"A substitute, then. Your recommendation, Mr. Childan?" Tagomi deliberately mispronounced the name; insult within the code that made Childan's ears burn. Place pulled, the dreadful mortification of their situation. Robert Childan's aspirations and fears and torments rose up and exposed themselves, swamped him, stopping his tongue. He stammered, his hand sticky on the phone. (1.10)
We're only a few paragraphs in and already we see people using power against each other. We love this example because it's such a minor muscle flexing on Tagomi's part—he's just mispronouncing a name, so it could be an accident. Oh, but it's not, and Childan is just crushed by this "social" power.
It horrified him, this thought: the ancient gigantic cannibal near-man flourishing now, ruling the world once more. We spent a million years escaping him, Frink thought, and now he's back. And not merely as the adversary ... but as the master. (1.62)
Childan may have to deal with Japanese social power, but Frank Frink has another worry, which is that the savage Nazis can get him wherever he goes. It might seem like a flight of imagination to imagine the Nazis as cavemen (oh, whimsical), but this expresses Frank's anxiety as clearly as Childan getting tongue-tied.
And yet old W-M was really very powerful. He owned controlling interests in a variety of enterprises, speculations, real estate. As well as the W-M Corporation factory. (4.2)
Frank Frink thinks of Wyndam-Matson purely as an economic power, owning a bunch of real estate and businesses. But as we see later, W-M also has connections with the government and the police, though they may be secret. (That's real power, when no one knows.)
"During the war," Mr. Tagomi said, "I held minor post in District of China. In Shanghai. There, at Hongkew, a settlement of Jews, interned by Imperial Government for duration. Kept alive by JOINT relief. The Nazi minister at Shanghai requested we massacre the Jews. I recall my superiors' answer. It was, 'Such is not in accord with humanitarian considerations.' They rejected the request as barbaric. It impressed me." (5.132)
Foreshadowing Tagomi's decision to release Frank Frink, here's Japanese power used against the Nazis' political power. That is, the Nazi consul-minister puts in a request, but has no military power to enforce that request. (Though, what do you think happened to this settlement of Jews later? Probably nothing good.)
There is evil! It's actual like cement. I can't believe it. I can't stand it. Evil is not a view. He wandered about the lobby, hearing the traffic on Sutter Street, the Foreign Office spokesman addressing the meeting. All our religion is wrong. What'll I do? he asked himself. He went to the front door of the embassy; an employee opened it, and Mr. Tagomi walked down the steps to the path. The parked cars. His own. Chauffeurs standing.
We're blind moles. Creeping through the soil, feeling with our snouts. We know nothing. I perceived this... now I don't know where to go. Screech with fear, only. Run away. (6.181-2, 185)
After the last quote we might feel good about power against the Nazis. (Tagomi's standing up to Nazis—you go, Tagomi!) But then we find Tagomi freaking out about the Nazis, feeling powerless in the face of this sort of evil. Or is he saying that we can fight particular evil acts, but that evil will still go on?
What I've been doing is to go along with the exterior motions because it is safer; after all, these are the victors… they command. And I will go on doing it, I guess. Because why should I make myself unhappy? (7.108)
Tagomi may either oppose the Nazis or feel powerless, but Childan finds a slightly different path. He may be powerless to fight the Japanese, but if he goes along, he gets wealthy. Then again, at this stage, going along with people like Tagomi also means feeling really bad when they mispronounce your name. (Note that, by the end, Childan is totally not doing the easy thing; he even opposes Tagomi.)
They know a million tricks, those novelists. Take Doctor Goebbels; that's how he started out, writing fiction. Appeals to the base lusts that hide in everyone no matter how respectable on the surface. Yes, the novelist knows humanity, how worthless they are, ruled by their testicles, swayed by cowardice, selling out every cause because of their greed—all he's got to do is thump on the drum, and there's his response. And he laughing, of course, behind his hand at the effect he gets. (8.83)
We've seen social, economic, political, and military power, and now we have "Artistic" power. Reiss reads Grasshopper Lies Heavy and is moved without wanting to be. So it's no wonder that Reiss connects artistic power with feelings usually considered negative, like lust, cowardice, and greed.
"But to demolish the fiction they must resort to legalities. That is the genuine purpose; not to deceive, but to require the formalities in case of exposure. You see for instance that to apprehend Mr. Baynes they must do more than merely shoot him down... which they could do, were he to travel as—well, travel without this verbal umbrella." (12.24)
There's an awesome scene in Hitchcock's Notoriouswhere an Allied secret agent takes a woman away from a party. There are several Nazis who would want to stop them from leaving, but because the party is in public, they can't. That's close to the situation Tedeki is describing here: everyone knows what's going on, but they can't act because everyone's pretending. Let's add this to our example of how fiction (or "Lies"—see our Theme section on that) have power.
"The moral practices of the black shirts exceed in ferocity that of the Wehrmacht. But their power is less. We should reflect solely on reality, on actual power. Not on ethical intentions."
"Yes, we must be realists," Mr. Tagomi said aloud. (12.65-6)
This leads us to a big question about this book: Is Tagomi correct when he says that they shouldn't worry about who is more evil, but rather about who is more powerful? It seems like a good argument here, but it sure does feel weird to root for Heydrich.
I wonder what I accomplished, he thought as he watched the land mass grow. It is up to General Tedeki, now. Whatever he can do in the Home Islands. But at least we got the information to them. We did what we could. (15.2)
This is Baynes returning to Germany after his mission, wondering if he ever had the power to change history—but that last line could be everyone's. Tagomi did what he could to protect Baynes and Frink, but did he actually change anything? Juliana protected Hawthorne this time, but will it actually help him to survive other assassination attempts? Etc., etc. So is that a bummer of an ending? Does that apply to all us? "You can try, but you'll never be powerful enough to fix things on your own?"