The Man in the High Castle

From Academic Kids

Missing image
1981 Berkley cover of The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is a 1962 alternative history novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The novel is set in the United States, 15 years after the Axis Powers defeated the Allies in World War II and the U.S. submitted to German and Japanese military occupation.

While not the first piece of alternative history fiction, the novel defined that type of story as a genre of literature. It won the prestigious Hugo Award and helped make Dick well-known in science fiction circles. It is one of Dick's most tightly-structured and character-focused novels and one which deals the least with standard science fiction themes, such as technological innovation and interplanetary travel.



Back Story

The point of divergence between the world of The Man in the High Castle and actual history is the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. A fictional President Bricker was elected afterwards. He was unable to revive the nation from the Great Depression and clung to an isolationist policy concerning the war.

Without U.S. assistance, Great Britain and then the rest of Europe fell to the Axis Powers. The Japanese completely destroyed the U.S.'s Pacific fleet in a much more expansive attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S., ailing from years of economic distress, fell to the Axis and many important cities, such as New York, were destroyed.

By 1947, all Allies had surrendered to Axis control. The Eastern United States were placed under German control and the Western States under Japanese control. The Mountain States and much of the Midwest remained somewhat autonomous.

After Adolf Hitler was incapacitated by syphilis, Party Chancellery Martin Bormann assumed the leadership of Germany. The Nazis created a colonial empire and continued their mass murder of races they considered inferior, murdering Jews in areas they controlled and mounting a massive genocide in Africa. They also pursued space exploration and experienced the spread of new technology, such as television, through Germany.

Meanwhile Japan continued a more peaceful, but certainly not democratic rule, in much of Asia and territories in the Pacific Ocean. Like the United States and the Soviet Union after the actual World War II, the Japanese and the Germans are distrustful of one another.


The Man in the High Castle has no one central plot but rotates between several somewhat interconnected storylines:

  • An Abwehr spy travels to San Francisco under cover as a Swedish trading merchant. He confers with Mr. Tagomi, head of the Japanese trade commission in the area, but must stall in pursuit of his true mission and avoid capture until the mysterious Mr. Yatabe arrives from Japan.
  • Mr. Tagomi has a crisis of faith about the righteousness of the core principles of modern day Japanese and German society and his own Buddhist beliefs.
  • Robert Childan, proprietor of a San Francisco store selling American antiques and cultural artifacts that have become popular to the Japanese, tries to retain honor and dignity while catering to an occupying force. Although often sniveling in their presence and ambivalent in his own feelings towards the war, Childan eventually finds a sense of cultural pride. He also investigates widespread forgery within the antique market.
  • Two San Franciscan industrial workers, Frank Frink and Ed McCarthy begin a jewelry business, creating some of the first authentic pieces of American art in several years. Their works have a strange effect on the Americans and Japanese who view them. Also Frink attempts to hide his Jewish ancestry from local police.
  • Frink's ex-wife Juliana, living in Colorado, begins a relationship with Joe, a truck driver who claims to be an Italian veteran of the war. They travel to meet the titular Man in the High Castle, Hawthorne Abdensen, author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

Several characters in The Man in the High Castle read a popular, although banned, novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abdensen in which the Axis powers lost the war. Although closer to actual history, the novel portrays a third scenario.

In The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Roosevelt survives the assassination attempt but does not run for reelection in 1940. The next president, Rexford Tugwell (who in our reality never ran for the presidency), mitigates the bombing of Pearl Harbor by sailing the U.S.'s Pacific fleet, so the U.S. enters the war with more naval power.

In the novel the British contribution to victory is greater than in the historical scenario and the Russian and American lower. The turning points of the war are a British victory over Nazi troops under General Erwin Rommel in Africa, a British advance through the Caucasus and, in coordination with the remnants of the Russian army, a British victory at Stalingrad. As in the historical scenario, Italy turns against the Axis Powers. British tanks storm Berlin at the end of the war.

After the war, Britain, still led by Churchill, doesn't lose its empire and the U.S. exports mostly to China, under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek. The British Empire remains racist while the U.S. solves its race issues by the 1950s causing tension between the two superpowers.

Eventually, the U.S. challenges the traditional British role as the world's most influential nation. However, the British ultimately overcome the U.S. to become the world's supreme power.

The book's author, Hawthorne Abendsen, is rumored to live in a highly guarded fortress; his nickname is "the Man in the High Castle," from which the novel itself is named.

The Use of the I Ching

Dick claims that he wrote The Man in the High Castle, using the ancient Chinese philosophical text the I Ching (or Book of Changes) to decide on plot development. He even blamed the I Ching for plot details that he was unhappy with in one interview.

The I Ching is featured throughout The Man in the High Castle. It spread through the Pacific States after the Japanese began their occupation. Several characters, both Japanese and American, consult it for important decisions. Hawthorne, like Dick, used the I Ching to write The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.


The most prominent theme in The Man in the High Castle is the question of the penetration of true reality into a false reality. This can be seen in several aspects of the novel.

  • Robert Childan discovers that many of his antiques are fakes and becomes paranoid that his entire stock consists of counterfeits.
  • Several characters are spies, traveling under false names and pretenses.
  • Although not describing the historical scenario, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the book-within-a-book, portrays actual history more accurately than The Man in the High Castle itself.
  • The Grasshopper Lies Heavy' is essentially the alternate-history counterpart of The Man in the High Castle in that, to the characters inhabiting the fictonal world, the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the fiction. This implies the penetration of two false realities suggesting that even the idea of two realities, true and false, is incorrect and that there are multiple realities.
  • The The Man in the High Castle of the book's title actually lives in a normal house.
  • At the novel's end, it is implied that a few characters, through consultation with the I Ching, discover that their world is fictional.
  • One character seems to briefly become cognizant of the real world.

With this theme, Dick suggests the questions, who or what is the agent causing this inter-penetration of realities? And why does that agent desire that this reality be known as an artifice? This theme is addressed further in several subsequent Dick novels, including Ubik, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, and Valis.

The Man in the High Castle also deals with themes of justice and injustice (through Frink's fleeing from Nazi persecution), gender and power (through Juliana's relationship with Joe), shame and identity (through Childan's new confidence in American culture), and the effects of fascism on culture (throughout the novel, especially sections in dealing with the lack of value of life in the wake of Nazi dominance of the world).

External links

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