Final scene of
September 30, 2006 5:51 PM   Subscribe

In the final scene of the novel "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick....

is the fictional writer Abendsen actually living in OUR world?

Just finished this great book, and was wondering if others puzzled over the final scene as I did...

My reading is that Hawthorne Abendsen (author of "The Grasshopper lies heavy") and his wife Caroline are actually living in OUR world. Juliana Frink slips into their world (i.e. our world) from the fantasy world of the novel, in the same way that Mr. Tagomi slips into the real world and sees the Embarcadero Freeway earlier in the novel. In the real world, "The Grasshopper lies heavy" would be a novel about Germany and Japan winning the war, not losing it.

Evidence for this...

(1) [Juliana said:] "The Gestapo file said you're attracted to women like me."
Abendsen, with only the slightest change of expression, said, "There hasn't been a Gestapo since 1947."
"The SD, then, or whatever it is."
"Would you explain?" Caroline said in a brisk voice.

I take this passage to reflect the Abendsen's worldview in which the Gestapo ceased to exist during the Nuremberg trials, in approximately that year. If he was in the world of the novel, he would probably accept Gestapo as an alternative term for SD.

(2) "You could at least carry a weapon," his wife said. "I know someday someone you invite in and converse with will shoot you down, some Nazi expert paying you back;" ...

For her to be expecting a Nazi expert implies he has written a book where the Germans win and are shown to be barbarians (like "The Man in the High Castle"). If he had written a book where the Germans lose, they would be fearing assassination by the Reich, not by some "Nazi expert".

(3) Juliana said, "I wonder why the oracle would write a novel. Did you ever think of asking it that? And why one about the Germans and the Japanese losing the war? Why that particular story and no other one? What is there it can't tell us directly, like it always has before? This must be different, don't you think?"
Neither Hawthorne nor Caroline said anything.

My interpretation is that they don't say anything because they are shocked that she thinks the book has the Axis losing. In his world, his book has the Axis winning.

(4) Raising his head, Hawthorne scrutinized her. He had now an almost savage expression. "It means, does it, that my book is true?"
"Yes," she said.
With anger he said, "Germany and Japan lost the war?"

I read it that he's angry because he realizes that she has slipped in from the "alternate reality" (which is "true") where the Axis wins. ("This girl is a daemon" he says a few paragraphs down...) So he has just found out that his alternative reality novel where the Axis wins is the real reality. That's why he's angry.

Did anyone else read it like this?
posted by tabulem to Writing & Language (20 answers total)
I'm pretty sure that's the conclusion we came to when I read it for class in college... But it's been awhile.
posted by jozxyqk at 6:03 PM on September 30, 2006

[flagged as "offensive" for lack of a better category. MeTa thread here for those who want to vent]
posted by smorange at 6:14 PM on September 30, 2006

sorry, my mistake. i would delete the post if i could but i don't know how.
posted by tabulem at 6:16 PM on September 30, 2006

I read the book in high school; I found the ending ambiguous which is not unusual for a PKD novel. I think it was part of his genius.
posted by Didaskalos at 6:38 PM on September 30, 2006

Huh, interesting - I just read it for the first time too (blush, oh well, whatever) and I read the final scene as everyone realizing that they were just fictional characters.
posted by rdc at 7:07 PM on September 30, 2006

[metatalk is handling spoiler commentary, fwiw]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:32 PM on September 30, 2006

Its an interesting question. Much of Dick's work involves alternate and parallel worlds. I've read the book three times, and I have always thought that essentially there were two parallel universes (or more) and that both existed. Abendsen was a point of contact between two or more and he wrote the book using the Tai Te Ching. I think the Oracle was used to connect the two universes.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:59 PM on September 30, 2006

The way that I read it was that the Oracle tells the absolute truth no matter the context. So that inside the context of fiction, when Abendsen asks it the question about whether his book is true or not, it tells the truth, that the allies really did win WWII. Even though it lives inside a fictional novel, it knows that there is an external truth that the characters in the novel can't. So even inside the fictional world that Dick created, the oracle can only tell the truth about the real world.
posted by octothorpe at 9:40 PM on September 30, 2006

I think it is time to re-read this one. I missed some of it at 12 years old.
posted by pointilist at 10:23 PM on September 30, 2006

But the world in Abendsen's book isn't the real world--the Allies win, but there are differences. To me it seemed as if he was deliberately trying to make that world seem better than the real world.

As for the ending, I don't think there's supposed to be a sensible explanation for it; I think it's deliberately ambiguous.
posted by equalpants at 10:35 PM on September 30, 2006

I recommend this essay by Dick himself on counterfeit worlds. See also "How to Build a Universe..."
posted by Eideteker at 10:50 PM on September 30, 2006

I didn't think it was our world that Abendsen inhabited - but I think I will have to re-read it now.

Thanks for prompting me to dig this from the shelf, btw.
posted by greycap at 11:02 PM on September 30, 2006

I haven't read the novel recently, but if I recall there were subtle differences between the world described in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and our "real world".
posted by neckro23 at 12:39 AM on October 1, 2006

The extract or summary of TGLH in the novel describes a war (eg campaigns, geography, etc) that isn't the real WW2
posted by A189Nut at 3:12 AM on October 1, 2006

I listened to the audio book of this, as I recall it seemed to end abruptly and I felt that I had missed out on something. I will have to break out my paperback version and spend some time thinking about it.
posted by tomble at 8:24 AM on October 1, 2006

The print edition ended abruptly, too. At least, for me.
posted by Eideteker at 11:59 AM on October 1, 2006

Huh, interesting - I just read it for the first time too (blush, oh well, whatever) and I read the final scene as everyone realizing that they were just fictional characters.

And that "history," to some extent, is fiction, too.
posted by maxreax at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2006

I believe that Dick had a plan for a sequel: there are a couple of chapters in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings. It's been some time since I read it (and I don't have it to hand), but I believe that this implied that the reality in The Man in the High Castle wasn't our reality, but that they were connected somehow.
posted by baggers at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2006

I don't think Juliana slippped into our world. Dick had this notion that tragic timelines were "corrected" by a God-like being (he claimed to remember a Nixon dictatorship from an alternate timeline) and so when Juliana says that the events described in Abendsen's book are the true events, I think this is meant to foreshadow that the timeline will be corrected to the one we know. That is why, I think, Tagomi does gimpse our world -- sort of like a pre-correction hiccough, and that's why the Oracle knows that our timeline is the true one, because it knows what will be. The true timeline is poking into the damaged one, you might say.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:21 PM on October 1, 2006

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. I guess Abendsen is not exactly in our world, given that WWII in "The grasshopper lies heavy" is similar but far from identical to what really happened.

Or at least, what history tells us really happened...
posted by tabulem at 9:29 PM on October 2, 2006

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