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The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle (1962) is an alternate history novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The book follows the events of World War II as if the Axis powers, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, had won the war. The book explores the political dynamics between the newly minted superpowers as they rule over the western hemisphere, particularly the United States.

Philip K. Dick: Author of The Man in the High Castle

the man in the high castle, portrait of Philip k dick, StudySmarterAuthor Philip K. Dick. Wikimedia Commons.

Philip K Dick was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 16, 1928. As a young child, his family moved to San Francisco, where he spent most of his formative years. Most of The Man in the High Castle story takes place in a futuristic San Francisco.

Dick was an imaginative and quiet child, and teachers noted his intelligence and inclination toward storytelling despite his average grades. In college, Dick took courses in history, psychology, philosophy, and zoology. Many of his novels incorporate related themes such as identity construction, perception and reality, and extraterrestrials. The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history and was inspired by his history studies.

The Man in the High Castle: The Book

Philip K. Dick was inspired by the alternate history book Bring the Jubilee (1953), which envisioned the Confederacy had won the American Civil War.

Alternate history is a literary genre that imagines a different and fantastical course of history.

He also read popular German history books for research. When he attended the University of California, Berkeley, he had access to Nazi war archives and conducted independent research. While Dick wrote more mainstream novels for nearly a decade, The Man in the High Castle was his first successful novel, earning him a Hugo Award.

In The Man in the High Castle, the failed assassination attempt of Franklin Delano Roosevelt is successful, triggering a series of unprecedented events. Without FDR’s leadership, the US remains anti-interventionist. The Allied Powers, led by Great Britain and Stalinist Russia, fail to defeat Nazi Germany in Europe. Imperial Japan expands its dominion over the pacific and colonizes the western United States, while Nazi Germany conquers the east.

Most of the novel’s events take place in a futuristic San Francisco, where politics unfold between representatives and spies of the two superpowers, Japan and Germany, with Americans caught in the middle. The Man in the High Castle explores the interconnectedness of the characters’ lives against the backdrop of world powers and their ability to control their lives versus the presumed rigidity of fate.1

The Man in the High Castle: Book Characters

Below is a list of main characters.

Robert Childan

Robert Childan is an antique shop owner who feels constantly disrespected as a white man in Japanese society. He dreams of returning to his higher position in the social hierarchy pre-World War II. He hopes to achieve this through the patronage of wealthy Japanese clients.

Frank Frink

Frank Frink is a skilled metal worker and craftsman who is secretly a Jew. He fantasizes about his ex-wife Juliana and is motivated by the thought of pleasing her. After being fired from his former job at Wyndham-Matson, he starts a jewelry business with Ed McCarthy.

Nobusuke Tagomi

Nobusuke Tagomi is a gentle government official that leads the Japanese Trade Commission and acts as a liaison between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. He comes to believe that the Nazi Germany elite is evil incarnate and must be stopped. He acts as the moral anchor of the story.

Juliana Frink

Juliana Frink is Frank Frink’s ex-wife, who teaches judo and resides in the neutral territory of the now colonized United States. Most men find her beautiful, and she is anxious around them. Her favorite book is The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate history novel that exists within the story. She is observant and one of the only characters who manages to control the direction of her life.

Paul and Betty Kasoura

Paul and Betty Kasoura are a young, wealthy Japanese couple who takes an interest in Robert Childan and his American artifacts shop.

Mr. Wyndham-Matson

Wyndham-Matson is Frank Frink’s former boss who owns the corporation of the same name. He is one of the most powerful white men in the Pacific United States. His business intentionally sells counterfeit American artifacts. He’s in league with the Nazis and sells out Frank Frink.

Baynes/ Rudolph Wegener

Baynes/ Rudolph Wegener is a German double agent and Nazi defector posing as a Swiss businessman. He wants to foil the Nazi plan to nuke the Japanese.

Joe Cinnadella

Joe Cinnadella is a Swiss Nazi assassin sent to kill Abendsen, the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. He poses as an Italian truck driver and seduces Juliana Frink.

Ed McCarthy

Ed McCarthy is a former coworker and partner in Edfrank jewelry.

Shinjiro Yatabe / General Tedeki

Shinjiro Yatabe / General Tedeki is a retired Japanese general that poses as a civilian retiree to avoid Nazi detection.

Hawthorne Abendsen

Hawthorne Abensen is the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a Nazi-banned book that speculates on the future if the Allied forces had won World War II.

The Man in the High Castle: Summary

The Allied forces, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, have lost World War II. Vying for dominance, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany fought a cold war over the territory of the United States. The Japanese-colonized portion of the United States is called the Pacific States of America (PSA). The Man in the High Castle starts fifteen years after the end of the war.

Robert Childan, a white citizen of the PSA, runs an antique shop specializing in pre-war memorabilia and artifacts that the Japanese heavily prize. White people live as secondary citizens, and Childan serves his wealthy Japanese customers, who value his trade and skill in finding rare American artifacts. Many of the artifacts he sells are counterfeits supplied by the Wyndham-Matson corporation, unbeknownst to Childan.

The man in the high castle, map from story, StudySmarterA map from the television series depicting the national boundaries in America. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nobusuke Tagomi, one of Childan’s regular customers and an important Japanese official, impatiently waits to meet Baynes, a Swiss plastics expert. Tagomi suspects Baynes is a German spy and hopes to learn sensitive information about Nazi Germany’s plans against the Japanese. Baynes refuses to meet Tagomi without the retiree Shinjiro Yatabe. After consulting the I-Ching, an ancient Chinese text for divination, Tagomi decides that the Nazis are a terrible evil and must be stopped.

Frank Frink is a metalworker who was recently fired from his Wyndham-Matson factory job. He was involved in making the counterfeits that are supplied to Childan. He’s secretly a Jew and wants to avoid detection by the Nazis. A coworker of his, Ed McCarthy, suggests they pool their skills and resources and open a jewelry business. To get start-up money, they blackmail Wyndham-Matson, threatening to reveal that the factory makes counterfeits of American artifacts. Wyndham-Matson complies by giving him the blackmail money but secretly reports Frink to the Nazis.

Juliana Frink, Frank’s ex-wife, teaches judo in the Rocky Mountain region, a somewhat neutral buffer between the PSA and the eastern United States owned and controlled by Nazi Germany. She has developed a love affair with Joe Cinnadella, a Swiss Nazi assassin posing as an Italian truck driver. They both are obsessed with the Nazi-banned book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a speculative historical fiction novel written by Hawthorne Abendsen. It details a world where the Allied forces won World War II. Joe suggests they take a road trip to where the author lives. Rumor has it he lives in a fortress because he’s wanted by the Nazis and is referred to as “the man in the high castle.”

The man in the high castle, allied war propaganda poster, StudySmarterNazis are a popular choice for antagonists in fiction as they're almost universally reviled. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Edfrank Jewelry, the business owned by Frink and McCarthy, isn’t doing as well as they hoped. One day a wealthy couple, the Kasouras, take an interest in one particular item. Childan has secured the original piece in collaboration with Edfrank Jewelry. Paul Kasoura suggests that Childan mass market the item, which he declines, feeling the process will cheapen it. They offer to do a private showing with Childan and decide to have dinner first. Ultimately they refuse to work with Childan due to his racist beliefs. Frink is apprehended by the Nazi secret police and imprisoned.

Tagomi finally meets with Baynes, the German double agent posing as a Swiss businessman, and Yatabe, the retired Japanese general. Baines and Yatabe reveal themselves to be Wegener and Tedeki, a German spy and defector and a retired Japanese general, respectively. Wegener tells Tagomi that the Nazis plan to drop a nuclear bomb on Japan. Two Nazi assassins suddenly burst in on the meeting, and Tagomi shoots them both with a decorative revolver he keeps in his desk drawer. The experience inspires him to challenge Nazi authority, and he defies orders to deport Frink.

Back in the Rockies region, Juliana has become more suspicious of Joe. She consults the I-Ching and realizes she is just an accessory to Joe’s plot to assassinate Abendsen. Overcome with grief, Juliana contemplates suicide but ultimately decides to murder Joe. She heads to Abendsen’s residence to warn him, only to learn he lives in a humble suburb. Abendsen had an epiphany and decided he couldn’t live his life in fear. She learns that he has been guided by the I-Ching as well. Juliana believes that there is an ultimate truth in Abendsen’s book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, alluding to historically accurate events that transpire after World War II.

The Man in the High Castle: Themes

The two most important themes in The Man in the High Castle are perception versus reality and destiny versus agency.

Perception Versus Reality

In The Man in the High Castle, most characters live a duality. The world has dramatically changed in their lifetime, and they have had to cultivate a public image. For some characters, this means a public persona that contrasts their private life. Childan has a shop where he sells American antiques and presents himself as a curator. Privately, he holds racist views and only wants to use the shop to improve his social standing with the Japanese.

Two characters, Baynes and Cinnadella, essentially work as double agents. Baynes poses as Robert Wegener, a Swiss plastics expert, while Cinnadella is an Italian assassin sympathetic to the Nazis. Even objects have a dual nature. Since the United States lost the war, American antiques have been highly valued. Yet, the large manufacturer, Wyndham-Matson, produces counterfeits that Childan sells. Edfrank jewelry attempts to sell original pieces unsuccessfully. Ironically, fake antiques have the highest demand and make the most money.

Destiny Versus Agency

There are larger forces at work throughout the novel, like the victorious Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that compel characters to believe they are powerless when, in actuality, they can change their lives. Abendsen’s alternative history novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, challenges the idea that history is fixed and unchangeable.

Many of the characters attempt to take control of their lives. Childan runs the antique shop hoping to earn favor with the Japanese and improve his social standing. Frank Frink opens his own jewelry business after being fired by Wyndham-Matson.

For some characters, key moments lead them to realize they have more agency than they previously thought. After protecting himself and Baynes from the Nazi assassins, Tagomi realizes he has the power to foil the Nazi’s plan to drop a bomb on Japan. Juliana likewise takes her life into her own hands when she learns of Joe Cinnadella’s duplicity and kills him.

The Man in the High Castle - Key takeaways

  • The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.
  • Dick was inspired by his history studies and research of the Nazi war archives at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • The story follows several characters as their personal lives intertwine against the backdrop of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany vying for world domination after they won World War II.
  • “The Man in the High Castle” refers to the character and author Hawthorne Abendsen who writes the fictional speculative novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which depicts the world if the Allied forces had won World War II.
  • Some key themes in The Man in the High Castle are perception versus reality and destiny versus agency.

1Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989).

Frequently Asked Questions about The Man in the High Castle

“The Man in the High Castle” refers to the author Hawthorne Abendsen, a character from the novel The Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle is not based on a true story. It is an alternate history fiction written by Philip K. Dick.

The meaning of the book The Man in the High Castle is the interconnectedness of the characters' lives against the backdrop of world powers, and their ability to control their lives versus the presumed rigidity of fate.

In The Man in the High Castle, Frank Frink is a Jewish man who starts his own jewelry business after he is fired from his previous job.

The Man in the High Castle explores several characters navigating their lives against the backdrop of Japanese and German superpowers vying for world domination.

Final The Man in the High Castle Quiz

Question

What is The Man in the High Castle about?



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The Man in the High Castle is about several characters navigating their lives against the backdrop of Japanese and German superpowers vying for world domination.

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When was The Man in the High Castle published?


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1962

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The Man in the High Castle depicts an alternate history to what major world event?


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World War II

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What is the key event that triggers the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle?

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The successful assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Who is Robert Childan?

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An antique shop owner who dreams of returning to his former social status before the Japanese colonized America.

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Who is Frank?


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Frank Frink is a Jewish man who starts his own jewelry business after he is fired from his previous job.

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Who is Tagomi?

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He is a representative of the Japanese Trade Comission

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Who is “The Man in the High Castle”?

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“The Man in the High Castle” refers to the author Hawthorne Abendsen

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Who is Juliana?

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Frank Frink's ex wife and judo teacher.

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How does Juliana prevent the assassination of Hawthorne Abendsen?

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She realizes that Joe Cinnadella is an assassin and kills him.

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Tagomi prevents the deportation of which character?

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Frank Frink

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Tagomi learns that Baynes is a

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spy and Nazi defector

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Nazi Germany has secret plans to

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drop a nuclear bomb on Japan

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Characters refer to which ancient Chinese text for guidance?

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I-Ching

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Hawthorne Abendsen turns out to actually live in

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a suburb

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