The book The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick presents an alternative world, where Japan and Germany won the Second World War. Enemy territories were occupied by the victors, and a delicate balance was established. The metaphorical symbol of this equilibrium in the novel is the former United States territory divided into three parts. There is the West – the Great Nazi Reich, the East – the Pacific States (Japan), and the Center – the Neutral Zone (the States of the Rocky Mountains and most of the Midwest that was ignored only because no useful resources were found on its territory. The war ended in 1947, and the plot of the book unfolds 15 years after these events. Presenting a complex alternative world, this book focuses on such themes as power, memory, politics, social segregation, and the role of the literature, the consideration of which helps the reader to understand the ideas and messages conveyed by the author.
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One of the main themes of the given book is power over the system and people. What if Germany won the Second World War? One may suggest chaos, destruction, atrocities, and humiliation of people. In Dick’s novel, everything is different. In the world of victorious fascism, it seems that only the key players on the world stage have changed, dictating to other countries their conditions. Devoid of culture and crushed by Japan, America does not have power over the world, while Germany rules, taking leading positions in all sectors up to space (Gioia). Fascism has already seized the Earth, and the leaders are attracted by the expansion of other planets. At the same time, busy with its issues, Germany no longer conducts such an aggressive dictatorship, and the common people are living quite well. If this is totalitarianism, then it is extremely moderate. People are not limited significantly, even censorship is practically non-existent as a book stating that the Allies won World War II becomes a hit of sales (Dick 36). Thus, the author reconsiders the concept of power, and it seems that his message is that the authorities always tend to control people and the system.
The majority of characters presented in the book vaguely remember that everything was different in former times. Most survivors of the terrible war and their descendants have adapted to a new way of life and even thinking, seeking solace in the idea that everything is not so bad, and it could be even worse (Jordison). It seems that all of them – both defeated and victorious – feel the inferiority and inhumanity of this new world. The reader may note some new, unfamiliar, and exciting thoughts in their minds that there are other ways of development, and it is not too late to stand up for them. Someone came to this independently after experiencing humiliation and resentment, while others pushed a book written by a man from the High Castle.
These new thoughts promote dreams and inflamed self-esteem and then lead to actions, even if small, but requiring no less courage. It is quite difficult to say “no” for the first time and stop being an accomplice in the crimes that are going on: conspiracies, wars, murders, and destruction of culture and the whole nations. Perhaps, the best issue about this book is the small relationships. For example, the Japanese official says “no” and saves the life of a runaway Jew, who can become the first link in the revival of national culture (Dick 90). This master, in turn, creates something that helps the official find his place in life. Furthermore, small connections based on memories lead to notable events, and one “no” of a man from the High Castle destroys the silence of millions.
Politics in this novel is shown as an effective tool to manipulate others. The characters reflect the situation that occurs in this novel rather clearly. Robert Childan, the owner of the American antique culture store, is an opportunist, self-interested, cruel, and unprincipled man that is evident throughout the entire novel. Childan tries to please both himself and others. For example, Nobusuke Tagomi, the Commercial Attaché of the Imperial Government, also does not waste time and miss the opportunity to get acquainted with Kotoura, the high-ranking official of Childan who is ready to take the victorious side at any moment (Dick 88). The point is that such people are extremely dangerous. At the same time, Frank Frink is a simple worker with big ambitions caught up in a big game without realizing it. He just works on the side of the Chinese government and produces counterfeits of American culture, which in turn is successfully implemented by Childan in his store.
The theme of social discrimination is one of the minor themes discussed by the author. In particular, one may note the separation by class, race or ethnicity, and gender. While Wyndam Matson belongs to the upper ten, Frank Frink represents the lower class (Dick 7). The readers also observe the highlighted differences between Jews, Americans, Japanese, and Nazi as well as the greater importance assigned to men rather than women. It should be stressed that this theme seems to be quite comprehensible since it is widely discussed in today’s environment as well. It is possible to assume that the author includes the theme of the social segregation to emphasize the existing inequality and make the reader ponder over its consequences.
Role of Literature in Society
The author’s idea of the novel in the novel, where Hawthorne Abendsen is the author of a sensational book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy authorized in the territory of the Axis countries and banned under the death penalty in Germany, seems to be successful. It describes the victory of Russia and the United States over Japan and Germany. At the same time, the characters refer to I Ching (Book of Changes) to guide their decisions. As stated by Dick, “we go on, as we always have; from day to day” (130). The above examples show that people use the literature as a source to understand their lives and determine how to live further in the given conditions.
To conclude, it should be emphasized that The Man in the High Castle is a complex novel that attempts to depict an alternative reality after the Second World War. It integrates various important themes, among which there are politics, social segregation, power, memory, and the literature. These themes as an essential part of life and history, serve as a reminder that people can make the world a better place.
Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle. Berkeley, 1962.
Gioia, Ted. “The Man in the High Castle”. Conceptual Fiction, n.d., Web.
Jordison, Sam. “Philip K Dick’s Alternative Memory Lane”. The Guardian. 2009, Web.