The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Douglas Adams

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opens by describing Earth as an “insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Moving on, Adams points out that humankind has one particularly aggravating problem: everybody is always unhappy. Many people suggest possible solutions for this condition, but the majority of these proposals are “concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper.” This, Adams maintains, is unhelpful, since money has nothing to do with humanity’s unhappiness—after all, “the small green pieces of paper” aren’t the ones who are unhappy.
By describing earth as an “insignificant little blue-green planet,” Adams prepares readers to divorce themselves from their attachments to their own world. Calling Earth “insignificant,” Adams urges readers to look at human existence objectively. In doing this, he is able to illustrate the triviality of things like money, to which humans otherwise ascribe great meaning. What’s more, he suggests that humans are inherently unhappy and that the quest to ease this discontentment is an integral part of life on Earth. Unfortunately, though, it’s clear that humans are inept at identifying the true source of their unhappiness, something that surely exacerbates their lack of contentment.
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Many humans believe that “they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place,” and others even think that nobody should have ever “left the oceans.” Despite this pessimism, a young woman finally realizes the heart of humanity’s problems, suddenly understanding how to make the world a happy place. This takes place on a random Thursday “nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.” Unfortunately, the girl who has this unspeakable breakthrough never gets to tell anybody because a “terrible, stupid catastrophe” takes place right after she figures out how to make the world good.
Adams’s sense of humor emerges early in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In this moment, he uses deadpan delivery to explain humanity’s struggle to find meaning in life, ultimately describing the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in plain language that takes away some of that story’s grandeur and mystery. Still, he emphasizes the extent to which humans long to find happiness in life, framing the species as a group who constantly pursues knowledge about the nature of its own existence.
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This novel, Adams says, is not about the girl who knew how to fix the world. Instead, it’s the story of a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is “not an Earth book, never published on Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or even heard of by any Earthman.” Despite this, it is a very “remarkable” book that many other beings use as a guide of sorts as they make their way through the galaxy. “In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy,” Adams writes, “the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.” In “large friendly letters,” its cover reads: “DON’T PANIC.”
Given the popularity of this galactic reference book, it becomes clear that humans aren’t the only beings interested in knowledge and exploration. Indeed, the fact that the Hitchhiker’s Guide is a “repository of all knowledge and wisdom” suggests that many other species want to learn more about life in all its various forms, whether on their own planet or in the far reaches of the galaxy.
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