Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Fate and Free Will

By Philip K. Dick

Fate and Free Will

Aloud he said, "How should I approach Wyndam-Matson in order to come to decent terms with him?" He wrote the question down on the tablet, then began whipping the yarrow stalks from hand to hand until he had the first line, the beginning. An eight. Half the sixty-four hexagrams eliminated already. He divided the stalks and obtained the second line. Soon, being so expert, he had all six lines; the hexagram lay before him, and he did not need to identify it by the chart. He could recognize it as Hexagram Fifteen. Ch'ien. Modesty. Ah. The low will be raised up, the high brought down, powerful families humbled; he did not have to refer to the text—he knew it by heart. A good omen. The oracle was giving him favorable council. (1.67)

The Man in the High Castle starts off pretty clearly with the issue of Fate, with Frank Frink giving us a little lesson in how to use the I Ching: start with a question, get a randomized answer for each line (here, by using yarrow stalks), then find the hexagram. Dick may not provide diagrams, but this step-by-step introduction might be enough to tell us how Frink gets his answers. And note what it tells us about Frink: he's an "expert" in getting the lines and he can recognize the hexagrams. This is a guy very interested in his Fate.

"My question regarding Mr. Baynes produced through the occult workings of the Tao the Hexagram Sheng, Forty-six. A good judgment. And lines Six at the beginning and Nine in the second place." His question had been, Will I be able to deal with Mr. Baynes successfully? And the Nine in the second place had assured him that he would. It read:

If one is sincere,

It furthers one to bring even a small offering.

No blame. (2.36-7)

You could almost use this book as a textbook guide to using the I Ching. And yet note that people don't always interpret these messages correctly. For instance, Frank thinks they won't get money from Wyndam-Matson because of the hexagram he gets, but they do (6.250). So what does this fortune mean for Tagomi? What "small offering" should be brought? He might take that to mean he should bring a gift, like the Mickey Mouse watch. But that doesn't seem to impress Baynes (3.144). Does it help to know your fate if you don't know how to interpret it?

The jewelry business will bring good fortune; the judgment refers to that. But the line, the goddam line; it refers to something deeper, some future catastrophe probably not even connected with the jewelry business. Some evil fate that's in store for me anyhow. (4.61)

But not all of Frink's answers come out positively. When Ed asks him to go into business, Frank has to check the I Ching first, and it comes back with a mixed message: the jewelry business will be good, but there's some catastrophe in the future. Now that Frank knows about that catastrophe, can he stop it? (See our "Themes: Memory and the Past" for more.)

This is the moment to consult the oracle. Ask, How will Ed make out on this first selling trip? But he was too nervous to. It might give a bad omen, and he did not feel capable of facing it. In any case, the die was cast: the pieces were made, the shop set up—whatever the I Ching might blab out at this point.

It can't sell our jewelry for us... it can't give us luck. (9.12-3)

It's true that most of our Fate quotes are about Frank, because he loves checking the I Ching. But even Frank runs up into situations where the Oracle can't help, like when Ed goes to sell jewelry to Childan. Note that Frank ends up saying what the I Ching can't do, but he starts out saying that he's too nervous and it's too late. Maybe it would've helped to check the I Ching before…

The Moment changes. One must be ready to change with it. Or otherwise left high and dry. Adapt. (9.166)

If you just read this, could you guess who is thinking it? It kind of sounds like Tagomi to us, but it's actually Childan. Here's Childan's take on Fate: there's this whole thing you can't control, called the Moment. But there is something you can control—you can adapt yourself to the Moment.

Childan thought, He's actually saying: Which are you Robert? He whom the oracle calls "the inferior man," or that other for whom all the good advice is meant? Must decide, here. You may trot on one way or the other, but not both. Moment of choice now. (11.141)

Childan's big choice is when Paul asks him if he wants to make cheap trinkets out of the Edfrank jewelry. Luckily, because of the POV, we know this is a big choice because Childan recognizes it. Is there any element of fate here or is this all under Childan's free will?

"I see," Mr. Baynes said. He thought, Another frame of reference which might help him would be the Doctrine of Original Sin. I wonder if he has ever heard of it. We are all doomed to commit acts of cruelty or violence or evil; that is our destiny, due to ancient factors. (12.223)

Baynes doesn't use the I Ching, and he has another idea for how to think about Fate. As he puts it, the Christian idea of Original Sin says that we all have a destiny because of ancient factors. Is that also a theory of history—we all have some destiny because of what's gone before?

He thought, But there is no reason to be optimistic. Probably the Japanese can do nothing to change the course of German internal politics. The Goebbels Government is in power, and probably will stand. After it is consolidated, it will turn once more to the notion of Dandelion. And another major section of the planet will be destroyed, with its population, for a deranged, fanatic ideal. (15.3)

Baynes can sure get depressed-sounding. After delivering his warning and advice to the Japanese, Baynes returns to Germany, wondering if anything can be done—or if all history is fated beforehand. And yet, even with this thought about fate, he's already done his bit to change the world by delivering that info.

"They can get you," Hawthorne said, "if they want to. Charged wire and High Castle or not." You're so fatalistic, Juliana thought. Resigned to your own destruction. (15.110-1)

Hawthorne seems kind of like Frank Frink here, just accepting his fate. (And, hey, both of them are craftsmen who create something from someone else's ideas: Hawthorne-book-I Ching vs. Frank-jewelry-Ed McCarthy.) But check out Juliana's reaction. Even though she loves the I Ching, she notes when someone else is being fatalistic. Is she annoyed by that fatalism or does it make sense to her?

"One by one Hawth made the choices. Thousands of them. By means of the lines. Historic period. Subject. Characters. Plot. It took years. Hawth even asked the oracle what sort of success it would be. It told him that it would be a very great success, the first real one of his career. So you were right." (15.116)

Caroline Abendsen explains Hawthorne's writing method, which definitely works for writing tweets. But notice how confused this section is. She starts out saying "Hawth made the choices" and then notes that it was "By means of the lines." So if the I Ching made the lines, what choices did Hawth make?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...