Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

By Philip K. Dick

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

Here's a little secret: critics love "x within x" structures. A painting within a painting? Genius. A movie with a movie? Love it. And a book within a book? Sign us up. In Man in the High Castle, the book-within-the-book is another alternate history called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen. And, like the I Ching, everyone is reading it. It pops up at Wyndam-Matson's house (it's his wife's), at the German consulate (Hugo Reiss is reading it against his better judgment), and with Joe Cinnadella and Juliana Frink.

Grasshopper tells the story of how the Allies beat the Germans in WWII. And the "I Ching" says that it tells the truth (15.134-137). Only it doesn't tell the history that we know. In the version of history in Grasshopper, FDR wasn't assassinated, became president, and made the U.S. ready for war. Then, by 1940, when Rexford Tugwell was elected president, the U.S. was ready for war and beat Germany and Japan (5.56-8). Can you spot the difference between that story and our history? Rexford Tugwell was a real dude, but he never became president (possibly because of that hilarious name). And then Grasshopper goes on to talk about how the U.S. and Britain get into a war, and the U.S. loses, which is also not our history (yet).

So how can this book tell the truth, when it doesn't tell our version of history? Here's where we scratch our heads too much. Because we're not entirely sure what the Grasshopper book's meaning is. Is it:

A hint that our world isn't entirely real and that we can never access the total truth?...

Or a symbol of how history's patterns repeat, even if the particulars change (i.e., the book talks about conflict between the U.S. and the UK, whereas in our 1960s, the serious conflict was between the U.S. and the USSR)?...

Or a reminder that it's hard to find a perfect world, so even if the Nazis get defeated, there might be some other problems and wars in the world?..

Etc., etc.

So, Grasshopper definitely ties characters and plots together (it appears in the art plot, the spy plot, and the art-spy plot). It also confronts people with a version of history that allows them to express their own views, from Childan's anti-Semitism to Hugo Reiss's romanticism. What is it a symbol of? Well, we're not so sure.

But we will add this: the title seems like a reference to the Biblical book, Ecclesiastes, to the line in 12:5, "The grasshopper is a burden." If you haven't read Ecclesiastes recently, we'll summarize: life is short, the world is unjust, and nothing lasts. That's kind of a downer ending, though there is some hope in keeping God's commands. Does that help us figure out what Grasshopper means in this book?

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