The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by

Douglas Adams

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can help.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
While the Vogons destroy Earth, the President of the Galaxy prepares for a public appearance on a far-off planet. His name is Zaphod Beeblebrox, and he’s about to unveil a new spaceship called the Heart of Gold. Zaphod has been looking forward to this day ever since he became president. In fact, the Heart of Gold is the reason he became president, “a decision that had sent shock waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy.” “Zaphod Beeblebrox?” everybody wondered. “President? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the President?” Many people saw Zaphod’s presidency as proof that “the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas.” However, this is exactly what makes Zaphod a perfect president, since the position always goes to a controversial figure who “wields no real power whatsoever.” Indeed, Zaphod’s job is “not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.”
In keeping with the idea that knowledge is power, the President of the Galaxy is supposed to distract people. If citizens don’t understand where, exactly, power lies, then they are at a disadvantage if they ever want to confront or challenge it. This recalls the Vogons’ decision to post plans for their “hyperspatial express route” not on Earth but on another planet. Similarly, it also recalls the planning council’s decision to post their plans for a bypass in a place that was essentially inaccessible to Arthur. Power, Adams makes clear, is most effective when nobody knows its true source.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Knowledge and Exploration Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Zaphod—who has two heads and a third arm—speeds along in a boat, driving toward the location where he will unveil the Heart of Gold. Zooming up on his speedboat, he dazzles the crowd, which is actually just a collection of three billion people watching from home using “the eyes of a small robot tri-D camera.” Zaphod exits the boat and enters a large floating globe with a couch hovering in its center. Lounging on the couch while the designers of the Heart of Gold stand outside the globe, Zaphod smiles, pleased with how he must look. After allowing the globe to be thrown about on the water, Zaphod exits and prepares to make his address. “Hi,” he says, after the audience applause dies down. “Hi,” he says again. Looking out into the crowd, he finds Trillian, “a girl that [he] picked up recently while visiting a planet.”
Zaphod, it seems, is a master at drawing attention to himself. Judging by his flashy entrance, it’s evident that he cares deeply about what people think about him. This is exactly what he’s supposed to do, given that the job of the Galactic President is “not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.” As he steps up to the microphone, he relishes his esteemed position, gleefully letting his spectators hang on his every word.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Knowledge and Exploration Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Although the press is eager for Zaphod to give them a good quote, “one of the officials of the party” decides that Zaphod is “clearly not in a mood to read the deliciously turned speech.” As such, this official flips a switch in his pocket and unveils the Heart of Gold. It is shaped like a “sleek running shoe, perfectly white and mind-bogglingly beautiful.” At its center—though nobody can see this—there lies a device that makes “this starship unique in the history of the Galaxy.” “Wow,” Zaphod says. “That is really amazing. That really is truly amazing. That is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it.” The crowd laughs at this, finding it a “marvelous presidential quote.” Having said this, Zaphod lifts his heads, yells out in major thirds, throws a bomb, and runs through “the sea of suddenly frozen beaming smiles.”
When Zaphod finally speaks, what he says lacks any substance whatsoever—all he does is assert that the spaceship is so “amazing” that he’d like to “steal it.” Nonetheless, the audience is pleased with his announcement, as if he has just said something of great importance. In this moment, then, Adams satirizes political speeches, which often have more to do with style and verve than meaning or substance. Again, this is why Zaphod is a perfect Galactic President: he attracts widespread attention without actually wielding any true power. To top things off, his use of a bomb only adds to the idea that he must serve as a distraction, though it’s not yet clear what, exactly, he might be distracting citizens from in the first place.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon