Prejudice: A Means of Oppressing the Unique

by Patrick Meaney, 16 May 2002.

In Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, We Can Build You, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, characters and objects are hated where they come from, or because they were created artificially, with no regard to their actions, or personal characteristics. In The Man in the High Castle, this is reflected in the subjugation of Jews and Native Americans to the lower echelons of society, based simply on their ethnic background, as well as the value of pre-war American objects based on their "historicity," not on what they actually are. In We Can Build You, this idea is expressed in the prejudice against simulacrums, manufactured versions of historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln. There is a disparity between the veneration for what Abraham Lincoln did, and the general discomfort with manufactured beings. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep features androids, beings virtual identical to humans, but hated by humanity, and illegal on Earth. This slave race is despised simply because of the way they were created.

            The Man in the High Castle features characters who are hated and treated as inferior due exclusively to their nationality, without regard for their behavior, or individual characteristics. The novel takes place in a world where the Axis powers won World War II, and have divided America into zones of Japanese influence in the West, and German influence in the East, a parallel to the Allied division of Berlin in our reality. The most evident prejudice in the world is directed at Jews, who have had to go underground in order to protect themselves. Frank Fink changed his name to Frink, to reduce his association with Judaism and make himself safer. Using an alias, Frink escaped the hate, not by changing his fundamental nature, but by raising a facade to protect himself. The denizens of this society are raised to emulate those they view as racially pure, and hate all others, without any examination of why they hate. A discussion between Baynes and Alex Lotze, a German, reveals this. Hearing that Baynes is Swedish, Lotze embraces Baynes, and their racial similarity. Before leaving, Baynes reveals to Lotze that he is a Jew, which alters Lotze's perception of him completely. Lotze calls for the police, but finds it is too late to capture his new enemy. Lotze based his opinion of Baynes entirely on the stereotypical view of certain nationalities. He does not consider what the man does, or his behavior, only where he is from, his ancestry. Lotze values racial purity more than kindness or knowledge.

            Another example of uninformed prejudice in the society is in the treatment that the Native Americans are given by the immigrant Japanese. Robert Childan deals with many Japanese in his business, retailing pre-war American artifacts. Because of society's edicts, Childan carefully follows etiquette, struggling not to offend his "superiors." When he is invited to the home of one of his customers, Childan finds himself uncomfortable, a "the white barbarian" (Castle 107) to the "graceful and polite" (Castle 107) Japanese. His society's constant message that he is inferior because of his race has drained Childan of the self-confidence necessary to consider himself an equal to his hosts. He sees only the good in his hosts, and is constantly second guessing his clumsy maneuvers. He is careful to avoid any matters of substance for fear of upsetting his perfectly tranquil hosts, who are above the politics of the common man. In his world, Childan cannot even fight the discrimination against him, because he believes that he is inferior.

            Eventually, Childan reacts against the society that has oppressed him. He purchases Frank Frink's jewelry, handmade by American craftsmen, as an expression of his nationalism, and equality with the Japanese. He has pangs of guilt about exploiting American culture of past, through his retailing of mementos, and feels that offering his customers the opportunity to see America's present assets would help him to resolve the guilt.

            Paralleling Childan's rejection of the constraints of his society by deciding to sell Frink's jewelry is the experience of Tagomi, a Japanese businessman, and a high-ranking member of his society. He buys Frank Frink's jewelry on the advice of Childan, who creates a story about its power to help sell the merchandise, the mysticism surrounding the jewelry, a parallel to Tagomi's own reliance on the I Ching. When he meditates on the symbol of American individualism, his own identity is altered, and he finds himself in a world where Japanese are the victims of racial prejudice. Witnessing the effects of this prejudice alters Tagomi. He will no longer stand for the policies that his government perpetuates. To spite them, he frees Frank Frink, instead of letting him be killed for being Jewish. By challenging the status quo, and producing original art, Frink inadvertently saves himself, through the effect his art has on Tagomi. Tagomi's change shows the potential to alter the hate that hinders these characters.

            Tagomi's experience also demonstrates the universal nature of prejudice, though its exploration of multiple realities. In the novel, it is Americans who are subjected to prejudice, however in a novel within the novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, it is Japanese and Nazis who have been defeated, the Allies having won, though in a different way than in our reality. This novel sees the British take a dominant role in the world. This book is an allegory for the novel itself, demonstrating the fact that it is impossible to have conclusive evidence in an alternate history, and that as reality permeates, it is separated further from its origin reality. The world into which Tagomi journeys sees Americans in control, and the Japanese the victims of prejudice. The presentation of these different realities demonstrates that ethnic prejudice is pointless; the only difference between the races is who is in power at the time. Discrimination is used to keep down the ethnic groups that are hated, and preserve the status quo of the wealthy and powerful.

            Dick also conveys the folly of judgement based on reputation through the exploration of "historicity," the idea that an object is determined by the history it has. In the novel, Wyndam-Matson has a lighter that "was in Franklin D. Roosevelt's pocket when he was assassinated." (Castle 63) Matson knows that this object is genuine because of a paper that says it is, not because of the lighter itself. For Matson, the object is determined by what the perception of it is. He values the piece of paper more than the object itself. What the object was is more important to him, and the status it gives him, more important than the object itself. This reflects the close-minded attitude that many of the characters have, with regard to race. They judge something by the appearance, and what they have heard about it, without regard for the actual content of the object. The paper is like public opinion; it dictates what one should think of an object. Childan, who deals in antiques, is shocked when he finds out that one of his Civil War guns is "fake." The gun has not changed, but his perception of it has. He does not value things for what they are, instead valuing them for what he thinks they are. Like the man who rejects Baynes, when he finds out he is a Jew, Childan hates the objects when he finds out they are fake. Nothing has changed in the object itself, merely what it means to Childan. He judges based on what is accepted, much like a racial prejudice. The antiques are a major market, because they are old, a status symbol, instead of a functional item. These people value appearance and status, with prejudice against that which they view as fake, but in reality "the world 'fake' meant nothing really, since the world 'authentic' meant nothing really." (Castle 64)

            Ultimately, The Man in the High Castle presents a society where value is determined by the public perception, be it in racial prejudice toward Americans and Jews, or in the hate for "fake" antiques. Only a few characters can free their minds from the obsession with gaining status in society, only a few can break from their enforced conformity, and accept the full potential of what their reality offers them.

            Also, in Dick's We Can Build You, the idea of what forms people's attitudes toward others, through Louis Rosen's interaction with the simulacrum versions of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton. He finds it hard to reconcile the fact that the simulacra have the characteristics of the historical figures they were molded after, with the fact that they have been created by humans with their own problems.

            During his first interactions with Edwin M. Stanton, Louis is suspicious of the being. He wants to believe that the robots can help him, and more importantly work for his business, but he cannot reconcile this with the fact that the Stanton is nothing more than wires and programming. He is not the renowned statesman who guided much of Lincoln's policy; he is merely a recreation of that man, a shell of his power. No programming can completely recapture all that made Stanton, Stanton. Because of this, the new version of Stanton is eternally fated to be inferior to his predecessor. As a consequence of his opportunity to return to life, Stanton must sacrifice some of his humanity.

            Even though he is lacking some of what made them unique, both the Stanton and the Lincoln have many of the characteristics that made them legends in their lifetime. Pris Frauenzimmer claimed that "The real Lincoln exists in my mind," (Build 66) that she could capture the essence of the man. In some ways she does. After his inception, the Lincoln becomes an invaluable aid for Rosen's business. He helped formulate a business plan, to sell the simulacra as nannies, and also helped Louis with troubles in his personal life.

            The paradoxical fact that the simulacra are at once completely alien to what they once were and inexplicably similar results in a prejudiced attitude toward the beings. No one in the story knows how to deal with the creations. A store window display attracts many curious people, but Rosen does not know exactly what the purpose of showing off his creation is, whether he is presenting it is a new kind of human, or merely a curiosity.

            Louis is also unsure how much freedom to give to the simulacra. He is asked if "you have a work contract with Mr. Stanton" (Build 133). Even as his creator, Rosen still feels guilty about making Stanton and Lincoln work for him. He cannot reconcile the dependent nature of robots, with the independence, and legend of the men they are supposed to be.

            Overall, the ambivalence in Louis' attitude toward the simulacra is a result of his inability to justify the fact that the being has the intelligence and personality of Abraham Lincoln or Edwin Stanton, but is merely a creation of flawed humans.

            Finally, in Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the organic androids in the book are hated, and forced into slavery because they were created in a lab, by the Tyrell Corporation, and not born in the traditional sense. The unnatural nature of their creation forever mars the android's chances of living a happy life. This is shown through both the plight of the androids, and in the divided conscience of bounty hunter, Rick Deckard.

            In Sheep, androids are outlawed on Earth, viewed as a threat to the humanity that created them. Androids are biologically similar to humans, to the point that it takes a Voight-Kampff empathy test that analyzes unconscious blush responses to questions to detect them. In this world, humans have advanced to the point where they are becoming inferior to their creations. The prejudice directed toward the androids reflects their concern that these creations are surpassing their creators, and are a danger to the order of the world.

            The world feels threatened by their biological equals. Androids Pris Stratton and Roy Baty can only find asylum from J.R. Isidore, a "chickenhead" who has been rejected from his society for being too dumb. After facing a lifetime of being told he was inferior, Isidore has no qualms about accepting the androids, happy to have anyone to talk to. Because he has no pretensions about himself, Isidore is able to accept those who are different from him. Those who are accepted by their society and set the standards are eager to reject those who they view as inferior. Isidore does not view the androids as artificial abominations, he sees them as loving and caring people, in need of help. He does not form his opinion of them by how they were created, or by their appearance, he sees them in terms of their individual actions. Because they are manufactured artificially, humanity feels it is fine to use the androids as an off world slave race, to aid in the colonization of humanity's new frontier. They dismiss an entire race, without considering its potential.

            To protect the elite of society from the unnatural menace that is the android race, police departments created the bounty hunter unit, whose job is to locate and destroy unauthorized androids on Earth. The main bounty hunter in the novel is Rick Deckard, "a murderer hired by cops," (Sheep 1) according to his wife. As the novel progresses, Deckard is plagued by guilt, and ambivalence about his profession. After witnessing the singing of android opera singer, Luba Luft, Deckard comes to realize that all "andys" are not vengeful killers, some just want what most humans want, the chance to live out their dreams, and express their talents. Rick comes to realize that just because she is manufactured, Luba Luft's talent is no less than that of a human opera singer, and her aria on The Magic Flute is no less moving then one sung by a biological human. It is only the enforcement of society's prejudices that would make it seem different.

            After this meeting, Deckard's perception of the difference between human and android is further blurred when he is taken to a police station, different from his own, a police station created by androids as the center of their underground network. He sees people he assumed human revealed as androids, leaving him with no choice but to leave them lifeless, if they ever had life to begin with. At this underground police station, Deckard meets Phil Resch, a bounty hunter who is unsure of whether he is human or android. Resch forces Deckard to give him the empathy test, "Because I really want to know. I have to know." (Sheep 121) Resch does not realize that finding out he is an android will not change him. Android or human, he is still the same person, with the same experiences, and the same feelings. Like all of his society, Resch cannot see that there is no difference between human and android, the only difference is in the mind.

            Seeing Resch in his frantic state, questioning his own humanity, further clouds Deckard's ability to distinguish between human and android. He begins to realize that anyone could be an android, and that being an android would not change the person, except to make him a target for Deckard's bounty. Deckard questions the very nature of his job, his desire to make his life better in conflict with the lives that he must end to do so. After Deckard sleeps with Tyrell's personal android, Rachael, he becomes even more divided in his feelings. Rachael reveals to him that the android he must kill, Pris Stratton is the same model as she. To complete his duty, Deckard must confront his own feelings about androids, and kill the woman he loves. Through his association with androids, Deckard realizes that there is minimal difference between androids and humans.

            Still, Deckard continues his job, his new outlook on androids subordinate to his desire for personal happiness. He kills Roy Baty, and Pris Stratton, because it is his job. He sees the folly in society's prejudice, but he does nothing about it. He is a bounty hunter, a murderer for hire, and he is willing to kill anyone, if financially compensated. Deckard's journey shows both the reasons for continuing the prejudice toward androids, the fact that they can be controlled, and that humanity feels it is their right to manipulate them, but also the fact that the androids are virtually identical to humans, and the prejudice of the society is used to keep down a potentially powerful group. By hating the androids, the world maintains its status quo, and preserves its lowest class for exploitation.

            In conclusion, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, We Can Build You and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep show the origins of prejudice, generally derived from the circumstances of ones upbringing, and the way in which discrimination is used to preserve the status quo, to keep the lower groups in society from rising in power, and to guard against the intrusion of new ideas into a stagnant society. All of the novels present characters that are divided into groups, or are singled out, for being different. The Jews and Americans in High Castle are kept on the bottom of society by the Japanese who run their world. In Sheep androids are hated, and forced into slavery because humanity created them, and humans consider it their right to use them as a slave race. Both these groups are kept down in society, the discrimination toward them hindering them from expressing their full potential. Through the novels, Dick comments on the difficulty humans have in adjusting to new technology, like the Lincoln and the androids, and in accepting new ideas, and being open minded. The aristocratic world creates a specific agenda of what is acceptable, and what is not, dictating the qualities of society. When Pris Frauenzimmer, of We Can Build You, begins to date Sam Barrows, a wealthy trend-setter, she has everything that she used to want, but is also slowly molded into something she does not want to be; she is forced to conform to the world of the wealthy. She witnesses and rejects the higher world, choosing instead to live her unique life. This rejection is indicative of the theme of all three works: try to move society forward, accept new things, be open minded, and reject prejudice. In the end, determine the worth of a being by what they do, not where they came from, be they born android, human, or simulacrum, everyone has the same feelings, and desires, the hope to make a better tomorrow for the world.

Copyright 2002 Patrick Meaney.
Published by in the Blade Runner and DADoES Analysis Section