The Man in the High Castle Dystopian Novel Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Dystopian Literature Review

The Man in the High Castle: History’s Never Written

At its core, The Man in the High Castle provides a vivid response to an oft considered question: what if the Axis forces had emerged victorious in World War II? In what is a relatively tame narrative, Philip K. Dick manages to create a striking alternate reality that describes how things would have been if events had gone down in just a slightly different manner.

The Man in the High Castle Dystopian

In The Man in the High Castle, Giuseppe Zangara’s 1933 assassination attempt on FDR was successful. As a result, the Great Depression was extended, and the United States was unequipped to help its allies in the ensuing war. The Nazis conquered all of Europe and most of Africa, and Imperial Japan conquered most of Asia and Australia. Germany and Japan then invaded the United States from both sides, forcing them to surrender and end the war in 1947. Japan and Germany thus became the two world powers. In the aftermath, the Nazis continued their extermination of the Jews, marginalized all people who were not Aryan, and started colonizing outer space with atomic power. Japan occupied the Western United States and developed an obsession with American historical artifacts.

The Man in the High Castle Dystopian In-depth Review

The story follows multiple narratives told through several perspectives, all of which intersect at some point. Robert Childan owns an antique store where he primarily sells to wealthy Japanese enthusiasts. He meets a young couple, named Paul and Betty, and they invite him to their home to discuss business over dinner. He is also visited by Frank Frink, a secret Jew an ex-soldier, who informs him that he has fakes in his stock as a means of blackmailing his ex-employer. 

“Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally. Waking up.”

― Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

At the same time, Julianna Frink, Frank’s estranged wife, partakes in a sexual relationship with Joe Cinnadella, an Italian truck driver and ex-soldier. Joe displays interest in a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which details a world in which Germany and Japan lost the war. It was written by a man named Hawthorne Abendsen, who reportedly lives in a heavily-defended fortress known as the “High Castle”. The book is banned in Nazi-controlled territories, but is very popular everywhere else. Joe suggests that they go pay the author a visit, and the two embark on a trip to meet him.

Elsewhere, Nobusuke Tagomi, a Japanese trade official, searches for a gift at Childan’s store. He intends to give it to a Mr. Baynes, a Swedish businessman who is actually a German defector looking to reveal the Nazi’s secret plans. Hugo Reiss, a German diplomat, tries to intercept and kill Baynes, all while reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy himself. Meanwhile, Frank Frink uses the blackmail money to start a jewelry business, and his partner sells some of their stock to Robert Childan on consignment. Childan plans to give a piece of jewelry to Betty, but instead gives it to Paul first.

Totalitarianism is What Totalitarianism Does

Frank’s business doesn’t go so well, and to make matters worse, he’s arrested for suspicion of being a Jew, and is scheduled for transport to Germany to be executed. Joe reveals himself to be a Nazi spy who was sent to assassinate Hawthorne Abendsen, but he is killed by Juliana with a razor blade, who then goes on to visit Abendsen on her own. Tagomi meets with Baynes, whose real name is Rudolf Wegener, and he informs a Japanese spy of “Operation Dandelion”, in which Germany will launch a massive nuclear attack on mainland Japan. Reiss orders the Nazi secret police to storm Tagomi’s building and kill Wegener, but Tagomi manages to kill two attackers with his antique pistol. He feels very guilty afterwards, and goes through an intensely spiritual experience that prompts him to order the release of Frank Frink.

Juliana goes to see Abendsen, and finds that he has moved from the High Castle, and lives in an ordinary house free of fear. It is revealed that he consulted the Oracle to write The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Juliana asks the Oracle why it wrote the book, and it says that the events were true, and that Germany and Japan actually lost the war.

The Man in the High Castle is the perfect example of how easily the world can fall into chaos, and how such an alternate reality is not too different from our own. A single event in history–Giuseppe Zangara’s assassination attempt on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt–was only altered slightly, and yet the world was drastically different. It’s a chilling reminder to how close we are to disaster at any given moment, and how lucky we are to not have descended into ruin yet. In addition, Wegener’s monologue towards the end of the book reveals that an alternate reality is no better than any one that is proposed. He concludes that, no matter the victors, there will always be deadly conflict, discrimination, and atrocities. In Wegener’s own words: “Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare”.

The Man in the High Castle Ralph’s Wrap Up

The concept of alternate realities is also dealt with heavily within The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and the notion of “historicity”. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy was not actually written by Hawthorne, but by the all-knowing Oracle, who proclaims that the book was actually true. This ties in with how historicity is valued in this postwar world, as “authenticity” is explained to only exist within the mind. What then, if authentic history only matters when those can remember or prove its authenticity, is the actual reality? Neither the alternate reality of The Man in the High Castle nor The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is similar to our own, but they are just as authentic as far as history is concerned.

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