The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Themes
One of the guiding principles of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is that of absurdity, of things happening randomly without cause or meaning. This does not mean that the whole book is a series of events that occur in random order. Most of the extreme examples of meaninglessness, in fact, do have a cause—they are the products of the Infinite Improbability Drive on the Starship Heart of Gold. The fairly logical explanation of the Improbability Drive in Chapter 10 allows the novel to introduce its most fantastic oddities and coincidences.
For instance, the Heart of Gold picks up Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect when they are dangling in space, because it is highly improbable it would happen. The same force makes Arthur's limbs dissolve and turns Ford into a penguin; it redecorates the bridge of the ship with mirrors and potted plants; and it causes a whale to materialize in the skies above Magrathea. All of these events are notable for being shockingly unpredictable. These elements of absurdity would not have nearly as much impact if they occurred in an atmosphere of total absurdity, but the novel highlights them by placing them alongside of a struggle for reason, which makes the lack of reason stand out. Characters are constantly trying to explain the sense of their actions, ignoring the chaos around them.
This pattern is established in the opening chapter, with the demolition crew coming to take down Arthur Dent's house. While Mr. Prosser is convinced that Arthur was given a fair and sensible warning of the demolition, to Arthur the fact that the plans for destruction were "on display" in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory in the darkened, stairless cellar of the planning office, behind a sign reading "Beware of the Leopard," represents an absurd form of "giving notice." Throughout the book, bureaucratic thinking struggles against the natural absurdity of the universe and often creates its own, even more frustrating, kind of absurdity.
Nature and Its Meaning
Rather than being a source of meaning, as is frequently assumed, humanity is presented in this book as a taker of meaning, acting out the roles that are assigned by the animals around us. This is most evident in the interactions with the laboratory mice: scientists believe that they are manipulating the mice's behaviors in order to learn more about nature, but the mice are actually manipulating the scientists' behaviors to learn more about humans. To these mice, the meaning of the Earth and its ten-million-year history comes down to one particular instant, when, at a pre-programmed date and time, Earth will produce the Question to the Answer.
To the dolphins, the second most intelligent species on the planet (ahead of humanity), human life is worth saving, but when humans misinterpret their warnings of the coming cataclysm—whistling and backward somersaults—for tricks, the dolphins get into the spaceship they have constructed and leave. Even the topography of Earth has a meaning that is vastly different than what is usually ascribed to it by humans. The fjords of Norway, for example, are not a result of glacial development, but they instead have the appearance that they do because they were designed by Slartibartfast, who happens to like making fjords and in fact won several design awards for his work. In this way, the novel tells its readers that all of the things in the natural world do have a particular meaning, just as the greatest thinkers are prone to speculate, but that humans would never to be able to determine these meanings with the limited information at hand.
The book begins with what would ordinarily be considered the end of all that we know—the destruction of the Earth—but then it goes on to explain a broader context in which the Earth's existence played only a small part. The...
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