Study Guide

Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

Hiro Protagonist

The Deliverator

Hiro is nothing if not hardcore. His stint as a pizza deliverer, nay, The Deliverator, illustrates this. Clad in black armorgel and driving a car with "enough potential energy to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt" (1.5), the Deliverator is at the top of his game, and he has never delivered a late pizza. Well, until the doomed delivery incident.

That incident, we'll have you know, has nothing to do with Hiro's mad skillz. It's totally the fault of those incompetent Abkhazian immigrants who started a fire in the pizza store he reports to for deliveries. Well…sort of. Hiro is a pretty smart dude, but that doesn't make him immune to stuff like racism and a desire to blame others for his problems.

What about this job appeals to Hiro? Working for the Mafia means putting your life on the line, and Hiro compares it to being a kamikaze pilot. The clarity of purpose appeals to him and gives him pride: "The Deliverator is proud to wear the uniform, proud to drive the car, proud to march up the front walks of innumerable Burbclave homes, a grim vision in ninja black, a pizza on his shoulder" (1.19). Pizza delivery never sounded so cool before.

When he dumps his delivery car into an empty swimming pool, Hiro remains unruffled and plans his run for the Burbclave's border: "he has a good chance of making it. But it's going to be interesting" (2.67). It was a good gig while it lasted.

Greatest Swordfighter in the World

That's what Hiro's business card says, and as far as we can tell, it's true. Even when taking on Raven—and seriously, who's crazy enough to take on Raven?—Hiro does just fine. And by fine, we mean he survives.

Part of it is his training. When Raven throws a spear at Hiro, this is what happens:

Hiro does not have time to adopt the proper stance, but this is fine since he has already adopted it. […] Hiro raises the tip and slaps at the spear with the side of the blade, diverting it just enough. (19.85)

Based on this, you'd think Hiro was a Boy Scout or something, since his preparedness saves his life. And since in other chapters, we see Hiro working up a sweat while training, clearly this is a thing with him.

Of course, it helps when Hiro's in the Metaverse because he has an (ahem) edge there. When Vitaly asks Hiro whether he won his sword fight, Hiro replies:

"Of course I won the f***ing sword fight […] I'm the greatest sword fighter in the world."

"And you wrote the software."

"Yeah. That, too." (13.18-20)

Some might view Hiro's victories as cheating, but we interpret it as Hiro knowing how a fight works: Any advantage you can have that will help you survive or win is a fair advantage, including writing the sword fighting program.

The irony here is that Hiro's chosen weapon—the sword—is so low-tech that it's been around for, like, millennia. And yet it gets him through dozens of fights (including the crazy free-for-all that is life on the Raft). Despite Hiro's tech prowess, like his ability to program SnowScan that saves the day, the fact that he gravitates toward a weapon that doesn't need ammo sure helps save his life.

Hacker, Know Thyself

Hiro grew up in a lot of places, since his dad was in the army, and this contributes to, if we put it politely, his confused sense of identity. Check it out:

His father was a sergeant major, his mother was a Korean woman whose people had been mine slaves in Nippon, and Hiro didn't know whether he was black or Asian or just plain Army, whether he was rich or poor, educated or ignorant, talented or lucky. (7.31)

Despite Hiro's confusion about who he is in the world, his "cappuccino skin and spiky, truncated dreadlocks" (3.7) broadcast his identity to those around him anyway. And while on army bases, being mixed-ethnicity wasn't a problem for Hiro, out in the rest of the world, it definitely can be. When the neo-traditional Japanese businessman challenges Hiro to a swordfight in the Metaverse, for instance, Hiro cuts off his legs and then crows in dialect:

"Well, land sakes! […] Lookee here! […] Better fire up the ol' barbecue, Jemima!" (11.42-43)

We're guessing someone's a mite touchy about his background (or at least, being judged about it). At least he has a sense of humor about it, right?

How Hiro sees himself is also important. It isn't just when it comes to issues of race and class that Hiro feels confused. He also doesn't always know where he stands in life, or in relation to others. Example: him and Juanita. He initially flirts with her by asking whether she thinks he is an asshole, but this becomes the defining dynamic of their relationship:

He was emotionally worn out from wondering what she really thought of him, and confused by the fact that he cared so deeply about her opinion. (7.30)

While on one hand we're like, welcome to being invested in a relationship with someone, Hiro, on the other, we recognize that the degree to which he worries about what she thinks about him—he's "emotionally worn out" by it—indicates that Hiro is someone who's possibly avoiding figuring out who they are for themselves. Like, put a little less weight on Juanita's opinion, Hiro, and try forming your own.

As usual, Y.T. cuts through the crap to break this down for Hiro in conversation, saying: "She's a woman, you're a dude. You're not supposed to understand her […] She knows that's impossible. She just wants you to understand yourself" (58.27-29). And, based on the fact that Hiro gets his shmoop together in time to help rescue Juanita from the Raft (not that she really needed it) and together they save the hacker community, it seems like Hiro's that much closer to understanding himself and having a chance at getting back together with Juanita. Sweet.

Hiro's mixed-up sense of self is important to the plot for a couple of reasons. Not only do we get to savor his emo angst about his identity, but we also get to see him draw upon his grab-bag of life skills to help save the world. Any situation he can't think or reason his way out of, he can fight his way out of. What's that, you need a programmer who's also a trickster who can drive like nobody's business? Just call our man Hiro.

In the bizarre dystopian world of Snow Crash, having just one skill set isn't going to set you apart from the masses. Moreover, people who seem too certain of their identities (cough Rife cough) tend to stick to rigid ideologies and thus act with icky amounts of arrogant self-interest.

Hiro, with his mixed-up ancestry and life experiences spanning wealth and poverty, can empathize with any number of folks, and is thus less likely to want to screw over most of the human population. Maybe "he's too much of a mongrel to be a total bastard" doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but it seems to work for Hiro, and for us as the readers cheering him on. Which is a good thing, considering that his name is basically hero protagonist and all.