The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Two Lighters (Symbol)

Eager to show Rita that historicity means nothing, Wyndam-Matson shows her two Zippo lighters, one of which was in the pocket of FDR when he was assassinated and one of which was not. There is no way to tell, simply by looking, which object has the connection to such a major historical event. "'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. There's no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it'" (pg. 63).

Wyndham-Matson asserts that historicity is in the eye of the beholder, and not a quality possessed by any particular object. This symbol introduces the problem of authenticity: how do we tell what is real? As with these two lighters, it is impossible to tell what is real or fake throughout the story. Baynes and Frank were both Jewish, but had surgery to alter their appearance; a book that describes the victory of the Allied forces is derided as folly.

The I Ching (Motif)

In addition to its use by numerous characters in the novel, the I Ching is also an important symbol for the conflict between fascism (Nazi ideology) and Taoism in the novel. Whereas the Nazis (the primary antagonists in the book) seek to shape history, the I Ching advocates a more passive route: one should respond to hints from the universe and seek to shape one's actions to the way of nature. Whereas fascism advocates excessive action, the I Ching supports reflection: one tries to act in accordance with the Tao, the flow of energy in the universe, rather than according to a static ideology. Significantly, the I Ching's predictions always come true.

Edfrank Jewelry (Symbol)

Frank Frink and Ed McCarthy give up their day jobs making imitation historical pistols in Wyndam-Matson's factory in order to create their own original jewelry line. Robert Childan eventually shifts to supporting these original designs as a way to showcase the creativity of white American artists. In form, the jewelry does not resemble anything in particular, being composed of "blobs" and "whorls"; it is wholly original. Rather than imitating something else, it is entirely new. Edfrank Jewelry represents authenticity, pointing away from imitation and developing its own path. Perhaps this is why Paul Kasouras says it contains wu, a special spiritual quality that brings it close to the Tao.

The Handguns (Motif)

At Wyndam-Matson's factory, it is Frank's job to make reproduction Civil War pistols, which vendors like Childan sell to Japanese collectors at high prices. These handguns are well made, and it takes an expert to discern that they are in fact inauthentic. However, one of the handguns has a very real impact when Tagomi uses it to shoot the German operatives who come for Baynes.

Though we might define the handguns as fake or inauthentic because they are not the genuine historical artifacts that they are purported to be, they still do what a handgun is meant to do: shoot people. Even something that isn't real has very real effects.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (Motif)

Author Hawthorne Abendsen has written a novel describing how the world would be if the Allies had won. Though this is the state of affairs in our own world, the way that it happens in the novel, as well as its impacts on world politics, is not quite the same. For example, in our world, FDR was not assassinated and Britain is not a major world power.

During her visit to Abendsen's home, Juliana discovers that he based every aspect of the novel on consultation with the I Ching - the oracle effectively wrote the book. She asks the I Ching why it did this thing, and discovers that the answer has to do with "Inner Truth": Germany and Japan in fact lost the war, as they did in our world.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy functions as an act of protest in the world of The Man in the High Castle; many of the characters are divided on their opinions about the novel. However, the fact that this fictional work might reveal inner truth also makes the reader question the Man in the High Castle: could it be that this novel reveals inner truth as well?