Study Guide

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Sadness

By Douglas Adams


And then, one 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, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. (Introduction.6)

Hitchhiker's Guide opens up with the promise of an idea that will make everyone happy and good. Of course, the next line tells us that this idea will be lost forever. We probably shouldn't be too surprised by that since history shows us that sadness and meanness seem to be the usual way things go. Still, this opening does remind us that happiness is something that a lot of people want (for some reason).

"Ah. It's been demolished."
"Has it," said Arthur levelly.
"Yes. It just boiled away into space."
"Look," said Arthur, "I'm a bit upset about that."
Ford frowned to himself and seemed to roll the thought around his mind.
"Yes, I can understand that," he said at last. (5.85-90)

Arthur will eventually cry about the whole losing-his-whole-family-and-everything-he's-ever-known thing. But it is interesting to watch him try to deal with the incredible sadness of this event—and to see how Adams keeps this from being a tragedy. For instance, here, both Arthur and Ford discuss the destruction of Earth in a pretty calm and understated way. Instead of crying and hugging each other (the usual response to having a planet blow up), they're just calmly saying, "I'm a bit upset," and "I can understand that."

Visions of it swam sickeningly through his nauseated mind. 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. (6.29)

Arthur does have to deal with the sadness of losing Earth, and it's not a totally funny sequence. (Now losing Mars would be hilarious.) It is a little funny when Arthur first gets sad about his supermarket, Bogart films, and McDonald's, rather than his family, friends, and other people. But at the same time, this sort of shock seems understandable. So if you squint, this section could either be (1) an example of turning sadness into comedy or (2) a reasonable response to an absurd situation.

Marvin regarded it with cold loathing whilst his logic circuits chattered with disgust and tinkered with the concept of directing physical violence against it. Further circuits cut in saying, Why bother? What's the point? Nothing is worth getting involved in. (11.75)

The "it" in this quote that Marvin hates is the happy door, which makes sense for Marvin: what annoys depressive robots more than happy computers? But we pulled this quote mostly for the way Marvin's depression leads him on towards, well, nothing. This part also makes us laugh because his circuits talk in a very casual way: "Why bother?" is something a fed-up person would say, not the kind of thing we expect to hear from robots.

"Desolate hole if you ask me," said Ford. "I could have more fun in a cat litter." He felt a mounting irritation. Of all the planets in all the star systems of all the Galaxy—didn't he just have to turn up at a dump like this after fifteen years of being a castaway? Not even a hot dog stand in evidence. He stooped down and picked up a cold clot of earth, but there was nothing underneath it worth crossing thousands of light years to look at. (20.5)

First impressions are very important, which is why it's so sad that Magrathea comes off as a dump the first time people see it. (Of course, once you get to know Magrathea, you'll see how, underneath the surface, it's even more terrible.) Here Ford sounds a little bit like Marvin: there's nothing here worth doing, he says, which reminds us a lot of Marvin's depressive quips. (Also, note that "Of all the planets in all the star systems of all the Galaxy" sounds like a parody of Casablanca's famous quote: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…")

"But that sunset! I've never seen anything like it in my wildest dreams ... the two suns! It was like mountains of fire boiling into space."
"I've seen it," said Marvin. "It's rubbish." (21.17-8)

Here's a great quote if you need evidence that Marvin is more depressed than any other character. (Honestly, you probably don't need our help to find that evidence, since it's all over the book.) Arthur has lost his planet and everything he's known, but he can still find some beauty and wonder in the world. Marvin, by contrast, has one setting: extreme misery. Ironically, this makes him very funny.

"Pity," said Slartibartfast, "that was one of mine. Won an award you know. Lovely crinkly edges. I was most upset to hear about its destruction."
"You were upset!" (24.36-7)

Arthur and Slartibartfast are discussing the loss of Norway, which was a big tragedy for fans of Scandinavian design. As Slartibartfast notes, that was one of his works and maybe the best one. So it's sad for Slarty, but Arthur seems to think that his sadness isn't the whole story. Maybe, you know, the Norwegians might be a little upset, too. But one thing we see in this book is that people sometimes have trouble imagining other people might be sad.

"Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."
"And are you?"
"No. That's where it all falls down of course." (30.11-3)

Ah, the eternal fight between happiness and… everything else in the world. (Spoiler alert: everything else wins.) Slartibartfast is telling Arthur that he wants to make Africa with fjords in Earth 2.0, even though that's not geographically accurate. But who cares? Slarty loves fjords more than he loves being accurate. Unfortunately, it's hard to be happy in Hitchhiker's Guide, even if you're willing to fudge the numbers—or in this case, the glaciers.

"I don't go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging about it afterwards in seedy space-rangers bars, like some cops I could mention! I go around shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about it afterwards for hours to my girlfriend!"
"And I write novels!" chimed in the other cop. "Though I haven't had any of them published yet, so I better warn you, I'm in a meeeean mood!" (32.40-1)

Even minor characters get to be sad in Hitchhiker's. It's that sort of equal opportunity book. Here the cops hunting Zaphod express—very directly—that they've got lots to be sad about. The first is sad about having to go around hurting people, though he won't stop doing that; and the second is sad about not being published yet, which he uses to fuel his violence. So sadness here doesn't always lead to good things. (But check the next quote for more.)

"Simple. I got very bored and depressed, so I went and plugged myself in to its external computer feed. I talked to the computer at great length and explained my view of the Universe to it," said Marvin.
"And what happened?" pressed Ford.
"It committed suicide," said Marvin and stalked off back to the Heart of Gold. (34.27-9)

Sometimes, sadness can be helpful in the oddest ways. For instance, the only reason that Zaphod and the others escape the cops is because Marvin got the cops' spaceship depressed enough to commit electronic suicide. So our last example of Sadness in the book shows that it is useful when it's your enemies who are sad.