The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 23 Apr. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, November 28). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

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Course Hero, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed April 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy/.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Prologue | Summary

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Summary

In an unfashionable part of the galaxy, there is an insignificant blue-green planet inhabited by ape-descended life-forms (humans) who are never happy. As a result, they spend a great deal of time being mean to one another. Then, one Thursday, a sure way to fix this once and for all occurred to a girl sitting in a café. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, a catastrophe happened and the idea was lost forever. This story is about that catastrophe and some of its consequences.

It is also about a remarkable book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This highly successful book, though wildly inaccurate in spots, has out-sold its more reputable competitor based on two facts: it is slightly cheaper and has the words DON'T PANIC written on the cover.

The story of the catastrophe and the book begins with a house.

Analysis

The introduction to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy establishes that this is going to be a science-fiction novel and sets the satirical tone for the work. It also establishes the circumstances that lead to the rest of the story and introduces the guidebook that will play a featured role.

With the first sentence, readers are placed in space and viewing Earth as a speck in the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy. This immediately reduces the magnitude of the planet and its place in the grand scheme of the Universe. Our sun is small and "unregarded," and the neighborhood, an uncharted backwater. The planet's inhabitants are similarly reduced, being described as so "amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." This reference to digital watches dates the novel somewhat in that these devices were new and quite trendy in the 1970s, when the work was first written and produced as a radio play.

Adams pinpoints the catastrophic moment that launches the story as "nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change." This is a reference to Jesus Christ, whose message was one of peace and goodwill toward others. Nevertheless, his teachings posed a threat to Roman and religious authorities at the time, and he was put to death through crucifixion.

It's worth remembering the incident of a girl sitting in a café and suddenly realizing what it is that has been going wrong all this time (since the crucifixion). She has come up with a way for the world to be made a good and happy place. Unfortunately, some catastrophe prevents her from telling anyone.

By referencing within the novel a physical book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams is using a literary device called metafiction. In metafiction, the author deliberately intrudes to draw attention to himself and the fact that the work of fiction in the reader's hand is not real, but an artifact. Throughout the novel, characters consult The Guide, and the information is shared directly with readers. This particular approach to metafiction is a book-within-a-book.

Adams mentions that The Guide "supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom." This is a reference to a fictional compendium of all human knowledge featured in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of books.

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