The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Metaphors and Similes
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Written by Timothy Sexton
"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't"
Arguably the single most memorable simile in the novel is this elegant description of the Vogon spacecraft. It is a particularly brilliant mode of comparison because while it seems to offer useful information about what the Vogon ships look like, it really isn’t. This is a relatively early example of the type of humor twisting of figurative language that the reader will confront throughout the book; a simple declarative statement in which the predicate completely upends the expectations established in the subject. One can come back to this sentence over and over again after a period of rest and it will always at first seem to be giving useful information upon further reflection simply does not exist. The point being that there is absolutely no way that comparing a spaceship’s position in the sky to the effect of gravity upon a brick makes any tangible connection at all. What Adams accomplishes here is nothing less than genius: making a completely nonsensical assertion seem to make perfect sense.
"Vogons have as much sex appeal as a road accident."
Ford Prefect’s observation about the character of the alien race known as the Vogons is measured and calculating and right on target. What better means of simile could there possibly be to sum up the utter lack of sex appeal in a species than a comparison to a road accident. It works on two levels: they may be utterly devoid sex appeal, but—like a car accident—they are impossible to not look at.
"the effect of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”
This is an example of the typical sort of simile that pops up throughout the novel. It is a simile that ultimately becomes more akin to a metaphor. How? Because the entire point of a simile is comparison and the entire point of comparison is to make something unfamiliar seem more familiar. But in this case, the unfamiliar—the alien cocktail—is compared to something that is equally unfamiliar: the experience of having your brains smashed out. Thus, the comparison itself serves a comedic metaphor which is the fundamental means by which alien and otherworldly experiences are related to the reader through the mechanism of the Hitchhiker’s guide.
This is an extraordinarily extended metaphor that is so subtly crafted that it may even escape many as being metaphor at all. It is, in actuality, the name that an alien born 600 light years from Earth adopts under the illusion that it is perfectly average, normal name. A simile will also be used to describe Ford Prefect: "He struck most of the friends he had made on earth as an eccentric, but a harmless one.” The metaphor becomes clear when it is situated as non-simile comparison to eccentricity. Ford Prefect is such an unusual collision of words that it continues to strike the reader as utterly and totally abnormal every time it is mentioned. Thus, over time, Ford Prefect transforms onto a metaphor that covers the broad range of miscommunication and misunderstanding that occurs not just between alien races but between average, normal human cultures here on earth.
Likewise, the only human being that Ford Prefect bothers to save from the imminent destruction of the Earth and the annihilation of everyone on it also becomes a metaphor. His very name indicates his metaphorical status: Arthur has barely made a dent upon the life of any other person with whom he has come into contact. Except, apparently, for the alien. Arthur is a metaphor for the life that has been allowed to go to rot, the life that is wasted, the unexamined life of the unambitious person.
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