The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

In the Heart of Gold’s main cabin, Zaphod and Trillian listen to the computerized voice read out measures of probability. “Four to one against and falling,” the voice calls out. “Three to one…two…one…probability factor of one to one…we have normality, I repeat we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.” Zaphod turns to Trillian and asks what she thinks of the situation they’re in—whom have they picked up, and if it’s a good idea to take on hitchhikers after having stolen the Galaxy’s most famous spaceship. Trillian tells him it’s not worth thinking about, since they had no choice: the Heart of Gold picked up the hitchhikers on its own. “But that’s incredible,” Zaphod says. “No, Zaphod,” Trillian replies. “Just very very improbable.”
Again, Adams emphasizes the role that improbability plays in this novel. Even the characters themselves find the events that unfold in this plot hard to believe. One thing worth noting is that such outlandishness actually challenges “normality,” forcing readers and characters alike to question the things they take for granted in everyday life. “Anything you still can’t cope with is […] your own problem,” the Heart of Gold’s computer says, suggesting that sometimes even regular notions can be as hard to accept as highly improbable events.
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Trillian sends a robot named Marvin to fetch the hitchhikers. “I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed,” Marvin mutters. After some convincing, he finally leaves the cabin and goes looking for Arthur and Ford, who are beginning to feel a bit more normal, especially since their surroundings have at last become the recognizable interior of a spaceship. Ford even finds a sales brochure that advertises the Heart of Gold’s most impressive features. “They make a big thing of the ship’s cybernetics,” he remarks, reading that all of the robots and computers onboard are equipped with GPP, or “Genuine People Personalities.” “Sounds ghastly,” Arthur says, at which point Marvin arrives and agrees, saying, “Absolutely ghastly. Just don’t even talk about it.” He then mocks the sales brochure, saying, “All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you.”
The fact that Marvin is depressed is (ironically) humorous, since robots don’t have feelings of their own. This means that Marvin was specifically programmed to be sad and lethargic—two qualities that are fairly undesirable in a robot. Instead of eagerly attending to his human masters’ needs, he complains about life, calling it “ghastly” and informing Trillian that he is “feeling very depressed.” This, it seems, is what the programmers thought might seem like a “Genuine People Personality.” In turn, Adams is able to suggest that depression and general discontent are integral to the human experience.
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“Come on,” Marvin says to Ford and Arthur, “I’ve been ordered to take you down to the bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? ’Cos I don’t.” When Ford asks which government runs this spaceship, Marvin tells him that it has been stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox, and something “extraordinary happen[s]” to Ford’s face, as “at least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement pile up on it in a jumbled mess.” Moving through one last door, he turns to Arthur and says, “Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?”
By giving Marvin such deep depression, Adams pokes fun at the desire to create things that seem authentic or “genuine.” Indeed, this attempt has led Marvin’s programmers to make a rather useless and unpleasant robot, all for the purpose of trying to give him a real “personality.”
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