the man in the high castle

In the novel, The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, America and it’s allies lost World War II, and the former U. S. A. is now split up: Japan owning the West coast and Nazi Germany owning the East, with a sort of non-claimed “buffer” territory along the Rockies. The novel focuses on several characters, mainly residing in the Pacific States of America (PSA) and one living in the the buffer zone , going about their daily lives. Dick paints for us a very well-thought out alternate universe to our own.

The Nazis have flown a man to Mars, can travel from Germany to San Francisco in 45 minutes by high-speed rocket, have drained the Mediterranean Sea for farmland, and have made slavery legal again. As we discussed in class, Philip K. Dick was regarded as one of the first postmodern writers. Postmodernism concerns itself with breaking down certainties, assumptions, and definitions: there is no unified “truth”. In this novel, Dick explores the relationship between what we perceive as real and fake, and whether or not those “realities” are absolutely concrete.

The Japanese have acquired quite a taste for American “collectibles” from the pre-war era, such as Civil War guns, and old comic books, and Disney memorabilia. One of the characters, Frank Frink (who’s real name is Frank Fink: a secret Jew) makes a living making and artificially aging Colt hand guns to sell as Civil War memorabilia. Because there is such a high demand for these pieces of Americana, there is of course, a quite lucrative market for fakes.

Frank’s boss, Wyndham-Matson, who owns the company that sells the fakes to retailers, has a conversation with his girlfriend about what makes an item have “historicity”. He has two Zippo lighters, one of which he claims to have been in Roosevelt’s pocket when he was shot, and another identical one that was not. He asks her to see if she can tell which one it was by examining them, and of course, she cannot. This he uses as to prove his point that the item itself doesn’t matter: it is in the “proof” (in his case, documentation) that gives an item value, or historicity.

He explains, “’a gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know. It’s in here. ” He tapped his head. “In the mind, not the gun”‘ (Dick 64). Here we see Dick introducing the idea that things are only what we perceive them to be. If the identity, and henceforth, value of an item can change simply with a thought, or belief, then what we really value is what we think and believe. We may think a gun was used in the Civil War, and because that is what we believe, it become reality.

But if the gun is a fake, and we were lied to, is our reality really altered? The Japanese people are so intrigued by the artifacts of former America, that they never really think twice about if the item they are dropping big bucks on is “really” “authentic”. After all, the postmodern view on words is that they are fallible, easily misinterpreted, and totally up to an individual’s perception and viewpoint. What, then, do the words “real” or “authentic” really mean, if we believe an object that is fake is real, then, based on our viewpoint, it is real.

It is this tenant that Dick expands upon toward the end of the novel. In the story, many of the characters read a banned, yet popular alternative-history novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by a man named Hawthorn Abendsen , who is rumored to live in a highly guarded house, a quintessential “high castle”. It is a fiction work that maps out world events if the Allies had won WWII, although, in a different strain of events than what really happened, thus presenting a third universe to us: the reader.

The introduction of the third “universe” proposes the idea that there is more than just two options: more than just right and wrong, fake and real, authentic and fabricated. In the last pages, Juliana goes to see the author, after killing her lover, Joe, who turns out to be a spy sent by the Nazis to assassinate Abendsen. The I Ching, is an ancient Chinese book which the characters in the novel consult to check where they are flowing in the balance of the Dao, or the “way”, and how the outcomes of their decisions will pan out.

Juliana wants to know if Abendsen consulted the I Ching when writing the book, and he reluctantly tells her that the Oracle practically wrote the novel, as he consulted it for every plot point, character and subject (something Dick actually did himself while writing this novel). Abendsen and Juliana ask the I Ching why it “wrote” The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. They toss the coins, come up with the hexagram, and realize it is the hexagram of Chung Fu, or Inner Truth: He had now an almost savage expression. “It means, does it, that my book is true? ‘ “Yes,” she said. With anger he said, “Germany and Japan lost the war. “Yes. ” Hawthorne, then, closed the two volumes and rose to his feet; he said nothing. “Even you don’t face it,” Juliana said… ”I’m not sure of anything,” he said. “Believe,” Juliana said. He shook his head no. The I Ching straight out tells them that Germany and Japan lost the war, and that what it “told” Abendsen to write was, in fact, the truth. How can this be, if the characters in the book know that Germany and Japan didn’t loose the war? After all, they live in that world every day. In this novel, there are two “realities” that are both what we know to be false.

This suggests that there is not the dichotomy of fact and fiction, but there are in fact, multiple, perhaps an infinite amount of realities. The two passages I used in this paper, I chose because they both highlighted the way Dick fought against the assumption that there is only one reality; one truth. Since our reality is essentially up in the air, this leads us to question the merit of our history. Everyone knows that history is written by the winners. Take for example the story of Christopher Columbus: he “discovered” America and claimed it for Spain. He made friends with the Indians and they all lived happily every after.

The story they teach in elementary schools totally fails to mention that there were already people living on the land Columbus “discovered” long before he got there (by accident, I might add), and that he and future settlers that came from Europe to the “new world” essentially kicked the Native Americans out of their homes, killed them, enslaved them, and eventually banished them to the crappiest parts of America that no one else wanted. Had the Native Americans written the history books, one may guess the story of Thanksgiving would have been much different.

However, we honor Christopher Columbus with his own holiday over 500 years later, even after all the dirt came out in the wash. This is because the “fact” that Columbus is a hero for discovering the land that we now call home was agreed upon by the majority. However, it wasn’t true, which we now realize today. So what is to say that all the history, science, and language we hold as fact today, will not be proved “wrong” 500 years from now? This is why postmodernists question all knowledge today: because we simply cannot know that it is true.

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