The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by

Douglas Adams

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the spaceship that rescued Ford and Arthur, a computer babbles to itself “in alarm” because it senses that an airlock has opened and closed “for no apparent reason.” This, Adams says, is because “reason was in fact out to lunch.” Indeed, a hole briefly opened in the Galaxy for “exactly a nothingth of a second.” This hole itself was a “nothingth of an inch wide.” When it closed, “lots of paper hats and party balloons fell out of it and drifted off through the Universe.” These aren’t the only unlikely items to have fallen out of the hole—among them were also a team of very tall market analysts and 239,000 “lightly fried eggs.”
At this point in the novel, Adams begins to intensify the complete absurdity of the book’s plot. What’s interesting, though, is that these ridiculous notions often take the form of an explanation. Indeed, Adams uses the term “a nothingth of a second” to describe how Arthur and Ford have been rescued from their free-fall, but this does very little in the way of giving readers an actual understanding of what has just happened. As such, Adams’s tongue-in-cheek explanations only emphasize the improbability, absurdity, and meaninglessness of the concepts that fuel the novel’s plot.
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Related Quotes
Ford and Arthur are confused to find that the inside of the spaceship that rescued them looks exactly like a familiar location in England. They also watch a number of unlikely things pass by, like “huge children” bouncing “heavily along.” As they observe the spaceship’s oddities, a voice comes over an intercom and says, “Two to the power of one hundred thousand to one against and falling.” Ford recognizes this as a measure of probability, but doesn’t know what else to make of the announcement—other than that the figure refers to something quite improbable.
Not only is the idea of improbability something that readers have surely picked up on by this point, it is also something of which the characters themselves are suddenly cognizant. Ford, for instance, knows that the computerized voice he hears has just read a figure of probability. However, he has no idea why this has happened—putting him in the same position as the reader.
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Ford,” Arthur gasps, “you’re turning into a penguin.” The intercom voice then returns and recites another measure of probability. Afterwards, it tells Arthur and Ford to relax because they’re safe, even if Ford has turned into a penguin. Arthur, for his part, notices that his limbs are detaching from his body. “Welcome to the Starship Heart of Gold,” says the voice. “Please do not be alarmed by anything you see or hear around you. You are bound to feel some initial ill effects as you have been rescued from certain death at an improbability level of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against—possibly much higher. We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of twenty-five thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.”
It’s worth considering what the computerized voice says to Arthur and Ford about their rescue. Although their survival was highly improbable, it obviously wasn’t impossible. After all, they were saved. Nonetheless, the computer tells them that they were rescued from “certain death at an improbability level of” 2^276,000 to 1. This, of course, is a contradiction, since “certain death” would mean that there was no probability at all of Arthur and Ford surviving. Once again, then, Adams provides readers with an absurd explanation that ultimately devolves into meaninglessness.
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Arthur!” Ford says. “This is fantastic! We’ve been picked up by a ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive!” He then goes on to explain that he has heard rumors of this device but has always assumed it didn’t really exist. Despite his enthusiasm, though, Arthur has a hard time paying attention, for he’s busy trying to keep an “infinite amount of monkeys” from entering the room to discuss their script for Hamlet.
Until this moment, Adams’s preoccupation with improbability and absurdity has seemed like nothing more than a humorous fascination. Now, though, it becomes clear that the notion of improbability is central to the very plot of the novel itself. In other words, this unlikely story is essentially driven by the very idea of unlikeliness.
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