This is part three of an eight part book/dissertation written by Aaron Barlow.Click here to read the other chapters.
At the end of The Man in the High Castle Juliana Frink asks the I Ching about The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an "alternate history" novel within the story, "What are we supposed to learn?" (246; ch. 15). She is at the house of Hawthorne Abendsen, the novel's author. She throws the coins, then examines the results:
"Do you know what hexagram that is?" she said. "Without using the chart?"
"Yes," Hawthorne said.
"It's Chung Fu," Juliana said. "Inner Truth. I know without using the chart, too. And I know what it means."
Raising his head, Hawthorne scrutinized her. He had now an almost savage expression. "It means, does it, that my book is true?"
"Yes," she said.
With anger he said, "Germany and Japan lost the war?"
"Yes." (246-247; ch. 15)
Though we might a first think otherwise, neither of the characters understands what they have been told, or sees the "real" meaning. They mistakenly think that the "Inner Truth" the I Ching "refers" to is the political "truth" at the heart of Abendsen's novel, that Great Britain and the United States won World War II.
Careful readers of The Man in the High Castle may know, when they get to this passage, that the "Inner Truth" is something else—even in the fictional world of The Man in the High Castle, itself an "alternate history" in which Germany and Japan have won the war and occupy most of North America. Prior discussions by characters in the novel on the nature of the fake and the real lead to the conclusion that intrinsic "truth" often has little to do with appearances or with who won what. Juliana and Hawthorne, who have not been part of these discussions, jump to a naive conclusion.
Though it contains no first-person narration, The Man in the High Castle provides a structure similar to that of Confessions of a Crap Artist, written two years earlier. That is, Dick cuts back and forth between characters, this time interspersing presentations of seven third-person limited narrative foci. All but two of the fifteen chapters are broken into sections, usually so that the action can move from one character to another. The focus switches thirty-two times, weaving together three simultaneous sequences of events.
The first of the sequences centers on trade in American "artifacts." The victorious Japanese have come to prize Americana. An industry has grown up, supplying excellent fakes to the unwitting foreigners. This story follows Frank Frink as he tries to gain some control over his life by setting out, with a partner, to make, in San Francisco, original jewelry to sell to the Japanese instead of the fakes he had previously concocted and sold.
The second sequence concerns Japanese/German relationships and the repercussions of the death of Martin Bormann, Germany's central power broker. In it, Nobusuke Tagomi, a high Japanese trade official in San Francisco, becomes involved in secret negotiations between the "Home" government in Japan and one of the factions jockeying for power in Germany. A number of characters appear here who also act in the first sequence. Even Tagomi and Frink, who never meet, end up having dramatic impact on each other, so intertwined are these threads. It is in these two story lines that the implication of the concept of the "fake" is discussed.
The third sequence focuses on several people interested in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and its author, Abendsen. Central are Juliana Frink and a Nazi assassin sent to kill Abendsen. The action takes place in Colorado and Wyoming.
Few characters in separate sequences meet, though their lives have impact on each other. Connections come through things—Abendsen's book, a work of art, a deportation paper, a gun—and through political necessities rather than through significant interpersonal relationships. Only Frank Frink and Juliana Frink have been personally important to each other. Though married, they have separated by the time the narrative starts, never to get together or even meet in the book.
Frank has been a constructor of "fake" Colt .44s and similar objects representative of a romanticized American past. But, with creative urges boiling, he wants to make something new, though he knows that the Japanese despise anything contemporary in America—and they are, really, the only market.
By blackmailing his former employer, threatening to expose the hoax, the fakes, Frank gets seed money for his business. Later, his employer gets back at him, by turning his name over to German representatives. For Frank Frink is a Jew, liable for deportation to German-held territory—and extinction. Still, Frink has used a seedy method to get what he wants, so the punishment he may receive is not entirely unwarranted, given Dick's view of personal interactions and their consequences.
Because of his ostensibly non-political job, Tagomi finds himself used as an intermediary and cover for a meeting between a Japanese leader and the representative of a dissident German group. The two groups desire mediation and a truly bi-polar world-power relationship. But word of the meeting gets to the official German representatives, who try to assassinate the dissident—in Tagomi's office. Armed with an "antique" Colt .44 (probably made by Frink), Tagomi kills the assassins, an action he quickly regrets deeply.
Later, upset by what he has done, a "bauble," one of Frink's new jewelry pieces, sparks a "mystical" experience for Tagomi—in which he experiences a "reality" different from that he has known. Emboldened by that, he then refuses to sign an extradition order naming Frink.
This act, humane in the best sense of the term, for the act itself is its reward, is also Tagomi's salvation. His refusal to allow the destruction of Frink, even though he is not really conscious of just what he is refusing, allows him to regain the equilibrium lost through his earlier violent act.
The third story, directly connected to the others only through Juliana and Frank's prior relationship, takes place in the buffer zone between the German-held East Coast and the Japanese West. Here, Juliana, a restless woman unsure of the direction of her life, takes on a quest, a voyage to visit Abendsen. She hopes he can somehow help her. He is reputed to live in a mountain castle (shades of Kafka and Smetena) fortified against German and Japanese assassins who want to destroy him, who represent the forces trying to repress his novel. She hopes she can find entrance to it—and to the meaning she believes rests in the author.
In spite of bannings, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy has drawn quite a following, for it tells how the world would be better had the war ended differently, thus restoring some pride to the down-trodden Americans.
Juliana travels with an Italian truck driver who also wishes to see Abendsen. When she discovers that he is really a German assassin, she slits his throat—her own corollary to Tagomi’s violent act, one she "pays" for by not getting explicit answers to her questions—and continues on alone, finding Abendsen not in a "high castle," but in an ordinary suburban home.
In various interviews Dick claimed, probably as a deliberate footnote of mystery, that The Man in the High Castle was "programmed" by the I Ching. Like most serious writers, he probably believed his own novel has an "Inner Truth," too, something to say to people beyond the fictive history. Perhaps he hoped to force readers to consider the parallels between Dick and his character-author Abendsen, who certainly does utilize the I Ching in his writing. Internal evidence in The Man in the High Castle suggests, certainly, that Dick had plotted the novel before he began writing, or, at least, before revising the novel. The relationship between the West Coast stories and Juliana's quest and final revelation is too close to be the result of anything but careful planning.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the most important and problematic of the "fakes" in The Man in the High Castle. It holds a similar position vis-a-vis the semblance of the novel to that of The Man in the High Castle in our own world. Neither the "real" novel nor the one presented in it claims an "Outer Truth," a presented reflection of a "real" world. Both purport to present fictional alternatives to the worlds of their composition. Neither author wants to be a savior, though they both believe they have points to make. Abendsen even gets angry when the significance of his book is "proven" to him by Juliana. He wants nothing to do with that kind of prophecy or significance. These, he believes, as Dick did, should rest in the reader, not in the book or in the author—even when the author has something of importance to say.
Julianna kills in order to protect the author of this "fake." Like the Nazis who sent the assassin, like all who kill the messenger, she believes that the bearer is the tale. Abendsen, angry when told that what he says is "true," is reacting to this idea, and to the idea that he, somehow, has some special knowledge.
Dick might claim that everything in either novel, the real or the fictional novel, exists in spite of the author, not because of him. Meaning lies well below the surface, becoming available only when sought, not when offered.
The parts of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy appearing in The Man in the High Castle show an idealized vision of what the world might be, had the Allies won WWII, not one that could possibly be "true." Juliana, at one point, reads from the book:
She had arrived at a section in The Grasshopper which described the fabulous television, and it enthralled her; especially the part about the inexpensive little sets for backward people in Africa and Asia.
. . .Only Yankee know-how and the mass-production system—Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, the magic names!—could have done the trick, sent that ceaseless and almost witless noble flood of cheap one-dollar (the China Dollar, the trade dollar) television kits to every village and backwater of the Orient. And when the kit had been assembled by some gaunt, feverish-minded youth in the village, starved for a chance, for that which the generous Americans held out to him, that tinny little instrument with its built-in power supply no larger than a marble began to receive. And what did it receive? Crouching before the screen, the youths of the village—and often the elders as well—saw words. Instructions. How to read, first. Then the rest. How to dig a deeper well. Plow a deeper furrow. (149-150; ch. 10)
Abendsen's naive and idealized alternate world provides a counterpoint to the later and unsophisticated interpretation of the I Ching, and the derived world view, by Dick's characters Hawthorne Abendsen and Juliana Frink. Though each view of the world, to Dick, is false, together they may dance around a hint of what might be "true."
Though he recognizes that his own book probably has little in common with a world where the Axis won WWII, Dick may have seen The Man in the High Castle as a possible mediator between what is and what could be. Its possible significance, at least, goes far beyond the particulars he presents and beyond those in the general public's perception of a science fiction novel.
As Dick desires for his "real" novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is taken seriously by its readers. In The Man in the High Castle, two characters, Paul and Betty Kasoura, discuss the relation of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to the science fiction genre, within which little "serious" literature had been produced—in their world as in Dick's own of the time of composition:
"Not a mystery," Paul said. "On contrary, interesting form of fiction possible within genre of science fiction."
"Oh, no." Betty disagreed. "No science in it. Nor set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular with future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise."
"But," Paul said, "it deals with alternate present. Many well-known science fiction novels of that sort." To Robert he explained, "Pardon my insistence in this, but as my wife knows, I was for a long time a science fiction enthusiast." (103; ch. 7)
Whatever else these novels, Dick's and Abendsen's, are, they both attempt to rise beyond their roles as masks and try to allow people to see behind them, to view the world as it may "really" be. They both attempt a transaction with the reader, not a telling, a coercion or totalitarianism.
Characteristically, Dick does not resolve the conflict between Betty and Paul over The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. He leaves the question for the reader—the individual perceiver (the base unit in Dick's view of the universe)—to answer, just as he would have liked them to do with his own book, claiming, as he later did, that The Man in the High Castle "was not published as science fiction" (Rickman, In His Own Words 151).
Paul and Betty, though Japanese, have American names and speak English as often as possible, though in a somewhat telegraphic style. Some of the American characters, perhaps in imitation of their conquerors, also use this style, their adopted speech pattern becoming yet another "fake" in the long series within the book.
The twinning of the "real" and "fictional" novel, so obvious throughout The Man in the High Castle and reinforced by Dick's later comments, makes consideration of the final "Inner Truth" presented by the I Ching extremely difficult. When we, as readers, approach this "revelation," we have been made aware that at least two levels of "truth" are operating, one being a function of the world of The Man in the High Castle and the other being external, concerning The Man in the High Castle and its readers. "Inner Truth," then, lies within which? What? Where?
The idea behind use of the I Ching for consultation is that the tosses of coins or choices of yarrow stalks are somehow controlled by something other than chance—but with chance itself as an important aspect of that something. Some force is willing to involve itself in the results of the coin tosses or yarrow-stalk countings that lead to each reading, allowing us, then, to use those readings as a medium for discovery.
According to Carl Jung, the developer of the I Ching:
was convinced that the hexagram worked out in a certain moment coincided with the latter in quality no less than in time. To him the hexagram was the exponent of the moment in which it was cast—even more so than the hours of the clock or the divisions of the calendar could be—inasmuch as the hexagram was understood to be an indicator of the essential situation prevailing in the moment of its origin. (Jung, xxiv)
The force, then, is the nature of the moment and not some external actor.
Any results of any I Ching coin throws are as open to various interpretation as there are various moments. Ambiguity is the heart and soul of the book, for meaning arises only out of the specific situation.
The value of the I Ching lies in nothing more than belief and recognition of relationships—where the value of any reality sits, to Dick. The thing-in-itself has no value beyond its utilization.
When the I Ching is considered as a part of a fictional world, other factors begin to operate, especially when the author has made the readers significantly aware of the fiction of the situation they are "witnessing."
Within The Man in the High Castle, the I Ching functions on a level quite different from its place in our own world. Within the novel, its messages are controlled by the author, not by the moment, the action of the throw. We know this with a certainty never attained in any uses of the I Ching we might make ourselves. When reading the novel, we see the I Ching as a mask, a semblence of 'chance,' a fraud perpetrated by the author to further the ends of the book; in our own lives, we might take it differently.
Relative to their own world, however, the characters of The Man in the High Castle have exactly the faith we might have in the I Ching in our own lives. They may accept it, but its proofs are no more provided for the characters than they are for us.
The things the I Ching "tells"—even in The Man in the High Castle—are always ambiguous, open to interpretation. The act of finding the "Inner Truth" through any I Ching method of interpretation takes place within the interpreter, not within the message itself. "Inner Truth," then, lies within the person, not the work.
Still, even a fake, a fiction, can have more validity in our lives than what we assume are the truths of our perceptions. Though not a particularly startling statement and certainly not original, this is part of the core of Dick's view on both fiction and the world he inhabited. Rather than trying to tell us something new, Dick attempts to make us feel the weaknesses of our personal assumptions about the world we live in, about the "real."
Having forced us to recognize the parallels between his novel and Abendsen's, Dick asks us to find parallels between our lives and those of the characters who think they are told their world is not real. They, after all, have no more sufficient reason than we might for making that assumption.
Dick particularly liked to present "fakes." Among them prophets and leaders who cannot fulfill their prophecies and promises for the future. They are the ones who pose the greatest threat to the rest of us, who would merely want lead lives responsive to those around us.
As in The Man in the High Castle, however, Dick's immediate interest often lies less in failures and fakeries than in the parallels he provides with the world he shared with his readers. Even frauds provide something of interest, some lesson. An "unreal" book can contain something of reality. A "fake" leader may end up Christ-like in some of his aspects, though Hitleresque in others. The demagogue Jones, for example, in The World Jones Made eventually even arranges his own assassination, hoping it will lead to growth of the movement he has begun. It does. Though he was an admitted fraud, the results of what he does are far from fraudulent.
Abendsen, something of Dick's alter-ego in The Man in the High Castle, is another of these leaders, though a more honest one than Jones. A writer, his readers perceive him as a savior, though he personally knows he can save no one and rejects the temptations of temporal power. Even the image he presents of himself through the publicity surrounding his book is fraudulent. It is claimed that he lives in a mountain castle, protected against any attack. Instead, when Juliana arrives at her goal, she finds the house a common one, in a suburban neighborhood:
The Abendsen house was lit up and she could hear music and voices. It was a single-story stucco house with many shrubs and a good deal of garden made up mostly of climbing roses. As she started up the flagstone path she though, Can I actually be there? Is this the High Castle? What about the rumors and stories? The house was ordinary, well maintained and the grounds tended. There was even a child's tricycle parked in the long cement driveway. (240; ch. 15)
Abendsen turns out to be an ordinary man, unusual only in that he understands the limits of his own perceptions. He cannot, therefore, presume the prescience necessary for directing others. Though "the man in the high castle," he is nothing more than a man, like any other.
The choice of the title The Man in the High Castle is another deliberate attempt at misdirection. In correspondence with Patricia Warrick, Dick said:
When the Protestant Elector Palatine, Frederick, revolted against Ferdinant, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the High Castle came to symbolize the center of religious and political freedom against the autocratic Catholic Hapsburgs. I used the mention of it in the title of my novel as a symbol of Abendsen's 'revolt' against the tyranny of the Nazis. . . . (Warrick, Mind in Motion 58)
Through this historical connection—one not noticed by anyone in the novel—Abendsen's "revolt" is again connected to the world of the reader. We, and not the characters, are expected to make the connection. And a further one:
Various lofty and beautiful castles. . . were taken over by the SS and used as places to train young SS men into an elite body cut off from the "ordinary" world. . . . You can seen, then, that the two castles are bipolarized in the book: the legendary High Castle of Protestant freedom and resistance in the Thirty Year War versus the evil castle system of the elite youth corps of the SS. (Warrick, Mind in Motion 58)
Abendsen could go either way. He could be the protector of freedom or its destroyer. As "the man in the high castle," he has responsibilities of control—of the world he created, if nothing else. He faces the responsibility of the writer in his own world, though that is something he does not want to face—witness his anger when Juliana gives her interpretation of the I Ching's "Inner Truth."
Abendsen is not a unique character in Dick's fiction. Though, as a character, he is an ordinary man in an average environment, his profession leads him into direct involvement with the ways other characters see the world. With the masks they wear, with their understanding of the masks worn by others. Other characters want Abendsen to be a leader, with implied rejection of the egalitarian role he favors, replacing it with one in which he tells what is best. He cannot accept that. Like Dick. his creator, he finds such roles uncomfortable.
Abendsen has no impact on the world he lives in beyond those people who come in contact directly with him and the obvious limited impact of his novel. He is a "little" person, not a world-shaker. And he wants to remain that. No other role would allow him to continue his life as he would lead it.
Though saviors, or "players"—or "big protagonists," often appear in Dick's fiction, Dick, as he does in The Man in the High Castle, most often shows problems of perception and the fake, the mask, in terms of the little, everyday person. You or me. Only we can maintain the personal and egalitarian relationships with others that Dick held so dear. Abendsen realizes this in his own world, making him one of Dick's most important characters in terms of "our" world—a rare triumph.
In "Precious Artifact," a short story from 1964, the few remaining Terrans are used by Centaurans to complete reconstruction of a planet for Centauran habitation. A war between the two planets has been lost by Earth.
The Earthmen "reconstruction engineers have been led to believe that Earth has won the war, that they are changing Mars, where they work, for Earth emigration. They live in a "reality" composed within their own imaginations, along with careful "helps" from the Centaurans.
The Terran the story centers upon suspects the truth of the situation, but cannot face it squarely. As a result, the Centaurans are able to lull him back into complacency by using a supposed remnant of Earth, a cat—one constructed, but one he believes is real. It appears to him as a touchstone to his old world. Through contact with the "cat," he manages to continue on with his work.
The Centaurans have defeated Earth—and, through that process, have destroyed it (just as Earth nearly destroyed Centaurus)—but they hold no serious animosity toward the few remaining Earthmen and hold no evil design in their utilization of them. In fact, they have need of the Earthmen, must utilize their Earth talents if they, themselves, are to survive. Their attitude is a far cry from that of the Nazis in The Man in the High Castle, even though the results of many of their actions are similar (the Nazis have destroyed Africa as completely as the Centaurans destroyed Earth). Whatever the past may have been, they have something of a friendly design toward the Earthmen. Unfortunately, the Earthmen could never approach them on such a plain, having lived too long with the idea of the Centaurans as enemy.
Though he has more sympathy with the Centaurans than he does with his Nazis, Dick's refusal to accept any "use" (through deception as much as through coercion) of another keeps us readers from seeing the situation of "Precious Artifact" as anything but tragic for all concerned, even though the purpose of the Centaurans', given their present situation, is benign. Even a positive desire can lead to manipulation; no one, after all, acts from simple motives.
Not surprisingly, none of the Japanese or Germans who appear as characters in The Man in the High Castle are portrayed as completely evil people. Even the Nazi assassin whom Juliana kills is allowed to die with dignity, though horribly.
Living and working in Colorado, Juliana comes into intimate contact with the supposed Italian truck driver Joe Cinnadella, as he calls himself. The two of them decide to drive to see Abendsen, the author of the book fascinating both of them. Once they get to a hotel in Denver, however, the Italian allows Juliana to see him without his mask: as a Nazi assassin, one sent to kill Abendsen—not even an Italian at all, but a blonde German in disguise. In a something of a stupor, Juliana slits his throat with a razor blade:
Whisk. "It is awful," she said. "They violate. I ought to know." Ready for purse snatcher; the various night prowlers, I certainly can handle. Where had this one gone? Slapping his neck, doing a dance. "Let me by," she said. "Don't bar my way unless you want a lesson. However, only women." Holding the blade she went on opening the door. Joe sat on the floor, hand pressed against the side of his throat. (204; ch. 13)
In this, probably the most emotionally awful scene in all of Dick, a man who has pretended to be something else, who has worn a mask, dies for what he has done. The dying assassin calmly asks Juliana for mercy, for a doctor. "'Maybe I can tell them at the desk,' she said." (205; ch. 13) She does not. Caught up in belief in the author they sought, she cannot react in a humane manner.
The use of the telegraphic speaking style of the Japanese in the novel, both by Juliana and by the narrative voice giving her thoughts, provides an understatement to this passage, making it all the more gruesome. The simplicity of the words, as of the act itself, provides a remove from consideration of implication. As she cannot afford to think about what she is doing, Juliana chooses a language model that precludes serious thought. She uses what is, essentially, a fake in order to retain her sanity.
The Man in the High Castle was not Dick's first attempt to deal with questions of reality and the fake. In fact, even Dick's first sale, "Roog," centers on vagaries of perception, presenting garbagemen who appear to the dog of the story as aliens, and "The Little Movement," another very early story, shows toys not toys at all but either potential usurpers of power in the world the children live in—or protectors of the status quo.
Dick frequently attempts to make unusual perceptions of reality palatable to those of us who accept—and live with—the "common," or mundane, reality. Not only is he interested in perception, but in convincing people that the reality of each is not the unique and sole reality of the world—realization of which, he hoped, would lead people to abandon all other attempts at leadership for mutual consideration—even in their personal lives.
In one of his early "realist" novels, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (published in 1984, but written in 1960), Dick, not surprisingly, makes much the same point about perception and the fake as he does in The Man in the High Castle, written about the same time. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Dick presents one Walt Dombrosio, who plays a malicious practical joke on his neighbor. Walt, a commercial artist, devises a hoax akin to that of the Piltdown Man. He plants, on his neighbor's property, a skull he has altered.
The skull Walt has "faked" eventually proves important in its own right. Thereby, Dick moves the novel beyond the mere presentation of a hoax, taking it even beyond discussion of the power problems inherent in marriage, the novel's other ostensibly primary theme. The novel becomes an exploration of "real" versus "fake"—in marriage relationships, surely, but in anthropology and suburban life in general, as well.
On its surface, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike concerns the events and people surrounding a practical joke. Its multi-focus narrative is broken up amongst the following characters, with a few minor exceptions: Leo Runcible, a Jew, a real-estate broker who is trying to "improve" the rural Marin County, California area he has moved into, yet who, because of his faith, is not accepted into the community; Janet Runcible, Leo's rather feeble and alcoholic wife; Walt Dombrosio, a commercial artist who lives in the house below the Runcible's; and Sherry Dombrosio, who tries to force her husband into dominating her—and succeeds.
The power roles of the characters of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike do not fall as easily into categories as they do in Confessions of a Crap Artist, written just a little time before. Yet, Leo's primary act in the novel is as punitive as anything Charley does in the earlier novel.
Walt brings a black man home to dinner. A guest of the Runcible's, one who might buy a house in the area through Leo, sees the black man, and asks Leo if there are any of "them" living in Carquinez, their town. Leo admits that there are none, but explodes at his friend, calling him a racist and, by inference, an anti-Semite.
After kicking the man out of his house, Leo turns his wrath on Walt, who he sees as having caused the argument by unthinkingly bringing a black into Carquinez—almost a paranoid response. It is Walt who, to Leo, has caused the loss of his sale. Angry and impotent, Leo cannot see that he is being as racist as his guest was when he is angry at Walt for inviting a black to dinner.
Insecure and unable to examine himself, Leo has become unable to see beyond the masks he has helped place on the world around him. He never understands the results his action brings.
Dombrosio, because of the troubles he is having with his wife, and because an irate phone call from Runcible about the dinner guest has upset him, stops off at a bar on his way home from work in San Francisco a day or so later. He has a few too many, and tries to drive home. Runcible, recognizing Walt's sports car when he sees it careen into a ditch—where it gets stuck—calls the state police, feeling he is giving Walt his just desserts. Punishing him for an action Dombroisio would never be able connect with his loss of license.
Having lost his license, Walt is forced into further dependence on his wife, who must now transport him to and from work. She uses the opportunity to belittle him further, or so he feels, by applying for a job with his own company, to give her something to do while in town. When his boss offers Sherry the job, Walt, reacting as much to Sherry's abuse of him as to any desire to hurt, or punish his boss, punches him, losing his own job, winding up staying at home while Sherry works.
Janet, drunk one afternoon some while later, lets it slip to Walt that it was her husband who had called the police when Walt was drunk and in the ditch. Walt then concocts his elaborate practical joke, to get back at Leo.
He finds a deformed, Neanderthal-like skull with undifferentiated teeth, alters it, and plants it on the Runcible property. After all, his job as a commercial artist had been to make models that could not be distinguished from the real thing. When found, the skull will appear to be that of a Neanderthal man and Leo, Walt hopes, will call in the media to try to capitalize on what has been found. Walt seeds his own property with artifacts that will seem to have been washed down from Runcible's—when found by the men digging a new septic line for the Dombrosio's.
Runcible, ever the salesman (yet he does have the good of the community always in mind—even though he is often ostracized for being the lone Jew in the area), finds the skull, and touts it. The other "artifacts" are then found. After a good deal of publicity, the initial skull is proven a fake. But Leo will not let go of it. It must be important, even if not really that of a Neanderthal. It has to be, or his view of himself will be destroyed.
And so it proves. Like Dick himself, Leo cannot believe in one simple explanation—especially when he has put so much credence in another. So, Leo continues to pursue the possibilities the skull represents.
As in A Scanner Darkly, there is no one character in this book that the reader can identify with. In Confessions of a Crap Artist, Jack transcends his personal limitations; in The Man in the High Castle four rather minor humans rise above themselves at least once in their lives. No one in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, on the other hand, does anything better than could be expected of them. Often, they do worse. Yet all four of the major characters are finally presented sympathetically, though all are treated severely when seen through the eyes of the others—for The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike has the fragmented narrative presentation found in Confessions of a Crap Artist and The Man in the High Castle.
Nothing significant is accomplished during the action of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. The only sense of closure given at the end of the novel is contained in the knowledge that the specific sequence of events is over. All four characters remain as they were—except for Sherry, who is now trapped by pregnancy.
This is no novel of beginnings and endings, or of growth. It is a tale of situations. And situations, not individuals, are the victors. Because of this, the novel might be called "dull," as Kim Stanley Robinson calls all of Dick's non-science fiction novels of the fifties. But it is not. Characterization is the strong point of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. The people within are fully actualized, detailed and individual. They interest us, the readers. They are all a bit confusing and confused, as real people are, and are as contradictory.
Leo dreams of getting farmers to support (with money) the construction of a new and safe water system. They do not. But Leo goes ahead anyway, risking all he has in a dubious venture, one that has no possibility of making him rich, even if it succeeds. He does it only because he genuinely cares to see that the community has good water (if it does, he will sell more houses, certainly, but the gain from that will likely never offset his losses). He may do stupid things, like calling the police because he blames Walt for the loss of a sale, but, as Dick tries to demonstrate so often in his fiction, everyone does something stupid, sometime.
By the end of the novel, each couple is blaming the other couple for its troubles—not the partner, who is just as culpable. Each pair has built the other into a straw man, a focus for blame and, thereby, a fake. Only Walt, who after raping his wife, has refused to allow her an abortion, ever realizes this.
Though Walt draws most reader sympathy throughout the bulk of the book, his act of rape turns us quickly away from him—even though Sherry may have been demanding just this sort of action, to force him to re-establish the dominance she loathes but demands. Still, we can understand what it is Walt learns through his ill-thought attempt to escape domination himself. That is, that we all make up our own realities. Walt's wife blames Leo for her pregnancy and, perhaps, for the rape. She certainly does not blame her husband. Everyone tries to find an appropriate scapegoat, someone to blame for the bad things that have happened to them. For Sherry, for various reasons, this cannot be Walt. So another is found. Walt, finally, understands this.
As in many Dick novels, as in "Precious Artifact" where the artificial cat allows an individual to continue to exist and work for the good of someone else, at least, the fakes presented in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike turn out to have a truth of their own. Walt, with an eye toward verisimilitude, has looked through abandoned graveyards for a skull that resembles a Neanderthal in order to perpetuate his hoax. He finds one. The men who expose the hoax, however, turn out to be legitimately interested in this skull's deformed jaw. It turns out that there is a backwater community nearby where such a jaw formation is not unusual—perhaps because of bad drinking water. A significant discovery.
"Things are seldom what they seem,/Skim milk masquerades as cream." These lines, from Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, were among Dick's favorites. Perception, as he saw it, is not reality. Also, traditional ideas of causality do not necessarily hold. A fake may become "real," may turn out to have its own intrinsic value, as the skull does in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. As skim milk most certainly does. Single explanations, of course, rarely suffice for Dick.
By the time of composition of The Man in the High Castle, certainly, Dick was aware that the common idea of "fake," with its overtones of "valueless," has very little validity. Something that is not the thing it seems can be just as effective an instrument towards its user's end as the thing it replaces.
In many cases, the distinction between the "real" and the "fake" is only a convenience, a way for establishing a hierarchy. Neither idea has meaning intrinsic to the objects they are applied to. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Dick shows how a clever fake can be as illuminating and valuable as the "real" article might have been, though in a different manner.
The lie proving "real," demonstrating the possible varieties of perception, was a part of Dick's fiction from his earliest days as a short story writer. In "Impostor," from 1953, Dick's Spence Olham discovers that the authorities suspect he is a replacement for the "real" Spence Olham, that he is a bomb sent by aliens to destroy Earth. He knows he is not. The story follows his desperate attempt to survive and to prove the authorities mistaken. Yet it turns out they are not. Olham's perception, while real to him, had no validity beyond him. For he is, "really," a bomb.
By the same token, in The Man in the High Castle, Nobusuke Tagomi kills several German agents with what might well be a "fake" Colt 44.
By the end of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Walt has come to recognize the limitations of human perception and the importance of belief, even belief in a "fake." Walt recognizes this not so much in terms of the skull (he is merely bitter that his neighbor Runcible's name will be associated with the find), but sees it through his wife's world-view:
I see, he thought. I see how the reasoning goes. How she makes it work. Terrific. It's possible to do anything with people, facts and events; they can be reshaped, the way I reshape wet plastic in the workshop. Form is imprinted on them, through very forceful ways. (210; ch. 18)
Dick underscores the relationship between Dombrosio's revelation and fiction itself soon after this passage. Walt imagines a future in which his son has been born with a "chupper" (Neanderthal-like) jaw—the same type of jaw he had used in creating the "fake" planted on Runcible's property. It is, Walt imagines, five years later, and he and Sherry are taking their son to a special school. Dick's description of this vision is particularly vivid, right down to clothes worn and to the personality of the teacher at the school. Yet Walt clearly only imagines the situation.
In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Dick tries to explain how it can come about that certain "fakes" have a "real" element:
When a stamp forger wants to counterfeit a valuable old stamp he gets another issue of the same period, on the same paper, old paper. He only fakes the inked part. His paper stands up under the test. (154; ch. 13)
This makes possible the "real" behind Walt's faked skull. It is not old enough to be Neanderthal, and he knows that, but Walt, the careful forger, has had enough sense to pick a skull with Neanderthal features. Thus, his joke can later turn "real," when people rather similar to Neanderthals are discovered in the area near the graveyard where Walt found the skull.
Much Western thought long hinged itself on single explanations, on Occam's razor (the simplest of possible explanations is most probably the actual). And on the idea that cause is exclusive. Not for Dick, though, just as it is not true for modern science. Kim Stanley Robinson, in correspondence with me, said that Dick's 1974 mystical experience was probably really a minor stroke. I wrote back and said that it may have been that. But it may have been something else, as well. A stroke may be combined with a genuine vision of God. Why not? That, at least, is what Dick might have asked. Economy, he believed, does not equal truth. Characters Phil Dick and Nick Brady discuss this question in Radio Free Albemuth (published in 1985, but written in 1976):
One had to draw the line of common sense somewhere. Using Occam's Principle of Scientific Parsimony, the simplest theory was mine. One did not need to drag in another, more powerful mind.
However, Nicholas did not view it that way. "It's not a question of which theory is more economical; it's a question of what's true. . . . " (28; ch. 5)
Character Phil eventually learns that Nicholas is right. Common sense operates only so far; Occam's Razor no longer operates on an exclusionary principle. Two causes, each self-sufficient and even apparently exclusionary, might both be real or complementary causes. Just as a good fake must be constructed with as many "real" elements as possible, so might a mystical experience.
Another way of looking at such situations also appears in Radio Free Albemuth, when a beam of pink light provides Nick information that leads to a life-saving operation on his son:
"They transferred information to my head," Nicholas said, "but they didn't heal Johnny. They just—"
"They healed him," I said. Getting him to the doctor and calling the doctor's attention to the birth defect was healing him. Why exert supernatural powers when natural curative means lay at hand? I remembered something the Buddha said after he witnessed a supposed saint walk on water: "For a penny," the Buddha said, "I can board a ferry and do that." It was more practical, even for the Buddha, to cross the water normally. The normal and the supranormal were not antagonistic realms, after all. (39; ch. 7)
Just, so, whoever presented Dick with the mystical vision that accompanied the slight stroke (if it were, in fact, both things) may have found it simpler to use the "normal" event to present the "supranormal."
By placing a character Phil Dick in his novels, Dick asks his readers to blur the line between fiction and life and to imagine that the world of the fiction, of the "fake," has as much validity as the world of experience. While this is no innovation, Dick adds an unusual twist. Dick has no desire to reflect the world, to present a fake so close to the real that something of the real can be learned, or experienced, from it. Instead, he wants to present something distinct from the experiential world, but that can also teach about it.
Having previously rejected the certainty of commonality of experience, Dick presents the character Phil Dick—a character closely tied to a real person—in worlds that cannot claim a close relationship with the "real." By doing so, he tries to move any impression of "reality" the reader may be building away from the landscape of the novel and to the experiences of the character. Thereby, Dick hopes to build reader understanding that the "reality" of any experiential situation differs with the individual perceptor.
In The Man in the High Castle, Dick devalues the intrinsic values of objects. Wyndham-Matson, one of the minor narrative foci of the novel, shows two cigarette lighters to a lover, telling her only one has something called "historicity":
"Don't you feel it?" he kidded her. "The historicity?"
She said, "What is historicity?"
"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. . . ." (63; ch. 5)
A rather remarkable passage. Not only was FDR never assassinated (in our world, that is), but Wyndham-Matson is a manufacturer of items that seem real, but are not. He makes his living through objects lacking "historicity." Yet, to do so, he must have a clear understanding of just what "historicity" is. So, he keeps the lighter, and a verifying certificate from the Smithsonian, to remind him and to make a point about reality: the only way we know that one lighter is important is through a piece of paper, a kind of mask, one of no more intrinsic value than a novel, also something of paper. Nothing in the "real" item itself makes it more important than the other lighter.
Yet, though probably one of Wyndham-Matson's "fakes," the gun Tagomi uses to kill works as well as an original would have. As effectively as any original would be. The men shot are just as dead.
What, then, is the difference between the real thing and the fake masquerading as real? It seems to be little. Yet it can be crucial, as it is in "Impostor" and in "War Veteran," where a fake war veteran from the "future" convinces Earth authorities to avoid a war with Venus (another example of Dick turning things around, making what he often presents as dangerous seem benign to some degree). In these cases, the fake proves more important than the real ever could be.
Having decided that the world he lived in was no more real than the worlds of the novels he wrote (at one point, he claimed all time, since the first century to be an illusion), Dick, by the time of Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS, apparently felt it necessary to make his fiction a tool for convincing others that worlds are only real to those who live in them. By presenting Phil Dick in fictional worlds, he may have thought he was doing so. The world, he was saying, is not nearly as important as the way the individual approaches it.
At the end of The Man in the High Castle, the distinction between the real and that which is not, but which functions in a similar way (or has, as in the case of the skull in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, its own historicity, though not that expected), is brought to a head by the I Ching message telling Juliana Frink that the way she sees the world is not the "real" way. She has no certificate of "reality" to assure her that her reading of the I Ching is wrong. And, even in the world she lives in, the "rightness" of the I Ching may have nothing to do with her particular life. All she can return to is herself.
After all, the I Ching, so well regarded by so many characters of the novel, never helps any of the characters. The messages it gives are ambiguous, even the final one. Just as they may have been to Dick, if he, as he sometimes said, actually did use the I Ching to write the novel (which, as I have said, I doubt).
Whatever the messages Dick may have read through the I Ching, Dick still had to make the decisions about his novel. The ones he made reflect his own desires and system of belief. The characters in The Man in the High Castle also use I Ching messages to reinforce what they have already felt as appropriate courses. Possibly, it would not matter what I Ching reading were found in each instance within the book but the last. And that may not even matter, in the end. Juliana Frink and Hawthorne Abendsen react to it in different manners. The likelihood of their becoming allies is remote.
Early in Radio Free Albemuth, Nick Brady, because of a voice that he hears in his head, moves to Orange County from his life-long home in Berkeley. At this point in the novel, the voice has not been established as either "real" or "fake." The impact of the voice, however, is quite apparent, as the character Phil Dick, who narrates this first part of the novel, tells us:
Because of an imaginary voice, Nicholas had become a whole person, rather than the partial person he had been in Berkeley. If he had remained in Berkeley he would have lived and died a partial person, never knowing completeness. What sort of an imaginary voice is that? I asked myself, Suppose Columbus had heard an imaginary voice telling him to sail west. And because of it he had discovered the New World and changed human history. . . . We would be hard put to defend the use of the term "imaginary" then, for that voice, since the consequences of its speaking came to affect us all. Which would have greater reality, an "imaginary" voice telling him to sail west, or a "real" voice telling him the idea was hopeless? (35; ch. 6)
If reality exists, thought Dick, it exists in action, not in the fact of perception. This "fact" shows itself in many of Dick's novels, particularly in Ubik, in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, and VALIS, but in others, as well as in many of his short stories. The distinction, ultimately, between "real" and "fictive" fades to unimportance. What matters, instead, are personal relationships. This is the point, and the condemnation of the characters in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. This is also the success of, and the success of four characters in, The Man in the High Castle. And is the reason for inclusion of a character named "Phil Dick" in the two later novels.
Dick believed that no individuals or objects can be intrinsically known. We can deal only in whatever relationships we perceive—not in absolutes. It does not even matter if "we" are real—we can, after all, do nothing about it, if we are not. Our interests and our salvation lie in our relationships with people and things perceived around us—not in what we perceive itself. Because those relationships constitute all we can really know (or, more importantly and "actually," can deal with), we have a responsibility to realize whatever potential lies within. This responsibility is the caritas that became so important a concept to Dick during the last decade of his life.
Unfortunately, however, not everyone takes this responsibility seriously. Some, through misguided idealism or muddled thought—or through greed and lust for power—abuse interpersonal relationships. They become the people who make the lives of those around them miserable, and so become miserable themselves.