“Inner Truth”: Revealing the Essence of a City and a World
In the worlds of both Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon, a mysterious object either disrupts the normal rhythm of life or exerts a strong influence over the paths of the majority of the characters—or both. There are two of these objects in the world of High Castle— the I Ching and the novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In The Maltese Falcon, there is one—the eponymous falcon. The importance of these three objects cannot be understated. The falcon, of course, has claimed the title of the novel it features in, while the I Ching and The Grasshopper Lies Heavy are constant presences throughout all of the multiple plots of High Castle. In the eyes of the characters, these objects have almost fantastic elements. The I Ching is considered a mystical source of oracular knowledge, The Grasshopper is a forbidden picture of a world that is hoped for but considered impossible, and the falcon is comprised of gems more precious than crown jewels. Despite their fantastic natures, these objects are a reflection of how their respective versions of San Francisco, and the world beyond the city, function. All three objects share characteristics that illustrate just why and how they control and reveal the basic principles of the worlds they occupy. Characters develop an obsession with their respective objects, which shows how much they tap into the inner nature of both the people and the world around them. The objects are all foreign, providing an illustration through contrast of the worlds of the characters whose hands they fall into. They have an intimate tie with history and the significance of the past, and put into motion a pivotal final scene that contains an ultimate revelation. When it comes to the ultimate revelation, however, the objects do not unveil the same truths. The two objects of High Castle reveal a world built on a false premise and unable to progress, the object in The Maltese Falcon reveals a world where almost everything is corrupted, and nothing can be trusted because nothing is as it seems.
Even without considering specific characters’ interaction with the three objects, each object’s very nature hints at the principles underpinning the ways of their worlds. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is considered to be a work of fiction by its readers. Therefore, it is not a part of actual reality. Yet in the end it is discovered that the Axis-run world is not the true reality—that it is, in its own way, a kind of fiction. The Grasshopper, being a more accurate reality, is therefore both a reflection and an inversion of the world. Meanwhile, the I Ching is used for advice and guidance, a service that lends itself particularly to those who are unable to make the choices themselves to achieve the ends they desire. Such an object would be particularly at home in a world where there is a severe sense of stagnation and lack of independent progress. The falcon, promised throughout its novel to contain dazzling gems underneath its plain black exterior, is in the end revealed to be worthless—at least, that is the case for the one that is physically seen in the novel. The assumption that despite being covered in enamel, the falcon would be the genuine article, turns out to be false. In much the same way, nothing any of the main characters say to each are guaranteed to be true, and it is a rare occasion when one of them lives up to a promise. One of the core building blocks of that world, therefore, is deception.
The fantastic objects cause a significant level of obsession among many of the characters who come in contact with one of them. The nature of this obsession in turn reveals an underlying characteristic of the world of the respective novel. In The Man in the High Castle, three characters in particular are portrayed as almost addicted to the novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In their preoccupation with the events it describes, they show their preference for the world they are reading about over the one they live in, no matter who they are. Rita, an American woman who is Wyndam-Matson’s mistress, in describing the novel’s alternate course of events, is almost feverish with her belief that everything would have happened exactly as Abendsen describes if Roosevelt had really been able to escape his assassination. She comes across as a strident devotee of Abendsen’s theories as “her eyes had become large and she gestured as she talked” (Dick, 69). She is almost desperate to convince Wyndam-Matson of the truth of the novel’s suppositions as she “grab[s] his shoulder with intensity” (Dick, 69). When he is derisive, she asserts, “It really would have been like that” (Dick, 69), indicating how much the book has become a substitute for her reality—despite knowing the book is fiction, she believes the alternate history could not have happened any other way. Consul Hugo Reiss displays similar, though more secretive, level of addiction to the world of The Grasshopper. Reiss repeatedly gets upset whenever his reading is interrupted by the necessity to do his actual duties as Consul. Although he is on the opposite side of the issue as Rita, being German, he still finds himself enthralled with the reality it portrays, despite the defeat of Germany, because “it all was somehow grander, more in the old spirit than the actual world” (Dick, 133). The dramatic nature of the fall of the Third Reich is put into direct contrast with the tedious nature of his own job, such as signing the papers of nondescript seamen. The obsession of both Rita and Reiss with the alternate world hints at the characters’ instinctive yet subconscious knowledge that it is more right than the one they occupy.
Other characters of The Man in the High Castle demonstrate an addiction to the I Ching instead. They are repeatedly shown to use it when faced with difficult situations, to the point of seeming unable to take initiative on their own. As Juliana Frink openly admits, “I use it all the time to decide. I never let it out of my sight” (Dick, 87). Nobusuke Tagomi has such a firm belief in the wisdom of the oracle that he preemptively dismisses the value of Robert Childan’s new gift for Mr. Baynes without even seeing it. His reliance upon its advice is so strong that at one point upon awaking he “start[s] toward the bathroom, then change[s] his mind and [goes] directly to the oracle” (Dick, 174). Frank Frink, perhaps the most addicted of the three, is explicitly told by Ed McCarthy that he “rel[ies] on that thing too much” (Dick, 106). He consults it with regard to every major event in his life during the time covered by the novel—from asking for his job back to starting a jewelry business to getting funding from his former employer, as well as the possibility of reuniting with Juliana. Despite his and the other characters’ dedication to the oracle, however, its first appearance is not particularly impressive. Upon asking the best way to approach his former employer in order to be rehired, Frink receives the hexagram indicating modesty. He is somewhat disappointed, reflecting that “[t]here was something fatuous about Hexagram Fifteen…Naturally he should be modest” (Dick, 11). Frink could have decided on that course of action for himself, yet he felt the need to consult the oracle. This incident indicates a lack of ability on Frink’s part to move forward on his own. While the I Ching proves to be more remarkable later on, having its first pronouncement be so unnecessary raises the question of why the characters are so dependent upon it. The fact that they are indicates the stagnation that has seeped into the wills of the characters—they are unable to take initiative on their own. This immobilization is a byproduct of their existing in an essentially backward world.
Though characters such as Frink and Tagomi are somewhat crippled in their initiative due to their dependence on the oracle, a side effect of that addiction seems to be a more intimate understanding of the I Ching. This in turn has allowed them a greater ability to muse over its awareness of hidden circumstances, much as those obsessed with The Grasshopper sense the appropriateness of the reality they read about. While they cannot quite perceive what it is that is hidden, they do know that the I Ching can sense it. Both Tagomi and Frink know of the oracle’s ability to see beneath the surface, and they believe at times that a second message is contained in their hexagrams. Having received judgement regarding Mr. Baynes’s future reaction to the gift, Tagomi realizes that he “had a deeper query in the back of his mind” as well, and the oracle “while answering the other [question], had taken it upon itself to answer the subliminal one, too” (Dick, 19). Frink asks about the possible success of his new business, but his one moving line makes him suspect that his answer was a double prophecy, and that the second meaning of that prophecy “refers to something deeper, some future catastrophe probably not even connected with the jewelry business” (Dick, 52). The oracle may provide answers for small, almost petty concerns, but it ultimately addresses the core problems. While everyone else is concerned with their everyday lives and perhaps on a larger scale how the growing conflict between the Japanese and the Germans will progress, the I Ching looks underneath the surface and sees that there is another problem altogether—that the world itself is faulty.
While virtually all of the main characters, and even some of the minor ones, are obsessed with either The Grasshopper or the I Ching in The Man in the High Castle, only a select number of characters are obsessed with the Maltese Falcon in the eponymous novel. Yet the phenomenon of the characters’ addiction is linked to a larger aspect of the world of this novel as well— in this case, the prevalence of duplicity and pretense. Gutman is the only character who can truly be said to be consumed with his desire for the falcon. He is the most determined of everyone else to obtain it. As Gutman concludes his explanation of his pursuit of the falcon, he states, “I wanted it and I found it. I want it and I’m going to have it” (Hammett, 127). The bluntness and simplicity of this declaration, in contrast with the sophisticated nature of his usual language and demeanor, shows that his outward presentation of a refined gentleman hides his singleminded greed. Spade, in contrast, exhibits little to no desire to obtain the falcon other than to ensure that he finds it before the others and thus gains an advantage. He also demonstrates the least disparity between his outer presentation and his actual persona. He may pretend to know more than he does in order to get information, but his personality is relatively the same no matter what the subject matter or audience. Joel Cairo and Brigid O’Shaughnessy occupy a middle ground of obsession. They have pursued the falcon and even attempted to keep it for themselves, but are willing to relinquish any claim to it if necessary—Cairo is willing to go back to working to secure it for someone else, and Brigid decides it is not worth keeping if her life is in danger. They, in turn, do not have as jarring a division between their presentation and their inner motivation, but they do occasionally conceal certain aspects of themselves or pretend to be something they are not. Brigid at first feigns innocence and then puts on the persona of a tortured rather than merciless manipulator, while Cairo hides a violent streak. The level of obsession with the falcon, therefore, correlates to how opposite a character’s true self is from how they present themselves.
In addition to inducing obsession, all three fantastic objects also share the characteristic of foreignness. Within The Man in the High Castle, this foreignness is what allows the two objects to evade the rules of the world that apply to everything else, and in doing so comment on the condition of that world. While Japanese and some German influence form an integral part of the novel’s version of San Francisco, the I Ching lies outside that dichotomy in being from China—therefore it truly is foreign. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, having been written in land once considered the United States, now a separate territory from the Pacific States, is from a foreign location according to the perspective of San Francisco residents such as obsessed readers Rita and Reiss. Its foreignness is further solidified when it is revealed at the end that it was authored by the I Ching, which is from China. The foreignness of the I Ching and The Grasshopper is necessary to illustrate the way in which they are somewhat removed from the novel’s reality and are able to illustrate the fundamentally flawed nature of the characters’ world. Their separation is apparent in the text itself. Both the lines of the I Ching and the selections from The Grasshopper are set apart with a different format from the rest of the text in High Castle. Their style and cadence is also distinct from the regular narration or the speech of the characters. With their detachment comes a clearer view of the world than can be obtained by those who occupy it. As General Tedeki comments to Baynes as they observe Tagomi manipulating the yellow stalks of the oracle, “it provides an external frame of reference” (Dick, 212). They are not part of the stagnation that has permeated this warped version of the world, but are positioned to recognize it. It blatantly states that fact when Tagomi asks for a description of the “Moment for us all” and receives a static version of the Oppression—Exhaustion hexagram (Dick, 105-6). The pronouncement illustrates that the others are trapped in this world, and the static nature of the hexagram underscores the level of stagnation. The importance of foreignness in being able to rise above the reality is confirmed with the case of Juliana, the only main character to live outside of San Francisco and the only main character to discover the truth about both The Grasshopper’s connection to the I Ching and the truth that her reality is incorrect.
The power and advantage of being foreign for the I Ching and The Grasshopper is further confirmed through their connection to creative forces. Creation indicates progress and initiative, which is largely lacking in this version of San Francisco. The I Ching, as a result of guiding the decisions of addicted individuals, is largely responsible for what little advancement is made among the characters in San Francisco. Frink, one of the addicted characters, acts on the oracle’s advice to pursue jewelry-making, which is a departure from his previous job of making replicas—an inherently stagnant action, where each item should be the same as that which came before. Through Frink’s efforts to create something new, the I Ching is also indirectly responsible for the change in Childan’s shop. The sale and collection of American artifacts looks backward rather than forward, and can never include something truly new. Therefore, it is a radical sign of change—an anomaly in this version of San Francisco—when Childan eventually begins marketing Frink’s jewelry, looking toward the future rather than the past. Yet the push toward a break from the accepted state of affairs would not have been possible from within. The foreign oracle was necessary. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the only example of a creative art form from the present until Frink and McCarthy begin their jewelry business. As it was written outside of the Pacific States, it seems to further illustrate the way in which a remove of some sort is necessary in order to inject something new into the world. That the novel is eventually revealed to not entirely be the product of a creative mind of a human in Colorado, but rather the I Ching from China, doubly indicates the stagnation of society—the creative force truly must come from outside.
The Maltese falcon’s foreignness also sets it apart from the San Francisco portrayed in its novel. It highlights the corrupt morals that are taken for granted among the main characters. As explained by Gutman, the statue’s original purpose was to augment the Knights’ display of thanks to Emperor Charles. As Gutman puts it when describing their decision to craft a jewel-encrusted bird rather than simply send the live bird that was required, “What could be more natural than for these immeasurably wealthy Knights to look around for some way of expressing their gratitude?” (Hammett, 124). The falcon, as a result, is valuable in ways not able to be calculated, due to two factors. Created by a group with “immeasurable” wealth, its objective worth cannot truly be calculated. It is also a symbol of gratitude, a sentiment that is by its very nature intangible. Yet these abstract values inherent in the statue are not upheld in San Francisco, revealing the lack of virtue in this version of the city, and its preoccupation only with material concerns. Any possible exchange regarding the bird is very quantifiable, as it is always a question of money—such as Cairo’s initial offer of ten thousand dollars for the statue. Not only do the characters impose a discrete value on the bird, but the falcon is also turned into the driving reason for betrayal and murder—a far cry from the more noble and amicable sentiments it was initially crafted to express. The main characters’ interaction and arrangements with regard to the bird, therefore, reveals their corruption.
The importance of history is linked to the power of the three objects. This is quite obvious in The Man in the High Castle, where the occupants of the world presented show an extreme preoccupation with history and the past. The I Ching is the oldest item the characters come across, far older than any piece of Americana sold at Childan’s shop. The fact that it has existed for thousands of years places it in a position of authority within the novel. For people whose typical reaction to items of the past is one of awe and respect, an object that can harness the power of a past too far back to conceive of is regarded as most remarkable. When Tagomi is psychologically disturbed after shooting the invading Germans in his office building, he immediately goes to the oracle, reasoning that faced with a “situation confusing and anomalous…[n]o human intelligence could decipher it; only five-thousand-year-old joint mind applicable” (Dick, 211). Just as the collectors’ items are considered to be the most authentic view of America, the I Ching presents the clearest view of the world. Yet although the I Ching originated so far into the past, the novel never really concerns itself with the oracle’s own history. The most insight provided into its past is its definition as “the divine Fifth Book of Confucian wisdom, the Taoist oracle called for centuries the I Ching or Book of Changes” (Dick, 15). While tokens infused with history such as a Mickey Mouse watch or Horrors of War cards had an original purpose and have been reclaimed as artifacts and mementos of bygone eras, the I Ching’s function has not changed, and it is still actively used rather than collected. Therefore the I Ching avoids being part of the standard fate of historical items in this novel, bought and learned about, but ultimately out of place. It is not reduced to a curiosity. In originating so far in the past, it actually transcends time, allowing it to not be subject to the tides of recent history. Therefore it is able to navigate situations too perplexing for someone so tightly tied to their small, limited place in time.
The Grasshopper novel’s connection to history is a part of its very nature, in presenting an alternate history to the one the characters know. Yet it is not a historical object itself, having been recently published—in fact, it may be considered the newest item in comparison to the I Ching being the oldest, until the Edfrank jewelry is made. The characters who read it are not only enthralled by the alternate life it depicts, but the way in which it is reasoned out to justify its chain of events. The use of history makes it seem that much more plausible. Describing the basis of Abendsen’s theory to Wyndam-Matson, Rita asserts that Roosevelt would indeed be a strong president because “he showed it in the year he was [in office]…all those measures he introduced” (Dick, 68). The fact that the book spends so much time explaining the past that leads up to the alternate equivalent of the present illustrates that its readers are still preoccupied with the past. The history element clearly takes precedence, as the actual plot of the book is not considered important. In describing it, Rita says, “[i]t’s in fiction form…it’s got to be entertaining or people wouldn’t read it…there’s these two young people, the boy is in the American Army. The girl—well, anyhow” and returns to outlining the historical policies and actions (Dick, 69). The story is not nearly as interesting as the history.
In The Maltese Falcon, Gutman takes special care to impress upon Spade the historical nature of the falcon artifact. An entire chapter is dedicated to his narrative. This historical background has a twofold importance. First, it indicates the disparity between the world it came from and Spade’s world. The grand names of Emperor Charles and the Order of the Hospital, as well as the exotic ones of Victor Amadeus II or Count of Floridablanca, are out of place when compared to the simple American names of Tom or Sam or Effie. With all of these Old World names squeezed into one chapter, it is clear that they are set apart from and incompatible with the dark, brutal, and decidedly unglamorous world of 1920s San Francisco. Second, it allows Spade the hard facts he needs in order to overcome the disparity. Describing to Spade just how wealthy the Knights of Rhodes were at the time they settled on Malta, Gutman states that they “had taken nobody knows what spoils of gems, precious metals, silks, ivories…That is history, sir. We all know that the Holy Wars to them…were largely a matter of loot” (Hammett, 124). Gutman goes on to mention more historical sources to illustrate how he has traced the falcon through history, and the way in which he continually asserts the truth of the history illustrates how important it is for him that he do so. After having described the rich construction of the falcon, and being met with Spade’s noncommittal reaction, Gutman affirms that “[t]hese are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history…but history nonetheless” (Hammett, 124). The rest of his explanation of how the falcon travelled around Europe is riddled with historical references—archives, memoirs, and historians’ papers. Gutman is not mistaken in assuming that Spade needs historical verification of the falcon’s existence. As a detective, Spade requires evidence and proof that he can trace. Having distinct sources to follow up on makes the fantastic and exotic scenes painted by Gutman digestible—at least somewhat, as when Spade recounts these sources for Effie, he “stumble[s] over the names of authors and their works” (Hammett, 133-4). The falcon, therefore, must have a history in order to translate it into Spade’s world. Gutman’s addressing this necessity illustrates a core aspect of this novel’s San Francisco—its grim reality of city life. Accustomed to duplicity and faced with a story that is not in keeping with the down-to-earth nature of his usual cases, Spade is naturally cynical and requires additional confirmation of the veracity of Gutman’s story.
While each object hints at some core aspect of their respective worlds over the course of the novels, they are also all directly responsible for a final scene in which a major truth that the characters themselves need to resolve is revealed. The aftermath of the discovery of that truth confirms for the last time the core quality of that particular world. In the case of High Castle, the ultimate unveiling takes place when Juliana confronts Hawthorne Abendsen at his house. Juliana, the only character shown to have an addiction to both The Grasshopper and the I Ching, and able to consciously rather than subconsciously feel that there is a reason for the allure of the world of The Grasshopper, is the one to ask the question that ends up informing Abendsen’s party that the Axis powers, not the Allies, really lost the war. The fact that this revelation is labelled by the I Ching as “Inner Truth” (Dick, 272) emphasizes the connection the object has with the fundamental nature of its world. Yet even this scene, which has technically changed a few characters’ perception of their world, illustrates the consequence of a world that is intrinsically wrong, even when the characters are aware of their situation. Juliana remarks to Abendsen that his book made her realize that “there’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to want or hate or avoid, here, or run from. Or pursue” (Dick, 269). This is the ultimate definition of this world’s stagnation, which both The Grasshopper and the I Ching have illustrated throughout the novel. Despite having gained such extraordinary insight, no one does anything in particular in response. Granted, it is not clear exactly what there is to do, but it would seem the situation calls for some sort of reaction. Instead, Abendsen and his friends return to their party, and Juliana considers going back to Frank—not simply continuing with her life as it was, but regressing to what it involved before the beginning of the novel. Ultimately, the characters in this world cannot progress.
In The Maltese Falcon, the statue does not induce answers about the world in general, but does reveal the truth that is most important for a detective—the details of unsolved crimes. The falcon forces all of these mysteries to be accounted for in the final confrontation in Spade’s apartment. The fallout from the falcon’s arrival—only possible due to the falcon being revealed as a fake, allows Spade to finally piece together the full story of Brigid’s involvement in both stealing the bird and killing Miles Archer. Gutman leaves the bird in Spade’s apartment where Brigid is finally forced to admit everything, signifying its revealing power. With the core element of this version of San Francisco being the duplicity and unexpected nature of individuals, it is in keeping with this quality for Spade to not entirely be who he purported to be either. Spade’s morals and motivation for solving the case, having been in question throughout the novel, are finally laid bare. Much as the falcon’s value—or lack thereof—is obscured by the black enamel, Spade has maintained a facade that has obscured his most pressing concerns. Although he insults Miles Archer at every opportunity, he really is dedicated to clearing up the mystery of his partner’s death and identifying the perpetrator responsible. When he finally accuses Brigid, he derides her as “[y]ou who knocked off Miles, a man you had nothing against, in cold blood, just like swatting a fly” (Hammett, 212). Spade’s outrage, never before seen, is now apparent. In contrast with the other instances of pulling back facades, where a more corrupt nature was uncovered, Spade’s true nature in this instance actually has some degree of honor in that he is upset by a meaningless, unprovoked murder. As he remarks to Brigid, “Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be” (Hammett, 215). While in most instances the truth underneath the act had been even more corrupt, for Spade the deception works in reverse—a final reminder that no one is as they are expected to be in this San Francisco.
Both The Man in the High Castle and The Maltese Falcon use fantastic objects as central driving forces of the plots and characters of the novels. These objects in turn reflect or make apparent some core qualities of their respective versions of San Francisco and the broader world. The strategies by which they do this in each novel are remarkably similar. Their forms inherently echo the ways in which their worlds operate. All three of the objects induce some form of obsession in a significant number of characters, and those most obsessed are also the strongest examples of their worlds’ basic qualities. They are foreign, allowing some remove from the rules and qualities of each San Francisco, which makes the flawed nature of those characteristics of the city more apparent. Their historical elements add to the authority of the narratives surrounding them. In the end, the objects’ roles in revealing the truth about the world are solidified in a climactic final scene that resolves questions most concerning to the characters. All of these aspects illustrate the nature of the objects’ worlds throughout their novels. The I Ching and The Grasshopper Lies Heavy bring to light the fact that the world in which the Axis powers won World War II, the very world the characters occupy, is incorrect—and as a byproduct of having such a warped reality, the world wavers between stagnation and looking backward. The advancement and progress that should be occurring does not exist because it does not have the means to do so. The falcon statue reveals that in San Francisco, nothing is as it seems, and the truth, when discovered, will most likely be of a corrupted nature. This is true for both people and objects. Though the basic features of each San Francisco are quite different, it should be noted that a common component of these features is that reality is not readily apparent to the characters—it must be uncovered, and assumptions are proven to be false. The similarities in this ultimate conclusion, when added to the similarities of the objects’ strategies of revealing truth, may hint that there is something that remains intrinsic to San Francisco, no matter how a version of itself is constructed.
Shelby’s Final Paper
“Inner Truth”: Revealing the Essence of a City and a World