Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Memory and the Past

By Philip K. Dick

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Memory and the Past

In 1947, on Capitulation Day, he had more or less gone berserk. Hating the Japs as he did, he had vowed revenge; he had buried his Service weapons ten feet underground, in a basement, well-wrapped and oiled, for the day he and his buddies arose. However, time was the great healer, a fact he had not taken into account. When he thought of the idea now, the great blood bath, the purging of the pinocs and their masters, he felt as if were reviewing one of those stained yearbooks from his high school days, coming upon an account of his boyhood aspirations. (1.48)

This is Frank Frink, who used to hate the Japanese and planned to rebel against them. And then… nothing. History has totally changed his identity from "angry ex-soldier" to "craftsman." By comparing that change to the transformation of growing up ("his boyhood aspirations"), the book makes that change seem natural.

And, he thought, I know why. They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. (3.121)

Baynes likes to tell us what's wrong with the Nazis (as if we don't know). But what does he mean here when he says they want to be "agents […] of history"? Is it that the Nazis want to control history? That doesn't sound so bad to us at first, but it's clear that Baynes thinks it is. Why is this bad?

I'm too small, he thought, I can only read what's written, glance up and then lower my head and plod along where I left off as if I hadn't seen; the oracle doesn't expect me to start running up and down the streets, squalling and yammering for public attention. 

Can anyone alter it? he wondered. All of us combined... or one great figure… or someone strategically placed, who happens to be in the right spot. Chance. Accident. And our lives, our world, hanging on it. (4.66-7)

Frank has just gotten a warning from the I Ching, but he's just one guy. Depending on your opinion, this is either exactly what's wrong with Frank (he's so fatalistic, he hardly even tries to change the world), or what's right about him (he recognizes that history is a big thing). So Frank's view on history tells us about history and about him.

"When a thing has history in it. Listen. One of those two Zippo lighters was in Franklin D. Roosevelt's pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn't. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it?" He nudged her. "You can't. You can't tell which is which. There's no 'mystical plasmic presence,' no 'aura' around it." (5.24)

Everyone's got an opinion about history and authenticity—usually an opinion that makes them feel better, right? Here's Wyndam-Matson explaining to his girlfriend-mistress-date how history is all subjective. These two lighters are exactly the same, unless you know which was at a critical turning point in history.

"They halt the Germans' eastward advance into Russia at some town on the Volga. We never heard of this town, but it really exists because I looked it up in the atlas." "What's it called?" "Stalingrad. And the British turn the tide of the war, there." (5.76-8)

Rita tells W-M the plot of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, including the alternate history that the author invented for it. Now, from our POV, this Grasshopper book's history sounds familiar to ours, but also different. Stalingrad was a huge battle, but the British weren't involved. A lot of reading this book (for the first time) is noticing those little tweaks to history.

"We must all have faith in something," Mr. Tagomi said. "We cannot know the answers. We cannot see ahead, on our own." (5.100)

Like Frink, Tagomi feels that the future is an unknowable thing. We can never be sure of what's coming. But for Tagomi, this acceptance of ignorance comes with a need for some "faith in something." Does Frank share that idea that you've got to have faith in something?

Again strolling along the sidewalk with her shopping bags, Juliana thought, Maybe Goring will be the new Fuhrer when that Bormann dies. […]

But probably Goebbels will get it, she decided. That was what everyone said. As long as that awful Heydrich doesn't. He'd kill us all. He's really bats. (6.10-1)

And then, just as an example of how hard it is to know the future, we have Juliana here thinking that Goring will be Fuhrer and hoping that Heydrich won't be. By the end of the book, we know the situation is actually different: Heydrich may be an evil [insert four-letter curse here], but he might be the best choice.

"They're just babbling," she said. "Why do they use words like that? Those terrible murderers are talked about as if they were like the rest of us."

"They are like us," Joe said. He reseated himself and once more ate, "There isn't anything they've done we wouldn't have done if we'd been in their places. They saved the world from Communism. We'd be living under Red rule now, if it wasn't for Germany. We'd be worse off." (6.96-7)

Just like Abendsen, Joe Cinnadella plays his own "what if" game, but his game is "what if we were in the Nazis' position, what would we do?" For Joe, the answer is "the same thing." So Joe's view of history is that things have to turn out the way they did, because everyone would do the same actions.

Nevertheless, Mr. Baynes thought, the crucial point lies not in the present, not in either my death or the death of the two SD men; it lies—hypothetically—in the future. What has happened here is justified, or not justified, by what happens later. Can we perhaps save the lives of millions, all Japan in fact? (12.225)

Baynes has risked his life and Tagomi's sanity (not to mention been in the room when a bunch of kidnappers bit it), but even he doesn't know if he's had any effect on history. Baynes has an interesting view here, where his present is the future's past (and all that without drugs). So the actions here might help to make a better future. But does that make Baynes seem like he's trying to be "an agent […] of history" (see quote above)?

I possibly could manage my anxious proclivities by a ruse: trade the gun in on more historicity sanctioned item. This gun, for me, has too much subjective history... all of the wrong kind. But that ends with me; no one else can experience it from the gun. Within my psyche only. 

Free myself, he decided with excitement. When the gun goes, it all leaves, the cloud of the past. For it is not merely in my psyche; it is—as has always been said in the theory of historicity—within the gun as well. An equation between us! (14.19-20)

One difficulty with Dick's style here is that we listen in to so many people's thoughts and people aren't always so coherent. Here Tagomi starts out with the idea that his gun (which he used to protect Baynes) has too much history for him. That history only exists in his psyche. And then, in the very next paragraph, he notes that the gun has some historicity as well. So… which is it?

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