed to needless violence. Of course, if necessary, they will blow up the entire planet, "because there are some things you have to do even if you are an enlightened liberal cop who knows all about sensitivity and everything." The two personify the absurdly rigid and impersonal nature of bureaucracy.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapters 12 and 35 how is the progress of civilization measured by fire and food?

In Chapter 12, soon after Zaphod Beeblebrox steals the Heart of Gold, a galactic news broadcast reports on the event. The announcer sends out "a big hello to all intelligent life forms everywhere." The announcer then adds sarcastically, "And to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys." Fire was first produced by striking rocks together to create a spark. Because the rise of civilization has been related to the control of fire, learning to start one is a critical first step. The announcer's snide remark implies that all intelligent life-forms already know the secret. Absurdly, a life-form with no knowledge of fire would hardly be advanced enough technologically to pick up a galactic broadcast. In Chapter 35, the three phases of progress for any civilization are measured by an intelligent life-form's relationship to food. The first is the survival phase, requiring the hunt for food. This is described by the practical question, How do we eat? The next, more advanced stage is described by the philosophical question, Why do we eat? The question of How? has been answered. Once the question of Why? is solved, the third stage begins and is described by the social question, Where shall we have lunch? The two measurements of civilization, of course, work together. Without fire, a good hot meal at a restaurant would be hard to come by.

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