Themes it reflects outcomes of colonization, slavery and

Themes in The Man in the High Castle Phillip K. Dick’s alternative history novel The Man in the High Castle presents a complex work of several related plots, which are conveyed from various character perspectives. Set in 1962, the speculative work involves spies and antiques, Nazis and time travel. The novel is primarily focused on imagining a different outcome to World War II, one in which the Nazis were victorious, and resulting life within a context of totalitarianism. As is typical of Dick’s work, The Man in the High Castle also presents a multitude of complex themes. Specifically, in crafting his complex alternative history novel, Dick uses the themes of power, prejudice, social separations, art, and the unreliability of truth. Because The Man in the High Castle is focused on political outcomes following the Second World War, this text is also very much about power. Throughout the novel, one sees political planning and the desire to have control over others. One also sees the impact that power has on cultural dynamics, as in the colonization of the Americans by the Japanese, who fetishize American culture (Carter 333). In turn, the  American characters dye their hair and alter their appearances in order to appear more Japanese. Power is shown as causing individuals to desire to appear as something other than what they are or to adopt the trappings of another culture. While cultural sharing can enrich individuals’ lives, the appropriation of another culture or a need to assimilate can be limiting or harmful. Also, along with the theme of power comes the illustration that many characters are actually lacking in agency, illustrating problems with power. The power of capitalism is also critiqued through the character of Wyndam Marston, who as a businessman running a fake antiques business, is an antagonist in a novel in which all the other antagonists are Nazis. The novel can be understood to critique power and its impact on individuals. Another major theme in The Man in The High Castle is that of prejudice. Because the novel imagines a present in which the Nazis won World War II, it reflects outcomes of colonization, slavery and genocide. Timothy H. Evans notes that in the text, “Japanese-ruled California is marked by a rigid but complex system of social stratification, in which race, skin color, profession, economic status, dress, material possessions, language, and body language dictate subtleties of social interaction, which may be difficult to negotiate (white Americans, for example, agonize over when it is appropriate to bow and to whom)” (n.p.). Racial jokes appear throughout the text, and many characters hold racist views, such as Childan, one of the primary characters, who opines of the Japanese: “They are—let’s face it–Orientals. Yellow people” (Dick 24-25). Childan’s characterization of an entire group in an dismissive and demeaning way illustrates how many characters in the text perceive others through a negative focus on race. Dick powerfully illustrates how prejudice can dramatically impact one’s worldview and alter interpersonal relations. Dick also uses the theme of social separations to demonstrate the effects of power and prejudice, especially when paired. For example, throughout the novel, characters are divided from each other by social class, race, and gender. As discussed, Childan views Asians through a narrow and prejudicial view. Some characters are wealthy, whereas others, such as Frank Frink, are not. Gender also functions to divide characters, as when Juliana Frink is aware of her objectification by men (Dick 32). However, due to these divisions, characters are typically limited to their own perceptions. As Warrick notes, “No character has a viewpoint wide enough to see the whole picture” (174). This is a facet of human nature that is observable in many social contexts, including contemporary American society and that of 1962, this theme takes on a particular connotation within a context of Nazism and totalitarianism. Characters approach each other through a lens of otherness, which are directly correlated to the social divisions in the text. The theme of art in The Man in the High Castle is used to probe human values. Much criticism is in agreement that “the novel represents art as the world’s deep truth” (Rieder 214). Antiques, jewelry, and books are prominent in this text, taking on significant symbolic value beyond that normally attributed to such items. Art plays a role in the text by providing a means for individuals to navigate their environments, as well as function for such practical needs as income, but also in reflecting human interests and priorities. For example, Wyndam Marston’s successful business of fake antiques illustrates the value humans place on the past, and also demonstrates that it is a faulty value that does not have any reality beyond optimistic nostalgia; however due to the value attributed to this nostalgia, it has real-world consequences. Of this business, Frank Frink reflects, “Nobody was hurt—until the day of reckoning. And then everyone, equally, would be ruined” (Dick 49). It is the sentimental value attributed Art has a meaning and value far beyond the reality of an object or its aesthetic qualities; art has the ability to ruin lives. Finally, the unreliability of truth is another theme that is prominent throughout The Man in the High Castle. Throughout the text, characters pose as other characters and things are not as they seem. Dick does not seem to believe in a world where the truth can be attained, much less believed in; while art may represent truth, due to the forged nature of the antiques, the truth is unreliable. In addition to the forged antiques, Wegener pretends to be Baynes, and Joe even buys Juliana a fancy coat which is synthetic, which Huntington argues as being further evidence of Dick’s argument that authenticity is no longer possible (157).  To trust that something is true without independent investigation is to be misled. However, such investigation is not always practical to undertake, or even productive in a world without  sincerity, where truth does not have value. In this unusual and very complex work, Dick uses a variety of themes to connect his plots and to convey a world that could have been. Particularly, power, prejudice, social separations, art, and the unreliability of truth work in conjunction to give substance to the novel’s reality. These themes are particularly important because they connect strongly with real-world issues and are full of political significance. This novel illustrates the power of literature to reflect on the human condition and to broach weighty questions which are difficult to answer but which are also central to navigating social realities.