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The end of The Man in the High Castle consists of:

Julianna Frink visiting Hawthorne Abendsen and asking the Oracle why it wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-a-novel that suggests, contrary to Dick's story, that Germany and Japan lost World War II. The Oracle responds with the Chung Fu hexagram, meaning "Inner Truth", implying that Grasshopper was actually true and the world Julianna and Hawthorne inhabit is fake.

Understanding all that (and I'm assuming I'm interpreting it correctly), what did Dick want the reader to get out of this? What's he saying? My initial thought was that Germany and Japan failed to conquer the US because the arts and culture remained, albeit dimmed, so the new world order they thought they created wasn't really that strong, but that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me. Does anyone have a better understanding than me? Am I interpreting the ending wrong?

13 Answers 13

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Disbelief in reality is a recurring motif in Dick's literature. In "Man in the High Castle", his characters are seeing through parallel worlds on occasions. In the ending, his characters are on the brink of realizing that they're themselves fictional. There is a world to which their parallel worlds - the "real" Nazi-ruled world plus an "alternative" world ruled by Great Britain - are also parallel (our world). So the ending is not some sort of a conventional conclusion of the story - we have gone beyond the story.

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    This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I've read; is breaking (or at least leaning up against) the fourth wall also something he does regularly? Interesting take, I hadn't really considered it. – Jimmy Sawczuk Oct 18 '11 at 23:05
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    I believe breaking the fourth wall is too narrow of a term, it implies - following its literal meaning - that the characters become aware of the viewer/reader, while Dick likes to create this encompassing uncertainty in the heart of the reader himself. "There is no spoon". Sometimes his characters don't even know whether they're humans or robots, or dead or alive; etc. This theme is still somewhat toned down in "Man in the High Castle", making it look a bit like a conventional alternative history thriller, but it's false appearance. I recommend "Ubik" or "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" – Morawski Oct 19 '11 at 7:39
  • I've heard good things about both, they're on my reading list somewhere. Thanks for your point of view. – Jimmy Sawczuk Oct 19 '11 at 13:09
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    The world of Grasshopper Lies Heavy was not quite "our world", even though the Allies won--for instance, the President after Roosevelt was named "Rexford Tugwell". When Tagomi briefly slips out of his world and sees the Embarcadero Freeway, it may have been intended that he was entering our world, though. – Hypnosifl Sep 30 '14 at 15:46
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    @PaulD.Waite The world of the Grasshoper Lies Heavy is not our world; Great Britain didn't rule the world post WW2. Several other details point to differences between that world and our own, like Hypnosifil points out in his/her comment. Nothing in PKD's fiction is ever tidy or clear cut ;) – Andres F. Oct 28 '18 at 19:20
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In support of Morawski's answer, which I agree with, I can point to another passage where the veil between the real and fictional worlds falls down:

Tagomi, the Japanese businessman who is interested in antiques, while examining the iron jewel briefly "passes" to an alternate world which is similar to our own, where the post-war Japanese are discriminated against (because they presumably lost the war), instead of being the rulers of part of America.

From Wikipedia:

Tagomi briefly perceives an alternative world upon meditating over a pin containing a Wu (Satori) form of "inner truth"; said Frank Frink artifact transports him to a San Francisco city where white folk do not defer to the Japanese, possibly the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In this world the Embarcadero Freeway runs through downtown San Francisco, whereas in Tagomi's world it does not exist. This suggests that the world might in fact be our own.

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In The Man in the High Castle the characters get a hint that the world that they are living in is fictional, and they get a glimpse of the truth.

But Dick himself believed—or at least he described having a religious experience that revealed—something similar about our world: that we are still living in the first century, and that the twenty centuries of history are in some sense false or fictional. He was fascinated with Gnosticism—in particular the idea that the universe was created by a demiurge, an "inferior or false god", and that religious experiences (theophanies) result from the true god breaking through the veil of the false world.

This idea of the world being a false or shoddy subcreation, and characters experiencing the truth breaking through, shows up in various forms in many of Dick's works: in religious form in late works like VALIS and The Divine Invasion, but in various transfigured forms in works like The Simulacra, The Penultimate Truth, and Ubik.

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Juliana interprets the hexagram to mean that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy represents the truth — that Japan and Germany lost the war, and she inhabits a fictional construct. She does, in fact, occupy a fictional construct created by Dick — which he constructed by consulting the I-Ching. But the fictional construct of the world in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is not in fact the world in which we and the author live — it’s similar in the outcome of the war, but diverges: FDR’s adviser Rexford Tugwell succeeds him as President, and the Cold War is between the US and an intact British Empire instead of the Soviet Union. But if that alternate history is real, then the upward implication from book within book to reader is that we ourselves live in a fictional construct — one which might betray its fictionality through consulting the I-Ching for a window on the next level up. This is irresistibly delicious stuff, classic Philip K. Dick: think of Dekkart not knowing if he’s a replicant or not in Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or the layers of ambiguity about what’s real in Total Recall/We Can Remember it for you Wholesale. In this case, however, he’s tied his metafiction to a 3,000 year old book that exists in our world and imbued it with a power to glimpse beyond the fourth wall.

I've written more on the meta-fiction's relation to the I-Ching here, and cited every one of the hexagrams mentioned in the book. Some of the hexagram readings by different characters are linked in ways that they cannot know -- only the reader from outside the meta fiction could see the pattern. He's playing around with perception and dimensionality, messing with our minds. Love it.

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My take on the ending: After I Ching revelation that they are all living in a false reality, Juliana begins to see world as it is: the surroundings in the end look more-and-more like early 60's America of our reality, thus it is likely that Juliana walks out of false reality into our reality. This conclusion is supported by Mr. Tagomi's experience when he for a brief period of time enters a world where Embarcadero freeway exists and cars are monstrous limousines of early 60's era.

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In James Joyce's "Ulysses," Stephen Dedalus says,

"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

Dick seems to see the reality in which we live in much that way. He once made a remark to the effect that reality doesn't live up to his standards.

In TMITHC, the various horrors of life in an Axis-run world have a hallucinatory, nightmarish, slightly unreal quality about them which almost foretell Juliana's eventual perception that they aren't real. The more believable they are - like Bob Hope gleefully wisecracking about Goering on the radio - the more like a bad dream they are. And Juliana is able to wake up.

It's interesting that TMITHC implies that our world isn't real, either. The I Ching says "inner truth" is a much more humane post-war world than the one we know, with no USSR, and as for the British eventually winning, Dick has his heroine Juliana say that the British always were the best. Maybe we can all awaken to a world where Elizabeth II's picture, or Churchill's are on everybody's money.

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    ...though it's debatable whether this alternative world where the British won single-handedly and their Empire existed longer than in real-life history would be a "much more humane post-war world" ;) – Andres F. Sep 6 '15 at 20:28
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I'm a bit late to this discussion.

I'd just like to add that according to Wikipedia Philip K Dick intended to write a sequel. Along side the "Dickian" observations about the nature of reality there is also a very powerful conventional narrative. Operation Dandelion the Nazi Plot to launch a preemptive strike against Japan is played as a conventional thriller with a twist. Contrary to the assumptions it is one of more ghastly Nazi factions under Heydrich who want to stop the 3rd World War. Mr Tagomi and Mr Baynes are faced with having to ally with their mortal enemies.This plot is of course never resolved. Perhaps the reason MITHC feels unfinished is because it isn't finished.

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I think that Dick may also have been saying something about his own time (late 1950's and earlyt 60's). If Roosevelt had been assasinated perhaps post war America would have been different -- the world can turn on single events. During the early 60's the Civil Rights Movment was underway, and Viet Nam was happening. Yet in the book it's the Nazi Germans who are expansionist and conquering, and slavery has been reinstated. Near the end of the book, the Naxzi Germans are revealed as wanting to bomb Japan, and yet it was the U.S.A that dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. There's lots to think about in this nove.

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I agree with most of everyone on here. Both Juliana and Tagomi glimpse into another reality where the U.S. did win WWII as outlined in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. However, I don't believe that this new reality is real and true, while the reality experienced by the characters throughout the rest of the novel is necessarily false or fictional. Rather they both exist as parallel realities.

In the book, the idea of yin and yang (dark and light) is brought up numerous times and is part of the I Ching. Both exist simultaneously in an interconnected and complementary way despite being opposites. I believe both realities are representative of this yin and yang - they exist in an interconnected way rather than one being fiction or unreality.

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How about a straightforward meaning to it. The inevitable war between Japan and Germany leaves them both in ruins with America ascendant.

  • This comment is quite satisfactory. The theme of America ascending is established with the Edfrank jewelry. Instead of succumbing to the Japanese conglomerate making trinkets, Childan decides to promote them as new art. Childan steps beyond the Japanese culture by pushing the sale of these items. The unresolved nature of the conflict between Germany and Japan hints that they will go to war and possibly destroy each other. – downeyt Nov 5 '15 at 15:42
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The ending just means that Japan and Germany did lose the war.

Therefore, the repression that the characters are feeling is not due to Nazi rule, but rather that our own world, the one in which the US and Britain won, is a world of 'Nazi repression'. i.e. the characters are trapped in these subjective feelings.

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    Hi, Your answer would be a bit better if you could elaborate more on this. – Stark07 Sep 30 '14 at 12:36
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I think many have made an assumption, which I do not know that Dick had intended: The other universe that she sees is real, but that does not necessarily mean that hers is fake. Could not both realities be true, as in the many worlds theory (aka parallel universes, etc.? It seems to me that she sees one universe, which she interprets the I, Ching to confirm as true, yet Togami also visits a third reality (different from the main one in the book, as well as from the one she visits); why would you assume that any of them are fake? Why would you not conclude that they are all real? Perhaps Togami (through an object with Wu) and Julianna (through the Grasshopper and I, Ching books) visit other realities, just as real as their own. Just my two cents.

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    Welcome to SFFSE! On this site, we are typically looking for answers which have evidence to support them. If you could provide evidence to support your viewpoint, it would substantially improve your answer's quality! – Often Right Nov 26 '15 at 4:10
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From my interpretation P.K. Dick extend somehow the principle/experiment in which a particle like photon is detected through both slits ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment ) to macro-level ... including socio-political enviroment so basically the ideea would be that every time when a crucial event takes place in our history there are ( at least ) two alternate-worlds with different outcome/configurations.

And also there is a sort of explanation why only "one state" remains in "the end" - the other(s) being too unstable and self-destroying themselves.

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