Intro and Thesis:
The Man in the High Castle, a book written by Phillip K. Dick, and later adapted to a TV series, shows the world as it would be if the Axis powers had won World War II. The setting is the former United States, now recolonized by Japan and Germany creating the Japanese Pacific States in the West, the Greater Nazi Reich in the East, and the Neutral Zone in the Rocky Mountain area. The book is told through a variety of characters point of views while the TV series focuses on a main protagonist, Juliana, who is the only female lead character. Although Juliana becomes somewhat of a hero in the end, I will argue that the differences in the portrayal of characters and their qualities create a strong example of gender bias and further the notions of women as subordinate or inferior. Additionally, there are many differences between the book and the TV series in regards to plot line and character development of Juliana that will be explored further and supplement my argument.
Alternate Reality/ Dystopian:
The dystopian genre has seen a new revival in modern media in recent times, however, The Man in the High Castle, being written in 1962, 17 years after WWII ended and in the midst of the Red Scare, was able to embody the uneasiness in the world. The article by Mark Fisher, describes dystopia as “precariousness is deliberately imposed on the poor as means of controlling and subduing them” (pg. 1), often with themes of political motives, that is a distorting mirror reflecting our own world (1). Alternate reality serves as a synonym for a parallel world, but what is most interesting about TMITHC, is that it serves as almost a mulituniverse world. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is an alternate reality to the alternate reality presented in the book and although it is not directly stated, both worlds seem to exist simultaneously.
The Japanese that controls the West and the Nazi Reich that controls the East of the former United States represent oppressing governing bodies who rule through fear and control over the former free citizens. The respective governing controllers have totalitarian like power over the former US citizens, which further enforce the societies they have created. The Japanese are depicted as being weaker than the military like Reich, and often consult the I Ching, an ancient book where the Oracle is able to speaker to the user and offer advice through hexagrams (pg. 12). Interestingly enough, many of the former United States citizens adopt some of the Japanese ways, including the I Ching. We see examples of this in the book where Frank consults the I Ching before starting a business with his friend Ed (pg. 51-52) and in the TV series when Juliana practices Aikido and buys traditional Japanese tea, much to the displeasure of her mother (episode 1). In the Reich, it is described as very militarized and trying to portray the “perfect society” by depicting the stereotypical white picket fence neighborhood where the women know their place in society is as housewives and birthers to Aryan children. The Reich leaders, all men, are shown as cruel and conniving to enforce control.
As with many narratives about people who are being oppressed, there are people who chose to believe in a better world. This is portrayed very differently in the book and the TV series. In the book, Abensden is an author who wrote a book called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” that shows an alternate reality of the Allies winning WWII and how the world would have been. In the TV series, “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” is the title for films that depict new reels of alternate realities of the main characters as well as the world where the allies won. This creates the plot line surrounding Juliana who seeks to find the truth.
Lens: Gender and Character Development
In both the book and the TV series, we see a consistent theme of gender roles where women are not very prominent in societies and are seen almost as inferior to their male counterparts. Juliana is the only female in the book and TV series that has a major role to play, and even with that, her role is very different in both. In the book, Juliana is seen almost as being at willfully ignorant in a sense. The men who meet her describe her as beautiful and mysterious further sexualizing the role of women that is often used in media. Juliana is not very aware of her surroundings and makes some questionable decisions throughout the book, which includes starting a sexual relationship with Joe Cinnadella, who displays some shifty characteristics (pg. 81). Then the two characters go on a road trip to meet The Man in the High Castle, the author Abendsen, which is a questionable impulse decision on Juliana’s part because she was already skeptical of Joe, but is excited and agrees when he says she can buy nice clothes and shoes and go out for a nice dinner (pg 145-148). At the end of their story in the book, Juliana kills Joe because she finds out he is a Nazi spy sent to kill Absenden and then goes off to meet The Man in the High Castle as though she has not just committed a crime (pg. 222-227).
Despite the somewhat blunt ending of the book and the quick transition of Juliana, we do see some of the most character development by her. She faces enlightenment after she kills “Joe” to save Abendsen taking on the oppressing establishment of Nazis even when she doesn’t fully understand (261- end). Her development furthers when she is actually able to speak with The Man in the High Castle to discuss the alternate reality he wrote about. It begs the questions, why is she so comfortable with the “truth” where even Abendsen and his wife, Caroline, are uncomfortable by her disruption? While I have no way to say for sure of her calmness in the face of the alternate reality, I do have some speculations. Firstly, is that she didn’t really fit in in the society to begin with and had that naivety and powerlessness about that led her to taking the impulse trip with Joe. Due to the fact that she didn’t have a place in society and very little stability, it is not as daunting to imagine this alternate world, because she had little ties to the one she was in now. The new alternate world would not turn her life to chaos and confusion like it would a higher up Japanese or Nazi official, as we see with Tagomi, it would simply be a possibility to Juliana. Again, this is something I am speculating and there are probably many different explanations that could be offered.
In the TV series, Juliana plays a character with much more depth and motivation and ends up joining the Resistance to uncover her sister’s murder by the Japanese police. She also plays the protagonist of the series, giving her a much more larger role, although she still falls victim to the gender stereotype of the woman caught in a love triangle. Juliana uses her power over Frank and Joe (the love triangle interests) to get them to do things that had negative repercussions for them. Joe omits certain information to his supervisor Obergrupen Smith in order to try and keep Juliana safe and Frank uses their escape money to save Joe from the Kempeitai. This is the very stereotypical a woman using her sexuality in order to get men to act in her favor.
Furthermore, despite the fact that she ends up saving herself in the end of the series, she is very much dependent on others to save her and continuously makes decisions by her emotions, rather than what logic and evidence is pointing to. Although she ends up being the hero in the book and TV series, as a viewer, I personally became annoyed with her being blind to the facts and the world going on around her, and often made decisions where she does not understand the repercussions of them on others around her. The creators of her plot line are furthering the gender stereotype of women not being able to make rational decisions, instead using emotion. Mary Celeste Kearney in her article on Gender and Media describe the phenomena of femininity as “civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediary between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine” (pg. 1).
Beyond just Juliana’s role, women in general are not seen in great light. In the book, there are not really any other women characters with plot impacting roles. There are no women who play authority positions in either the Pacific States or the Reich and the women that are discussed are not added in as anything more than a male characters wife. In the series, much of the same stereotypes persist, however we get to see them in more detail. In the Reich, the women’s role is to continue the pure race and birth healthy children. Juliana, referred to as Julie in the Reich, gets involved with the women social group and learns all about their duty to bear children and be the stereotypical doting housewife (season 2). They also do not have jobs and are able to elevate in status in society by who they marry. In the Pacific States, again women do not have any high authority jobs, and are even asked to give sexual favors to their male bosses as part of employment (episode 5). It is important to touch on the direct influence media has on women and our beliefs about ourselves. I touched on this concept in my Zine Project on Black, in the context of race, and about the importance of role models of people like “us” in which you find similarities with as someone to represent you in positive light. The ideas talked about above just perpetuate the idea of women whose role is to serve men and are not to leave their society-imposed box of what their duties are.
The picture on the left is of the women in the Reich who represent the doting housewives. The picture on the right is of the woman who agrees for employment in the exchange for sexual favors.
Moreover, technology is an interesting factor in the plot line. The world is described as having amazing technology – the ability to colonize Mars, supersonic jets that can travel the world very quickly (pg. 39), and in their perfection of weapons and colonization (or genocide) of the world (pg. 12). To contrast this, the technology is not made accessible to the average person and we see the further use of roteract phones, use of pedecabs, etc. This is used as a further method of control, leaving all the technology and its powers at the top.
Present Future Implications:
As a society, we are seeing a conscious movement, now just for equality of genders, but in all aspects. As with many movements meant to life the oppressed up, some oppressors would fight to keep things they way they are, or even we get those who are oppressed who do not believe they are. This has given life to the feminist movement, which is “a larger societal movement whose primary concern is women’s lack of equality with men” (Kearney, pg. 4) With The Man in the High Castle, it is interestingly enough that we see both sides of the gender portrayal of women. We see the empowered Juliana who ends up becoming the hero, and on the contrary, her character belittled with the inevitable love triangle plot line, and being seen as the overly emotional and non-rational decision maker. The present future implications of TMITHC, beyond the obvious of what could have been if the results of WWII were flipped, is the warning that comes with oppression. When a group of people are conquered and their way of lives are forced to be changed to adapt to the oppressors, there will never be a peaceful transition nor any period were people do not feel unrested. We see this now in present society in America on a smaller scale where some people believe that living in America, people need to adopt the “American way.” However, America was founded on the principles of the melting pot and diversity, yet we still see people resisting the inclusiveness and diversity that follows globalization and awareness.
Dick, Phillip. The Man in the High Castle, First Mariner Books,, published 1962, New York, New York
Fisher, Mark. “Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, In Time, and Never Let Me Go,” University of California Press, vol. 65, No. 4, https://blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3614226-dt-content-rid-59951222_1/courses/HUM409-01-Fall2017/Precarious%20Dystopias.pdf
Kearney, Mary. “Gender and Media,” 2011, pgs. 1-6, https://blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3717640-dt-content-rid-60472848_1/courses/HUM409-01-Fall2017/gender%20and%20media.pdf
The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Prime TV Series, 2015, season 1-2,