How does Douglas Adams use satire in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Douglas Adams is arguably one of the greatest satirical writers of the twentieth century, and nowhere is his satirical wit sharper than in this novel. He uses satire ruthlessly to expose the absurdity of modern existence, particularly the bureaucracy and self-importance of local governments. There is also a particularly British bent to Adams's satire, with his hapless hero, Arthur Dent, an exemplar of the British Everyman, constantly apologizing for his very existence.

A core tenet of the satire in this novel is that what one man thinks to be important can be completely immaterial to someone else and vice versa. For example, Arthur Dent's house is of primary importance to him, and no importance to the council who want to demolish it to build a bypass—until he realizes that Earth is of no importance to the Vogons, who want to destroy it to build their own bypass, at which point the house ceases to be important to him. Bureaucracy, Adams is saying, is ridiculous the whole universe over.

The Vogons' incessant form filling is a primary source of satirical humor throughout the book. The president, Zaphod Beeblebrox, is completely ineffectual but is important because it has been stated that he is. Meanwhile, the Vogons are a species who need to triple-check all forms before they can rescue their own grandmothers from vicious monsters. The novel is a product of its time, when fear of encroaching "red tape" was on the rise, but the satire remains humorous and relatable.

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Adams used satire in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to show the absurdity of modern life, and how things that we consider of great importance are actually insignificant in the larger scheme of things. For example, Arthur is worried about his house being destroyed for the construction of a highway bypass; this problem becomes unimportant when the entire Earth is destroyed for much the same reason. Many of the situations mirror situations, events, or institutions on Earth, but are exaggerated for comedic effect. Galactic bureaucracy is shown to be staggeringly inefficient and bloated, with the Vogons being an entire race of inefficient and bloated creatures whose sole purpose is to help block progress and create paperwork. The destruction of an entire planet (Earth) is seen by alien races as unimportant; on a galactic scale, planets and races are destroyed every day, and so Arthur's concern is mocked and ignored. By using easily-identifiable scenarios, Adams was able to show the absurdity in everyday life, and how constant worry over small issues is counter-productive.

Wiggin42 | Student

The first satirical example is when the Vogans destroy the Earth to build a hyperspace bypass. They need the bypass to travel faster but almost immediately the improbability drive is created and cancels the need for the bypass. The galactic bureaucracy reflects human bureaucracy and the absurdity of the galactic one sheds light on the human one. Recall that the Vogans said the plans to destroy Earth was located in our regional representation office at Alpha Centauri and its our own fault that we never bothered to show up and dissent. 

shaunm101 | Student

I'm actually writing on essay on this right now... multiple examples of satire are worthy of our attention but three googd ones are the vogans who are used to satirize government employees or perhaps even lawyers (considering all their paperwork), Zaphod Beeblebrox is a representation of the stupidity of politicians, and the recorded message at Magrathea (Your death may be monitored for training purposes) pokes fun at the ever growing use of automated systems over the phone.  I hope this helps you! :)

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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