Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Strength and Skill

By Philip K. Dick

Strength and Skill

The separate skill, apart from the rest of him: he had found the right thing, and Mr. Tagomi would be mollified and his client, whoever he was, would be overjoyed. I always give satisfaction, Childan thought. To my customers. (2.47)

According to Childan, his special skill is his ability to find the perfect item for his clients. And yet check out that last thought. How depressing is it that Childan notes that he can give satisfaction to his customers? What about friends and loved ones? Friendship isn't a skill of his.

"You're as good with that flex-cable machine as anybody on the Coast. I've seen you whip out a piece in five minutes, including the rouge polishing. All the way from the rough Cratex. And except for the welding—"

"I never said I could weld," Frink said.

"Did you ever think of going into business on your own?" (4.14-6)

For all his excellent skills as an artisan—gosh, all the way from the rough Cratex?—Frank Frink isn't super-skilled in coming up with new ideas. For instance, it takes Ed to come up with the idea of starting their own business. Are all of these skill quotes going to point out characters' flaws as well?

Depending as always on his own wit, his ability to talk his way out of anything. If Heydrich sends a squad to do him in, Reiss reflected, the Little Doctor will not only argue them out of it, he will probably persuade them to switch over. (8.8)

All the important Nazis stay off-screen in this book—they're back in Germany doing Nazi things. But we do hear a lot about them, both in the lecture that Tagomi attends (Chapter 6), and from Reiss's thoughts. As Reiss noted (see "Themes: Art and Culture"), Goebbels's main skill is his ability to persuade people, which seems to Reiss to be the most useful skill of all.

After two weeks of nearly constant work, Edfrank Custom Jewelry had produced its first finished batch. There the pieces lay, on two boards covered with black velvet, all of which went into a square wicker basket of Japanese origin. And Ed McCarthy and Frank Frink had made business cards. They had used an artgum eraser carved out to form their name; they printed in red from this, and then completed the cards with a children's toy rotary printing set. The effect—they had used a high-quality Christmas-card colored heavy paper—was striking. (9.1)

Confession time: most of our hands-on crafting experience comes from silk-screening funny pictures onto t-shirts. So we don't always know what Ed and Frank are up to. But Dick puts a lot of words into describing the work and skill they use in making their business, from jewelry to business cards. So we may not always know what the book is talking about, but it does sound very impressive. Though Childan later calls their business card "odd-looking" (9.157). Ouch.

Maybe he's insane, she thought. Ironic... I may actually do what I've pretended many times to have done: use my judo in self-defense. To save my—virginity? My life, she thought. But more likely he is just some poor low-class wop laboring slob with delusions of glory; he wants to go on a grand spree, spend all his money, live it up—and then go back to his monotonous existence. (9.95)

We can't exactly blame Juliana for not recognizing that Joe Cinnadella is not really an Italian truck driver, but a Swiss Nazi assassin. But again, we can't help noticing that we get two things very close together: Juliana's skill (judo) and her flaw (trusting Cinnadella). What's especially funny is that she trusts Joe while noting that she's been faking all this time about how she used her judo. (For an example of that faking, check out 3.12-22.)

It had been made very clear to him by his superiors that he was not to contact the Abwehr under any circumstances. He was simply to wait until he had managed to make connections with the Japanese military representative; he was to confer with the Japanese, and then he was to return to Berlin. But no one had foreseen that Bormann would die at this particular moment. Therefore— The orders had to be superseded. By more practical advice. His own, in this case, since there was no one else to consult. (10.23-4)

Wegener-Baynes probably has lots of skills—probably? We don't get to see him do a lot in the book. His major job is to wait until Tedeki gets there—and he can't even do that. This is another example of how Dick takes a "spy against the Nazis" plot and makes it not so exciting or romantic. This spy plot isn't a Bond film and Baynes isn't Bond.

"The hands of the artificer," Paul said, "had wu, and allowed that wu to flow into this piece. Possibly he himself knows only that this piece satisfies. It is complete, Robert. By contemplating it, we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things." (11.89)

Paul's special power is to be an open-minded appreciator. He likes jazz, science fiction, American literature, scrimshaw, etc. By appreciating things, he also appreciates the people who make those things, as he notes here. This feeling of wu flows from the maker to the thing to the viewer. Now compare that sort of appreciation with Childan's, whose appreciation of things usually stops when he sees dollar signs.

"The men who made this," Childan said, "are American proud artists. Myself included. To suggest trashy good-luck charms therefore insults us and I ask for apology." (11.178)

Or rather, this is Childan's approach until Paul helps him to see the worth of this contemporary American art. Compare this comment to our first quote. There, Childan was proud of being able to satisfy his customers. But here, he's taking a stand against his customer and declaring his pride in the skill of the American jewelry-makers.

"Part of personal collection," Mr. Tagomi said. "Much fooled around in vainglorious swift-draw practicing and firing, in spare hours. Admit to compare favorably with other enthusiasts in contest-timing. But mature use heretofore delayed." Holding the gun in correct fashion he pointed it at the office door. And sat waiting. (12.89)

Tagomi is better at waiting than Baynes. Seriously, Tagomi's main actions (so far) in the book were waiting and consulting the I Ching. But here we get to see a different side of Tagomi. We usually see him in his office, thinking about work. Here he notes how much skill he has in his hobby. It's a little thing, but it's a reminder that Tagomi has a whole life outside of the office that we never see.

Hawthorne Abendsen said, "Everyone has—technical secrets. You have yours; I have mine. You should read my book and accept it on face value, just as I accept what I see—" Again he pointed at her with his glass. "Without inquiring if it's genuine underneath, there, or done with wires and staves and foam-rubber padding. Isn't that part of trusting in the nature of people and what you see in general?" (15.92)

If you wanted to write a paper on skills and "deceit," you might want to look at this quote. Here, Abendsen notes that all skillful people have "technical secrets" and that if you want to appreciate something, you should just accept those secrets. Are these "technical secrets" another way to say "lies and deceit"? Does the book take Abendsen's side and argue that it's better just to trust the appearance? (Does the fact that Abendsen comes off as a lech make you less likely to agree with him?)

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