“The Little Movement” was first published in 1952 in Fantasy & Science Fiction. Pages numbers come from Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick (New York: Citadel Press), pp. 19–26.
A man is selling mechanical, turnkey, figure to people passing on the street. A handful of people walk past. The toy beings talking to the man warning him not to sell to a pair of women. There seems to be a conflict between the man and the toy over who should purchase the toy. Eventually the salesman sells the mechanical toy soldier to a boy named Bobby and his father for fifty cents.
The “little figure” is pleased with the way things turned out. Laying in the car he ponders the difficulties he and others from the factory faced. The Children are the easiest to manipulate and control but it is the Adults who have the money, resources, and power.
Bobby places his new “toy” near his others. Bonzo is a stuffed rabbit. Fred is a rubber pig. Teddo is a stuffed teddy bear. Bobby winds up the figure and sets it loss. The figure begins to construct a tower of blocks. The figure then begins talking and demands a private conversation with Bobby on the bed. He establishes trust with Bobby and then asks him how many Adults are in the house. After gaining this intelligence, the figure tells Bobby to call him “My Lord” and reminds him to wind him up right before bed.
My Lord is laying a dresser and is approached by a small airplane that flew through the windows. The airplane delivers some devastating news. Most of the others did not make it to Children. They were either intercepted by Adults or destroyed. They discuss the crucial role of the children in their movement. Only by manipulating and controlling the children could the Adults be defeated. The airplane says that the low survival rate requires that My Lord begins the second stage.
That evening, My Lord tells Bobby to go to a toy store called Don’s Toy Land and pick up a delivery. They box contains toys, including tanks and guns.
As the boy leaves, My Lord thinks about the plan on which the survival of the Movement depends. Bobby must smuggle in the weapons from the toy store. Teddo, Fred, and Bonzo approach My Lord and destroy him. In his final moments, My Lord realizes that the others in the Movement were destroyed by this Organization consisting of the boys original toys.
There are several possible readings for this story. The idea of an underground movement struggling against an overwhelming force and seeking out naïve allies has curious parallels with some of the anti-colonial movements of the post-World War II period. More likely, Dick was influenced by the paranoia of the early Cold War years. My Lord is like members of the American communist movement attempt to radicalize workers as a way to overthrow capitalism from within.
The setting of the story suggests a possible broader reading centering on the infiltration of consumerism in American society. The little figure is, after all, a toy that much be purchased. The marketing of brands to children is now well known and begins at an early age. Billions are spent on marketing directly to children who do not directly purchase goods but can influence how their parents spend money. “It has correctly interpreted certain signs: the Adults were in control, and so the Adults had money. They had power, but their power made it difficult to get to them. Their power, and their size. With the Children it was different. They were small, and it was easier to talk to them. They accepted everything they heard, and they did what they were told. Or so it was said at the factory.” (20) Dick stresses the authoritarian relationships that children are subject to and suggests how this is easily exploited by the consumerism. The figure demands that Bobby calls him “My Lord,” an order that Bobby immediately follows. In fact, Bobby does not resist any of My Lord’s commands or suggestions. He is already well trained to follow orders. My Lord says to himself: “He understands that I’m going to be here. Children seem to be like that. As a subject race they have been taught to accept; it’s all they can do. I am another teacher, invading his life, giving him orders. Another voice.” (23)
In this way, “The Little Movement” was the first of many anti-consumerism stories Dick would write in the 1950s, but it is also the beginning of his interest in the problematic relationship between adults and children.
Complicating the analysis is the fact that the “little movement” fails due to the collective action of the old toys—the new toys are themselves modern, mechanical, and technically advanced. This may be pointing out that one way to confront consumerism is through an appreciation of the old toys. This is not mere sentiment as in The Velveteen Rabbit. There is a much more politically astute observation in “The Little Movement.”
A more complex question is that nature of the forces behind “the Movement.” It is not clearly stated who took over the factory and who is overseeing the construction of the toy weapons. Whoever or whatever this is, it is the real power behind the attempt to overthrown humanity. It is quite possible an automated factory. It is suggested that this may be the case and it is in My Lord’s ideas of the long term plans for the Movement. “Perhaps they would capture a second factory. Or better yet: build dies and machines themselves to turn out larger Lords. Yes, if only they could be larger, just a little larger.” (25)
A brief Wikipedia entry on the story.
From the film The Corporation on marketing to children.
Joe Bakan on corporate exploitation of children.