The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick


The TMITHC is an alternate history in which the Axis has won WWII. Dick gives some grim pictures of the “history” since the war. Yet the book is ultimately more positive than negative. As Pete Chvany (on rec.books.phil-k-dick) has pointed out: It has “strong characters with basic moral centers. Tagomi’s decision to free Frank in the face of Nazi intimidation and after recently being forced to kill against his deepest religious principles, is powerful stuff. So is Juliana’s realization that she has to warn Abendsen about the plot to kill him. Bob Childan’s decision not to turn American jewelry into cheap trinkets is a big moment, as he realizes the choices Paul Kasoura offers him and finds a way to take pride in himself, rather than in a lost past.”

Dick has said that he wrote TMITHC with the help of the I Ching (see quotes below), forming hexagrams as he came to junctures in the book. He then put the hexagram in the book text and had the character involved interpret the hexagram (sometimes in different ways) in light of his or her own view of the “moment.”

The final two hexagrams the I Ching gives characters are the same: Inner Truth. Tagomi forms the hexagram first–after killing the SD men. At first he finds no solace in the answer. He tries meditating on a pin that contains Wu, a source of truth in itself, and traverses universes. Juliana seems to “understand” the hexagram immediately.

THE SUMMATION: Only after Tagomi has his heart attack–one he presumably will survive–does he realize he will ultimately understand, in his own way, the answer given by the I Ching. This gives him a sense of peace and hope. Juliana gets the same hexagram and to her it means that the world in Abendsen’s book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (also supposedly written with [by] the I Ching,) is true. This also gratifies her as the Grasshopper is a book from which she (and several other TMITHC characters) draws hope and strength.


“Historicity”–a key element in the TMITHC–turns out to be deceptive. Frank, for instance, has been making fake “antique” guns. Wyndam-Matson’s lecture to his girlfriend shows that the “authenticity” [of historicity] lies in a piece of paper, not in the thing itself. By extension from this theme, we therefore can ask ‘Is the universe depicted in Grasshopper any more true than the universe Juliana is currently in?’

It is clear that the universe pictured in Grasshopper is not our universe, as Tugwell is President after Roosevelt, etc. Tagomi visits one reality in which the Japanese are not in power and in which he sees the Embarcadero Freeway (a real place in our universe when TMITHC was written, although the past big earthquake has necessitated that San Francisco remove this structure). The easiest assumption is that the universe he visits is indeed ours. We can therefore see that there are at least three realities described in TMITHC: the novel’s, Grasshopper’s, and the one Tagomi visits. Which is “true?” Are all true? It is difficult to answer these questions.

In sum, the book is basically positive because of the moral decisions made by a number of characters, because Tagomi finds enlightenment {although it is not clear to him or us what this will utlimately mean to him), because Frank is released to go on making real, contemporary American art, and because Juliana discovers that there is at least one “better” universe.