The Man in the High Castle (1962) Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick is probably best known as author of  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which later became Blade Runner. However The Man in the High Castle is widely regarded as his most accomplished work.

Written in 1962 the story centres on several characters in an alternative universe where The Axis have won World War Two. Like all good Sci-Fi this novel has less to do with the future and is more a critique on post-McCarthy era America – at times in the novel it is suggested that the dismantling of the United States & Nazi world-rule would be preferable to a Communist world that is depicted as the only other alternative.

In this alternative world, America is separated into 3 states; The Nazi ruled east, The Pacific seaboard is ruled by the Japanese and a demilitarised Rocky Mountain buffer zone.  The World is divided up into German ruled Europe and Africa and Japanese controlled Asia.

Furthermore it is alluded to early on that Africa has been largely wiped out by an increasingly mentally deranged Hitler who is now holed up in a mental institute.
Philip K Dick largely explores the plight of the common man. Whilst Hitler has been dethroned and the incumbent Chancellor Martin Bormann’s health is failing, the political struggle for power between Goring, Goebbels and Heydrich is left largely in the shadows and merely alluded to via radio reports. Dick’s decision to concentrate on the effect of totalitarianism on the average American citizen is similar to that of Orwell’s characterization of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Robert Childan,  sells false antiques to Japanese fascinated with Americana. While Post-war has rendered Childan with a bitter hatred for the Japanese, which he later overcomes only for it to be replaced with an odd lust for them, ironically his speech patterns and interior dialogue mirror the broken, abrupt manner of speech of the Japanese in the novel.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a novel within a novel, a science fiction book about what Hawthorn Abendsen thinks would have happened had the Allies won the war. It is banned in both the Japanese and German ruled states but available to the characters in the autonomously governed Rocky state. The novel itself unites the vaguely interconnected characters of the novel, much like the iChing (an ancient Chinese book of divination), with Dick perhaps alluding to an Eastern view of reality. Further comparison’s can be drawn to Nineteen Eighty-Four in this respect, such as Emmanuel Goldstein’s book.

Late on in the novel Mr Tagomi is in despair as he had to take the lives of two men attacking him. As a man with a Buddhist upbringing he regards all lives as holy.  Mr Baynes the westerner ponders the idea of original sin in relation to the Buddhist standpoint, that we are all doomed to commit acts of cruelty or evil due to ancient factors, this Baynes states is our karma. Baynes goes on further to explain that though Tagomi has taken to lives to save one, hypothetically he has saved many lives.  This argument from the reader’s point of view draws stark pointers towards America’s actions in WW2 by dropping Nuclear Bombs upon Japan.  Ultimately from a different perspective, the actions can in one sense be justified, in that intentions were to save many more lives than were sadly lost.

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3 Responses to “The Man in the High Castle (1962) Philip K Dick”

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