What is the meaning of the ending of "The Man in the High Castle"?

  • The end of The Man in the High Castle consists of:

    Julianna Frink visiting Hawthorne Abendsen and asking the Oracle why it wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-a-novel that suggests, contrary to Dick's story, that Germany and Japan lost World War II. The Oracle responds with the Chung Fu hexagram, meaning "Inner Truth", implying that Grasshopper was actually true and the world Julianna and Hawthorne inhabit is fake.

    Understanding all that (and I'm assuming I'm interpreting it correctly), what did Dick want the reader to get out of this? What's he saying? My initial thought was that Germany and Japan failed to conquer the US because the arts and culture remained, albeit dimmed, so the new world order they thought they created wasn't really that strong, but that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me. Does anyone have a better understanding than me? Am I interpreting the ending wrong?

  • Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Disbelief in reality is a recurring motif in Dick's literature. In "Man in the High Castle", his characters are seeing through parallel worlds on occasions. In the ending, his characters are on the brink of realizing that they're themselves fictional. There is a world to which their parallel worlds - the "real" Nazi-ruled world plus an "alternative" world ruled by Great Britain - are also parallel (our world). So the ending is not some sort of a conventional conclusion of the story - we have gone beyond the story.

    This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I've read; is breaking (or at least leaning up against) the fourth wall also something he does regularly? Interesting take, I hadn't really considered it.

    I believe breaking the fourth wall is too narrow of a term, it implies - following its literal meaning - that the characters become aware of the viewer/reader, while Dick likes to create this encompassing uncertainty in the heart of the reader himself. "There is no spoon". Sometimes his characters don't even know whether they're humans or robots, or dead or alive; etc. This theme is still somewhat toned down in "Man in the High Castle", making it look a bit like a conventional alternative history thriller, but it's false appearance. I recommend "Ubik" or "Do androids dream of electric sheep?"

    I've heard good things about both, they're on my reading list somewhere. Thanks for your point of view.

    The world of *Grasshopper Lies Heavy* was not quite "our world", even though the Allies won--for instance, the President after Roosevelt was named "Rexford Tugwell". When Tagomi briefly slips out of his world and sees the Embarcadero Freeway, it may have been intended that he was entering our world, though.

    I also recommend reading Second Variety which is out of copyright and is available on Gutenberg. Films adapted from his works also strongly feature the theme of questioning reality: Total Recall (the first movie, especially the ending), A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck etc. Movies from his works are some of the most memorable movies I grew up with.

    You may be a little confused: “an "alternative" world ruled by Great Britain” sounds like our real world to me.

    @PaulD.Waite The world of the *Grasshoper Lies Heavy* is not our world; Great Britain didn't rule the world post WW2. Several other details point to differences between that world and our own, like Hypnosifil points out in his/her comment. Nothing in PKD's fiction is ever tidy or clear cut ;)

    If you can realize you are fictional, are you really fictional?

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