Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Tone

By Philip K. Dick

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Philip K. Dick gives his character enough rope with which to hang themselves. That is, the narrator never dips in to wag his finger at his characters; instead, the narrator takes a hands-off approach and just lets the characters talk or think. For example, the narrator never tells us that Childan is a bleeping racist, but lets us see it through his thoughts.

For another example, check out this exchange between Juliana Frink and Joe Cinnadella:

"Maybe while I drive," Joe said, without looking up.
You're going to drive? But it's my car!"
He said nothing; he merely went on reading.

Check out the body language here. Joe speaks without looking at her in the first line or he doesn't even respond to her in that third line. And Juliana seems surprised or maybe annoyed—but she doesn't do anything else. She doesn't grab his ears like she did earlier (6.120) or even 'argue with him about driving her car. So: Joe is a guy who doesn't always ask for things and Juliana is a woman who doesn't always put up a fight.

Now that we've read the book, we can look at this exchange and say, "Oh, yeah, it's clear how this relationship could go wrong." But the book doesn't tell us, "It's a shame he's like this and she's like that." The tone here is almost totally nonjudgmental, letting the reader make the judgment about this relationship.

And the narration keeps that tone throughout, whether we're focusing on a couple deciding on a road trip or a Nazi deciding on assassinating an author (8.87). If you've ever read other works by PKD, you know this nonjudgmental tone is sort of his thing—but why? Well, since Dick is dead and we can't ask him, let's ask, "What does this tone do for the reader?" It allows the reader to see both sides of an argument—or both sides of a complex person—without automatically taking sides for or against that person. So, we meet Hugo Reiss and we can weigh his bad issues (Nazi) against his good issues (reads books), and the narrator doesn't butt in to say, "Don't forget he's a Nazi." And when we read about a person who has good and bad parts, maybe we can more easily identify with that person.

But that doesn't mean that PKD is like, "Yeah, whatever you want to do is groovy." The narrator doesn't butt in to say "Nazis and racists are bad"—but that's still part of the book's underlying feeling. Very few readers will read this book and think, "Maybe I should be more racist." Hopefully, when readers read this nonjudgmental tone, they make their own judgments about how racism is bad—just look how much happier Childan is when he's less racist at the end. And when you make your own judgments, you're more likely to take that lesson seriously.

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