The Hitchhiker by Roald Dahl: Theme & Summary

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  • 0:03 'The Hitchhiker'
  • 0:54 The Speeding Ticket
  • 1:29 Learning About the Hitchhiker
  • 2:44 Themes
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

'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.

''The Hitchhiker''

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.

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