Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Humor as a Social Commentary

[(Essay date 11 June 2012) This literary criticism by E.G. shall use the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” to analyze the methods behind how the author, Douglas Adams, uses humor on subjects like that of religion or irony to make a statement about society as a whole.]

Humor is often a method to convey opinions and ideals to a general audience in a light-hearted fashion. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is written in a satirical form that discusses everything from religion to technology, politics to reality. Though written in 1979, there is a continued relevance for readers today as well; the issues that are discussed are usually universal in their meaning, most especially in regards to Western Society. For example, Adams utilizes characters that are outsiders to a certain society to make comments upon it, generally in a way that is truthful and insightful. Or, Adams presents an idea as though it is ridiculous and it appears ridiculous to the reader, however, further analysis reveals that society employs this ‘ridiculous’ notion in the day to day lives of the readers. In conclusion, humorous situations and ideas that comment on how our society is run are a main discussion in this novel.

One such commentary on the way by which society on Earth is run is made in the introduction to the guide:

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. (5,Adams)

This first page of the book sets the tone for the work not only because of the satirical styles prominence, in addition, the movements and methods of humans are already commented upon. This quote provides an introductory look at how society functions. This passage makes note of how others may view the sometimes absurd focus of attention. A reference to human society’s obsession with money is presented and then mocked, an underlying message of the pointlessness of the monetary system that has no actual value. Adams illuminates this in an effort to awaken in readers a questioning of why our society as a whole functions in this manner. The author is stating that money does not make one happy, rather the constant focus placed upon it by our society only functions to cause misery. There is a satirical way to the excerpt based on the fact that is states a truth that is known by many members of society, however, none of which chose to do anything about it even if they realize the unhappiness that is caused by money. People devote a massive amount of time and energy towards the pursuit of those “small green pieces of paper” when happiness could be achieved in other ways. This note on society is humorous because that a majority of people could be happy without the fixation on money, but actively chose to conform to this desire for money.

In addition, the novel functions to comment upon how members of a population view others in it, as shown in this passage:

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might have accidentally "lost.". What the strag will think is that any man that can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, ruff it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with. (21)

This quote from the work continues to define how Adams uses humorous ways to remark on the subject of society. Humans often make judgments upon each other on the basis of appearance or possessions, in this example the towel. Adams is saying that society as a whole has predetermined standards that others must live up to in order to be accepted. While in the novel this standard is a towel, in real life that standard may be a house or a job, which are such things that not everyone can afford or attain. This is a humorous take on a serious subject because the idea that the towel is a determining factor over whether someone shall accept and help someone is laughable, but apply this concept to reality and it is a scary comparison that there are those who refuse to help others based on what the own or what they appear to be. This passage presents how Adams causes people to think with seemingly innocent humor that delves deeper into more serious subjects.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is full of ironically humorous situations that appear to be planted in order to present a comparison between two similar events. For example, the novel begins with the main character, Arthur Dent, attempting to stop his house from being destroyed in order to build a bypass. Slightly later into the novel, the Earth is destroyed in order to build a bypass. These mirroring situations are another form of humor that Adams exercises. Comparisons between the local and universal problems are being shown. The governments in charge each believe that the inhabitants of the house and the planet will each go to their local planning department to deal with a problem that they are completely unaware exists. Adams is commenting on the similarities between these two governments that ignore individual citizen/planet rights to do what they desire. The likelihood that these two almost identical events happening to the main character within seconds of each other is unlikely and humorous as a result of this. Not only was the house where Dent lived destroyed, only a short while later the same thing happened to his planet, presenting ironically similar situations that Dent must live through, that are humorous as a result.

In conclusion, Douglas Adams develops a satirical humor and wit in the work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which provides both amusement and commentary on society as a whole that is pertinent when it was written and today. Through the use of coincidences and comments by outside sources that are not involved in day to day life of the society, Adams shows how much of what is considered important or useful in our society is actually a waste of time and energy. Adams illustrates how several of normal occurrences in society today are actually ridiculous when looked back upon. Thus, humor allows Adams to express his opinions on some of the preposterous things society does.

(E.G. 2012)

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

Ethics in Literature and Society

[(Essay date 11 June 2012) A literary criticism discussing the ethics of several events that occurring the “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, Douglas Adams appears to be commenting upon whether these events are acceptable or not.]

In “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” there are several instances where ethically questionable behavior is commented upon as such events happen. The Universe that Adams creates has a multitude of morally loose characters that do not appear to care much about what is beyond themselves and their realm of existence. In a less charged way Adams discusses the ethics of disposing of the useless portion of society, destroying the minds of some, and genetic engineering. Once again, Adams satirical manner of writing allows for him to talk about such charged topics like that of ethics without appearing to be forcing his opinion on others. He utilizes this knowledge to influence his readers by writing about some morally questionable topics.

One of the main moral and ethical questions that are presented in the novel is whether if the means are had to only keep around the useful members of society:

“. . . invented the spurious tales of impending doom which enabled the people of Golgafrincham to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The other two-thirds stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.” (273, Adams)

The members of society that were relocated without the knowledge that the other portions of the population would not be following them, are those that the society considered useless, for example, the hairdressers and telephone cleaners. Adams raises the question whether it is acceptable to remove a section of the population that is considered unhelpful in general. This is the same idea as a society deciding to “play God”, or decide the fate of others without their consent. The government made a decision for the greater good of those that they consider useful, this decision which adversely affected those that they did not care about. Adams is commenting on how even though the government has the power to do this they shouldn’t. In order to portray that this ‘useless’ portion of the population should not be relocated to make life easier for the other two thirds of the population, Adams presents an ironic twist. He causes the ‘useful’ section of the population to be killed off by something that could have been prevented if the ‘useless’ section was still present on the planet. Adams showcases the ethical dilemma that even though one has the power to do something that does not mean that they should.

Ethics are also brought into the novel when the Total Perspective Vortex is mentioned; this machine has the capacity to destroy a person’s mind. The machine causes one to realize their relative insignificance in this way:

“For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says “You are here.”” (194)

In this situation giving people a sense of perspective can drive them mad. Only those who have committed capital crimes are sent into the Vortex, thus it can be compared to governmental executions on the basis of crimes. This, again, is a comment upon ethics, and whether such a thing is right and just. This machine cripples a person mentally because they cannot deal with the fact that they are such a small and inconsequential part of the Universe. Again, Adams offers the question of essentially mentally handicapping people on the basis of a crime. Adams uses a controversial issue to cross the boundary between fiction and fiction based on fact. A lot of the situationsAdams writes about are possible in society, he is making statements about what people in a society not only do, but whether or not they should do a certain behavior or action, such as mentally cripple someone who committed a capital crime.

Finally, the most obvious discussion of ethics in the novel occurs at the Milliways, or the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The ethics of genetically engineering something, such as animals, to be predisposed to a specific purpose is a major issue for certain characters. A portion of this conversation is as follows:

“I just don’t want to eat an animal that’s standing there inviting me to,” said Arthur. “It’s heartless.”
“Better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten,” said Zaphod.
“That’s not the point,” Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. “All right,” he said, “maybe it is the point. I don’t care, I’m not going to think about it now. I’ll just . . . er . . . I think I’ll just have a green salad,” he muttered.
. . . “Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.” (225)

This is one of the most controversial section of the novel of the basis of something’s genetic makeup was changed in order for it to want what it’s makers decided. Thus, it raises the question of whether it is ethical to essentially force all animals from this bloodline to be so predisposed and genetically altered that their greatest desire is to be eaten. Does the animal really feel as though it wants to be eaten, or is it forced because of this change in genetics? As a rule, most animals do not desire to be eaten, so by making something want to be eaten are you modifying who or what they are. This form of brainwashing if done in humans to make them behave a certain way would be considered unethical, but how about in animals that a good proportion of the population would normally eat, is it still unethical? The main character of the novel refuses to eat the “Dish of the Day”, this represents Douglas Adams’ opinion on the subject, and by changing the animal and making the animal want something opposite than the norm an ethical boundary is broached, and it is not right.

Concluding, Adamspresents several different moral dilemmas to his readers in an effort to actively engage them in ethics, along with showing his own opinion of certain topics. Thus, according toAdams specific behaviors are immoral and should not be tolerated based on a basic sense of ethic wellbeing.

(E.G. 2012)

Religious Subtext in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
[(Essay date 6 June 2016) This literary criticism by R.V. will analyze the presence of religious imagery, allusions, and subtext in Douglas Adams’ novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” , as well as how these devices contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole.]

Douglas Adams’ satirical novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while deceptively simple in diction and tone, features a plethora of subtextual hints, allusions, and references to religion, which convey the novel’s critical commentary towards it.

The most obvious of the novel’s allusions to religion is the direct mention of God, “Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.” (61, Adams). A god,fictitious or not, is also referenced in Oolon Colluphid’s bestseller Well That About Wraps it up for God. These direct references hint that many people in the universe believed there was a God, and, combined with Adams’ quirky descriptions and satirical characterizations of these peoples, give commentary about blind faith. In a universe where they literally custom-build planets, and technology, math, and science are accepted and embraced as fact, these people who believe in the existence of a god are the butt of the joke.

Probably the most notable example of these people is on the planet Viltvodle VI, where the Jatravartid believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure as the creator of their universe. Through his nose, they believe the universe was created through a sneeze. Adams’ commentary towards these creatures is crystal clear and not very nice. The ridiculous nature of the Jatravartid people emphasizes the statement being made about the ludicracy of faith and religion.

Not as prevalent, but very much still there, is the religious characterization of Zaphod Beeblebrox. As a Christ figure, Zaphod is literally the president of the galaxy, and people respect and follow him. Contrastingly, Zaphod may be characterized even better as Judas. His split personality (and his literally split heads) parallel the duality and even two-facedness of the Biblical Judas. The allusion is further supported by Zaphod’s signature that authorized the demolition of Earth, angering Trillian and Arthur. Zaphod’s character is blissfully ignorant and awfully more concerned with his public appearance and his grandeur than helping anyone, connecting back to Adams’ commentary towards religion being unhelpful and unnecessary.

The Guide itself is possibly the most significant parallel to religion in the entire novel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “—more popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-three More Things to Do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Coluphid’s trilogy of philosophical blockbusters , Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who Is This God Person Anyway?” (17), symbolizes the Bible. A wholly remarkable book, full of infinite wisdom, a guide for life, the universe, and everything. Connecting these two books turns Douglas Adams’ so far highly negative criticism of religion upside down. Throughout the novel, the book of the same name is praised again and again, often quoted and cited, its information leading Arthur and friends to the far ends of the galaxy. This leaves Adam’s criticism as a neutral criticism, condemning blind faith and ignorance, but acknowledging its necessity and its usefulness.
(R.V. 2016)