The Literary Devices Used in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a science-fiction parody novel by Douglas Adams. It can be classified as an absurdist story where the protagonist searches a meaning to life. Throughout this character’s journey, he’s faced with multiple obstacles which are totally absurd events that defy all logic reason. This novel particularly stands out for its distinguishing writing style. It’s specifically particular because of its use of multiple literary devices, gallows humour and satire to emphasizes the absurdity of the novel, which truly is what makes it unique. Adams sheds light on the ridiculousness and silliness of things we generally regard as normal.

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Literary devices to convey absurdity

Many times throughout the novel, Douglas Adams uses literary devices to amplify the absurdity of his narrative. For example, the narrator uses the personification of a bowl of petunias when he tells the story of two missiles targeting the Heart of Gold that are changed into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias using the Infinite Improbability Drive. During its fall to its doom, the bowl of petunia, given humanlike characteristics, has time to think “Oh no, not again” before reaching its splattered demise. This is a good example of the use of absurdity through personnification.

Adams also makes a parallelism between the destruction of Arthur Dent’s house and the destruction of the Earth by the Vogons. In both cases, the house and the Earth are destroyed to make way for a bypass, and both leader of the destructions, M. Prosser and Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, use the same argument: Arthur and the residents of the Earth should have known about these plans since they were on display. There’s a great sense of absurdity within the fact that the city council’s reasons for the abrupt demolishing of Arthur’s house are the same as the Vorgons’ reasons for destroying the Earth. This absurdity alludes to Adam’s view of the world and the general silliness of the society and bureaucratic nonsense.

Lastly, the narrator also uses foreshadowing, which consists in giving an advance hint to what’s to come later in the story. For instance, in chapter sixteen, the narrator notes that the stress is a serious problem after Arthur said “The suspense is killing me”. So to avoid too much suspense, the narrator reveals a few things to the reader in advance. There’s absurdity behind the fact that Adams reveals twist and turns that look far-fetched to the reader considering that the latter is unable to make sense of these revelations since they’re so far away in the story’s timeline. Adam probably used this literary device in order to create suspense and to generate a need to see how the story develops.

In brief, the use of literary devices such as personification, parallelism and foreshadowing really emphasizes the absurdity of the climax and overall plot line of Douglas Adams’ novel.

The use of gallows humour

The tone employed by Adams throughout his fictional story is gallows humor. By definition, gallows humour consist of making fun of a hopeless, disastrous or terrifying situation. The narrator makes sure that every life-threatening situation Arthur Dent ends up into is resolved in a quirky, dark and dry humoristic and ridiculous way. Adams mostly makes use of this type of humor when a character knows something awful is going to happen and there’s nothing to do about it. For example, a good usage of gallows humor would be when Arthur and Ford are caught by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz while hiding from him. Ford humoristically says : “If we’re unlucky, the captain might be serious in his threat that he’s going to read us some of his poetry [before he throws us into space]…” Adams decides to make a joke out of a life-threatening situation knowing that the reader will ask himself an absurd question that would normally have no place in circumstances like these.

Another good use of gallows humor is when Arthur starts to realize the fact that the Earth is now destroyed and everything he has known is lost. Instead of grieving the loss of his loved ones, he’s shattered by the fact that there are no supermarkets anymore. “There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket before and felt a sudden stab—the supermarket was gone, everything in it was gone. Nelson’s Column had gone! Nelson’s Column had gone and there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry. From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind—his mind, stuck here in this dank smelly steel-lined spaceship. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.” In a serious and hopeless situation, Arthur jokes about missing more his local supermarket rather than his family members.

Lastly, Adams also use gallows humour when Arthur meets with Slartibartfast and they both leave in his aircar. The old man tells Arthur : “Follow me or you’ll be ‘late.’ And by ‘late,’ I mean ‘dead.’’

In conclusion, gallows humor is used quite a lot by Adams to get to most out of disastrous situations. It really brings out the absurdity of this novel since every joke is completely absurd. While the book in question may not make everyone laugh, the completely “off the wall” questions and use of gallows humor are what’s truly funny.

Satire and mocking modern times

From time to times, Douglas Adams uses satire to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of modern society with humor, irony and exaggeration. He often makes jokes on social problems and morality. For instance, he used satire in the beginning of the novel as a tool to share his point of view on the Earth and humans. “Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly 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. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.” In this excerpt, the author starts off by using derision and humor to communicate his negative opinion on the subject. Then he goes on satirizing the weakness and flaws of humans such as greed, pessimism and insatiability and condemns the society of being mammonnish and rapacious.

Latter in the novel, as explained before, Arthur is worried about his house being destroyed for the construction of a bypass. However, this problem becomes unimportant when the entire Earth is destroyed for much the same reason. Many of the situations mirror event on Earth, but are exaggerated for comedic effect. The destruction of an entire planet is seen by Vogons as unimportant; on a galactic scale, planets and races are destroyed everyday. That’s why Arthur’s concern is mocked and ignored. With these two satiristic scenarios, Adams was able to show the absurdity in everyday life and how constant worry over small issues is counter-productive.

Overall, the use of satire ruthlessly expose the absurdity of modern existence, particularly the bureaucracy and self-importance of humankind. It really shows how thing that we consider of great importance are actually insignificant in the larger scheme of things. This is what makes his writing style humorous and absurd. 

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