Questions: What role did the I Ching play in the novel’s composition and philosophical underpinning?
Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history novel where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II and occupied their conquered areas of the USA. To elaborate what is meant by alternate history, “it refers to the science fictional genre which dramatize one or more historical events” (Dictionary, 2019). That is why, under the genre of Alternate history, a perception and alternative take is focused on the text rather than the reality which took place in the annals of history. Furthermore, in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Mountfort (2018) argues that, “The Man in the High Castle is a formative example of parallel universes as a science-fiction device” (pg. 62). That is when the connection between Dick’s novel and the I Ching, an ancient Chinese fortune-telling text, is heavily influenced. Such relations discussed in this blog would be the important elements in Dick’s novel such as the novel’s composition and philosophical underpinnings.
The I Ching played a huge role in both the lives of the characters in the novel and with Philip K. Dick in the process of actually writing The Man in the High Castle. For that purposes, this could possibly be said that without the I Ching the story could not be proceeded. As a result, I Ching played a vital role in The Man in the High Castle’ s plot (Mountfort, 2016). To draw couple of examples regarding the the novel’s composition, both the author and his characters had consulted with the I Ching and asked the oracle several questions which ultimately has affected the story line and the narrative for Philip K. Dick’s novel. In the novel, Philip K. Dick consulted the oracle for inspiration and ideas for his novel; he asked about turning points in the novel and also asked questions about what should happen next to his characters and how those characters react to it and so forth. So, the I Ching was used by Dick to help develop his story in the novel also, The oracle is seen as an important aspect of the novel as it allows the readers to understand the characters more – because when those characters consult the oracle they can learn more about what is bothering or worrying them. Therefore, the I Ching is important in the sense that it “… introduces an element of chance…” in the novel and “…suggests that alternative possibilities always exist.” (Mountfort, 2016, pg 288). So, it is evident that the pure anatomy and makeup of The Man in the High Castle rely on the I Ching.
I Ching also played an extensive role in The Man in the High Castle’s philosophical underpinnings. The story itself gives readers an alternate reality as to who won the second World War (Nazi Germany and Japan) and everything else which occurred as a result of their victory (Mountfort, 2016). The philosophical elements which Philip K. Dick engages with are clearly underpinned with I Ching’s influences, for example, in reality it was the US and Russia who were locked in the Cold War corresponding to World War II in the twentieth century, but in Dick’s novel, it was Germany and Japan who were in a silent nuclear arms race. Interestingly, Germany was perceived for being more technologically advanced in the novel than the actual winning side of the World War II in reality. This notion of alternating the history was the answer Philip K. Dick was promoting. As a result, Saavedra (2015) questions the notion of psychological influences the novel was inspired as, “What is reality? Is there a real reality and a false reality? Can there truly be two realities? Philip K. Dick was enthusiastically answering these sorts of questions due to the extreme disturbance he was experiencing in his society. Not to mention the I Ching is woven into all of these circumstances, as a result of World War II. Finally, there are characters from different sides and affiliations in the novel who consult the I Ching’s philosophy.
In conclusion, through an alternate reality of the plot, The Man in the High Castle is also exploring different philosophical views which does alternate the focalization of the text.
Mountfort, P. (2018). Science fiction doubles: Technologization of the doppelganger and sinister science in serial science fiction TV. Journal of Science & Popular Culture, 1(1), pp.59-75. doi:10.1386/jspc.1.1.59_1.
Mountfort, P. (2016). The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Science Fiction Studies, 43(2), 287-309. Retrieved from: https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4926610-dt-content-rid 10490437_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Mountfort%202016_High%20Castle.pdf
Saavedra, J. (2015, November 19). Why The Man in the High Castle is Essential Science Fiction. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from