‘The Hitchhiker’ is a short story written by Roald Dahl. In this lesson, we summarize ‘The Hitchhiker’ and explore the different themes presented in the story.
Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Even if you knew you deserved it, you probably wished there was some way to get out of it. Roald Dahl’s short story The Hitchhiker tells how one guy dealt with getting a speeding ticket.In the story, the narrator is driving to London when he stops to pick up a hitchhiker. The narrator explains that he always stops for hitchhikers because he used to be one and knows how difficult it can be.
The narrator and hitchhiker get to talking, and the hitchhiker becomes very secretive when the narrator asks what he does. However, the narrator doesn’t push the issue; again, he remembers that an endless barrage of questions can be annoying for a hitchhiker. Eventually they discuss the narrator’s nice car, and the narrator claims it can go 129 miles per hour. The hitchhiker says there is no way it can actually go that fast; the manufacturers probably lied to him.
The Speeding Ticket
In order to prove the hitchhiker wrong, the narrator ”pressed his foot hard down on the accelerator.” The car quickly picks up speed and quickly reaches 120 miles per hour. But, before they can find out if the car actually reaches 129 mph, they hear the scream of a police siren.
As he’s taking down his information, the police officer mocks the narrator a little. He also takes down the hitchhiker’s information saying he is going to do some checking up on him, simply because he doesn’t like the look of the hitchhiker’s face. As the police officer is leaving, he tells the narrator that he hopes he serves some jail time.
Learning About the Hitchhiker
After this incident, the narrator isn’t quite as happy. But the hitchhiker tells him not to worry because they don’t put people in jail for speeding.
The narrator again asks the hitchhiker what he does as a profession. When the police officer asked the hitchhiker what his profession is, the narrator could tell he lied.The hitchhiker finally explains that he is in a ”very peculiar trade” and he needs to be careful about who he tells. He then takes out a cigarette, rolls it, and lights it so quickly that the narrator is amazed by his speed. When the narrator comments on it, the hitchhiker responds, ”it’s because I’ve got fantastic fingers.” He then explains that he uses these amazing fingers as his profession.Finally the hitchhiker holds up a leather belt, and the narrator is surprised to recognize it as his own.
The hitchhiker then shows the narrator’s shoelaces in his hands as well. The narrator is surprised: he didn’t even recall seeing him bend over to take them out of his shoes! We learn that the hitchhiker is what he calls a ‘fingersmith,’ which is really just a fancy name for a pickpocket. However, he is quite offended when the narrator calls him a pickpocket.Finally, the hitchhiker explains they don’t need to worry about the police officer because he stole the note pads on which the officer took their names, addresses, and car license information. The narrator isn’t going to need to worry about any speeding ticket coming home to him!
The story explores themes of class and the types of jobs performed. The narrator used to be poor (as evidenced by the fact that he used to hitchhike) but is now well to do.
He is still a pretty good guy, earning an honest living. The hitchhiker is poor, and while we probably wouldn’t consider his work honest, the story is written in a way for us to respect it. The two discuss having a skilled trade even though some people may look down on you for it. Having a skilled trade and doing it well are important.
The hitchhiker explains: ”The secret to life… is to become very very good at somethin’ that’s very very hard to do.”The narrator’s skilled trade is writing. As evidenced by his nice car, he has become really good at it.
The hitchhiker is a pickpocket. This isn’t a typical skilled trade, but his high performance level makes it a skilled trade, and he has become ”very very good” at it.Another theme explored is crime and punishment, or control by authority figures. The police officer isn’t very polite to the narrator and hitchhiker. He knows that he has caught them and enjoys making them squirm. He enjoys throwing around his weight because he knows that he has the authority in the situation.
But what he doesn’t know is that the hitchhiker (who seems like a nobody) ends up having the real authority when he takes the notepads from him. The story shows that those with authority sometimes bully those beneath them, but those with a skilled trade can take back that authority.
Roald Dahl’s ”The Hitchhiker” is about class, skilled trades, and authority. In the story, a man (the narrator) picks up a hitchhiker and is then pulled over for going over the speed limit. But after the rude police officer leaves, the hitchhiker explains that he is a ”fingersmith”, meaning that he is an amazing pickpocket and he took the notepads, with all of their information, from the police officer!