Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Society and Class

By Philip K. Dick

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Society and Class

Joy. If all business days were like this ... but it was more than business, the success of his store. It was a chance to meet a young Japanese couple socially, on a basis of acceptance of him as a man rather than him as a yank or, at best, a tradesman who sold art objects. Yes, these new young people, of the rising generation, who did not remember the days before the war or even the war itself—they were the hope of the world. Place difference did not have the significance for them. (1.33)

It's kind of hilarious to have Childan thinking about it this way. Here's a guy who tends to stereotype the Japanese, and here he is wanting to be treated as an individual, not a member of the "yank" group. He even expresses a hope that there might be some future social unity among them all. This feeling doesn't survive Chapter 7.

With a large folder of bills-of-lading under his arm, Mr. Ramsey appeared. Young, smiling, he advanced, wearing the natty U.S. Midwest Plains string tie, checkered shirt and tight beltless blue jeans considered so high-place among the style-conscious of the day. "Howdy, Mr. Tagomi," he said. "Right nice day, sir." (2.19)

Can we all agree that Ramsey is laying it on a little thick here? As he notes later, he has kept up his ties with "native ethnic patterns" (2.27). But it kind of sounds to us as if he's copying the "high-place" Japanese who are copying American styles.

Was he absolutely properly dressed to enter the Nippon Times Building? Possibly he would faint in the high-speed elevator. But he had motion-illness tablets with him, a German compound. The various modes of address... he knew them. Whom to treat politely, whom rudely. Be brusque with the doorman, elevator operator, receptionist, guide, any janitorial person. Bow to any Japanese, of course, even if it obliged him to bow hundreds of times. But the pinocs. Nebulous area. Bow, but look straight through them as if they did not exist. Did that cover every situation, then? (2.51)

Childan is obsessed with social standing. (Remember in "Themes: Power" how he freaked out when Tagomi mispronounced his name?) Thanks to the POV (thanks, POV), we get a first-row seat to Childan's careful consideration of all the different social situations he might face. That's a guy who is dedicated to society's rules.

Their view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but air abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Gute, but not good men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Gute, but not good men, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. (3.120)

According to Baynes, Nazi German society is largely organized around their visions of the world. That makes some sense. Aren't all societies organized around what they value? So the problem with Nazi society is that their values are so screwed up, to put it lightly. But what values do we see in Japanese or American society?

Peering over his shoulder, Frink saw a bracelet design, an abstract with flowing lines. "Is there a market?" All he had ever seen were the traditional—even antique—objects from the past. "Nobody wants contemporary American; there isn't any such thing, not since the war." (4.21)

Speaking of values, in Japanese-controlled (basically) San Francisco, Frank and Ed find a society that isn't really interested in contemporary American stuff. This is the situation they find themselves in, but by the end of the book, they have created a (little) market for their jewelry. So is this an example of how social values can slowly change?

Well, he thought, it probably would be cheaper to offer them two thousand or so. They'd accept it; that was probably all they wanted. Little fellows like that thought small; to them it would seem like a lot. They'd put in their new business, lose it, be broke again inside a month. (5.13)

We don't get a lot from Wyndam-Matson's POV, but as a rich, powerful American, he has a particular view on the social situation. For him, one of the big differences in society isn't Japanese vs. American, but big guys (like him) vs. "little fellows" like Frank and Ed. (How little are they? They have first names, unlike Wyndam-Matson, who can afford two last names.)

"How could you be reading it, then?" Something about it worried her. "Don't they still shoot people for reading—"

"It depends on your racial group. On the good old armband."

That was so. Slavs, Poles, Puerto Ricans, were the most limited as to what they could read, do, listen to. The Anglo-Saxons had it much better; there was public education for their children, and they could go to libraries and museums and concerts. (6.104-6)

We don't spend a lot of time in Nazi-controlled Europe and eastern America, so our only insight into that area is times like this, when people think about how things are. And if you're dark skinned or Slavic, things are bad. We hear about that in general a few times, but this moment shows us some particulars. There are harsher laws for some ethnicities and more restrictions on education and cultural events.

Very shortly, as he ascended the stairs to the Kasouras' apartment, he thought, Here I am, not invited in a business context, but a dinner guest. He had of course taken special pains with his attire; at least he could be confident of his appearance. My appearance, he thought. Yes, that is it. How do I appear? There is no deceiving anyone; I do not belong here. (7.4)

Oh, Childan. Whether he goes to a business meeting or a social dinner, he obsesses over how to appear socially correct. But even though he's so interested in engaging socially with this young Japanese couple (see the first quote above), he seems almost more pessimistic here that any social unity can exist. And purely because he's a white man.

"I'm always happy to see you, Robert," Paul said, in a tone that held—Childan thought—perhaps a trace of aloofness.

Or perhaps it was his imagination. Childan glanced cautiously over his teacup. The man certainly looked friendly. And yet—Childan sensed a change. (11.67-8)

Check out those em dashes ("—") and "perhaps"s all over Childan's thoughts. Here's an area where his uncertain thoughts get expressed in uncertain—and fragmented—sentences. (See what we did there?) This might be one of the costs of a fractured society. Childan lives in constant anxiety about upsetting the Japanese. Thankfully, by the end of this scene, he'll be less anxious—and less jerky.

With his hair short and blond, and in his new clothes, he doesn't look like the same person, she thought. Do I like him better this way? It was hard to tell. And me—when I've been able to arrange for my hair being done, we'll be two different persons, almost. Created out of nothing or, rather, out of money. But I just must get my hair done, she told herself. (13.23)

Childan isn't the only character paying attention to his appearance in this book. We don't spend a lot of time in the Rocky Mountain States, but they seem a lot like our states. For instance, here Juliana thinks about both Joe's and her appearance. All it takes is a little (or a lot of) money for a truck driver and a judo instructor to look like high rollers. But notice that little mention of money is sandwiched between two comments about getting her hair done. Juliana may know how money greases society's wheels, but she's still going to look her best.

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