The Man Who Japed was published in 1956 and is Dick’s second science fiction novel, after Solar Lottery. It was originally published by Ace Books, in a volume with E. C. Tudd’s The Space Born. This was a common practice in the “golden age” of science fiction as a way to promote younger authors.
Chapter 1 — Allen Purcell and his wife Janet wake up in their one room apartment. The apartment transforms from a bedroom to a kitchen in preparation for the start of the day. Janet gets in line to use the communal bathrooms. Allen takes some pills to deal with his slight hangover. He has three wines while he took a risky trip to Hokkaido he took the previous night on a company ship. Purcell is the owner of Allen Purcells, Inc., an agency that produces propaganda campaigns (called packets) for the government. While his company is small compared to the big four leaders, he thinks his produces the most innovative ideas. The rest just borrow old principles of Moral Reclamation dating back decades to the time of Major Streiter. Janet comes back and asks him about his trip. Allen insists that no one saw him and that he only went for advice from a colleague, Sugarman. They look out at the park, which has a large statue of Streiter. On his way out, Purcell is stopped and questioned by Mrs. Burmingham of the Parents Citizens’ Committee. She asks about Janet and about his trip to Hokkaido. It is a common enough encounter, fully in line with the goals and objectives of Moral Reclamation. Allen learned to survive them. Like the juveniles, it was just part of life.
Chapter 2 — Allen Purcell arrives at his fourth floor office and is informed that Sue Frost, an administrator at Telemedia has arrived. Purcell immediately goes to see her. Frost is an older woman, very professional and serious. Frost shows Purcell a packet his agency produces and informs him that Myron, the head of Telemedia, had “qualms” about it. The packet is an image of a man trying to grow an apple tree on the colony, but it dies. She is uncertain what the Morec (short for Moral Reclamation) of it is. Purcell explains that the message is that he should not have tried to grow the apple tree far from Earth, in the colonies. It symbolizes the need for a spiritual center. Frost explains that with all the money spent on colonial development, the packet will not do. The Morec is too opaque. Purcell insists on taking the packet back, but Frost wants it revised for clarity. Fred Luddy, who worked on the packet, concedes Frosts’ point. Purcell immediately fires him for insubordination. Frost stays to review the agency and praises Purcell for his decision.
Chapter 3 — Allen Purcell is at the office of Myron Mavis, the head of Telemedia. He calls home to tell his wife he will be home late. He begins to discuss the future of Telemedia with Sue Frost. Frost wants to break up Telemedia into smaller segments. The centralized job is too much for Mavis. They discuss the “domino method” used to sustain ideological purity in society. Purcell thinks the theory is false because a single individual will always rise up to contest the collective. They talk about this Mavis who insists that such individuals are “noose” (or neuropsychiatric) and sent to the resort planet anyway. They take a Getabout to the committee building. Another Getabout labelled as from The Pure Food and Drug League tries to pass them. Its attempt causes an accident forcing the party to walk to the committee building. Mavis is kept behind. Frost makes it clear that she wants to attend the committee meeting without Mavis.
Chapter 4 — Allen Purcell returns home at 9:30 PM. Janet Purcell begins to fix him a later dinner. Allen begins to break down when telling Janet that he has been offered Myron Mavis’ job as head of Telemedia. He fears the job because of Mavis’ rapid burnout from being head of Telemadia. He talks about the old men who separate from life by moving to Hokkaido, slowly dying in the ruins. He wonders what the point they are trying to make is. Janet shows him a newspaper report about the vandalism of the statue of Major Jules Streiter. Janet suspects it was Allen and he confessed that he removed the statue’s head. Janet is not too worried that he will be caught but is curious about why he did it. Allen finds it funny that he “japed” the statue and a few hours later is offered a major promotion.
Chapter 5 — Allen Purcell visits the park that houses the vandalized statue of Major Streiter. The status is covered up with a large wooden box. A citizen at the park mentions rumors that the “anarchists” that vandalized the statue will soon be bombing Telemedia or tainting the drinking water. He thinks that the people who did this want to take down Morec. Purcell sees a dark haired girl also watching the police work at the site. There was fake blood at the site leading from the statue, which increases the feeling of anxiety among the citizens looking at the scene. The dark haired girl confesses to being happy that the status has been destroyed. She wants to celebrate. They walk away and discuss the boldness of the crime. The status was not only painted in fake blood, but reformed to make it look like Major Streiter is reading to kick his own head. She asks about Purcell’s condition. He admits that he had job worried and an aloof wife. She gives him an address that promises to help him. As she walks away, he realizes that the girl was waiting for him.
Chapter 6 — Allen Purcell calls Sue Frost, leaving a message letting her know that he cannot make a decision about taking the job as head of Telemedia so quickly. He worried as well about the possibility that his japing of the Major Streiter statue would be discovered. He looks at the piece of paper the girl gave him, it only has “Health Resort Gretchen Malparto” written on it. This points to the place that Morec society sends deserters and other degenerates. Sue Frost replies the message, giving Purcell four and a half days to decide on the job. He contacts the Mental Health Resort and finds that Gretchen Malparto is the brother of a doctor there. He makes an appointment under the name Mr. Coates.
Chapter 7 —Allen Purcell attends the weekly block meeting for his housing unit, officiated by Mrs. Birmingham, the warden of the block. He observes the juveniles, who serve as informers reporting on the moral behavior of the community. Purcell sees them as a sinister force. He warns Janet not to interfere when he is called up for the public confessional. The first case that comes up is Miss J.E. who is accused of having sex. In the end, J.E. was released with a verbal reprimand, given by an electronic voice that poses as the impartial judge. Next, Purcell is accused of arriving home drunk, falling asleep in public, and speaking a curse word. He confesses to drinking three glasses of wine in Hokkaido (a fact that is deemed irrelevant). The voice gets to the heart of the matter. Purcell is supposed to be dedicated to the morality of the community, yet is proven to be capable of moral failing. It then turns on the community, accusing them of not doing enough to respect Purcell and honor his presence. After the meeting Purcell meets Wales, a member of the community. He is revealed to have been the voice tonight and explains that Purcell is well-liked in the community.
Chapter 8—Purcell, posing as Mr. Coates, sees Doctor Malparto. Malparto reveals that he knows who he is and understands his case. “Coates” tells Malparto that a switch went off in his head, causing him to jape the statue of Major Streiter, leading to his conflict over taking the job at Telemedia. “Coates” discusses how he likes the frontier and how he met his wife in the colonies. He was attracted to the open debate there. He then agrees to treatment, with a payment based on his income (in good Morec style). He tells Malparto that he visited friends in Hokkaido before japing the statue, before this he had some beer. Malparto gets some equipment ready and clears his schedule so he can look deep into “Coates” suppressed memories.
Chapter 9—In his memory Allen Purcell is leaving the Agency. He sees a cluster of neon lights and goes to investigate them. He sees a group of boys who explain that the lights came from Bellatrix 7. They begin to talk about how they want to emigrate to the colonies. Purcell counters that their parents worked hard to lease homes so close to the center. He realizes that Morec is not natural, which explained the boys’ desire to leave. He almost purchases a fifth of scotch and a 3.2 beer (made of hay) from an Autofac commissary. This is all he can remember before going to Hokkaido. At Hokkaido Purcell visits Tom Gates and Sugermann (Sugie) who make their living digging up old trash and selling it. Gates is there when he arrives and he looks at what they have for sale. His attention is drawn to old magazines and a pornographic novel called The Indefatigable Virgin. Also in their collection is a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Sugermann comes up the stairs and explains the history of the censorship of Ulysses. Purcell gets annoyed at the thought of all the knowledge lost by Morec dumping these “unMorec” texts in the trash. He deeply wants the Joyce book but cannot afford it. In Malparto’s office, the doctor and patient debrief. Malparto points out that the japery had no impact on Morec society, but it made some of the Cohorts who were sent to guard and cover the statue up laugh.
Chapter 10—At the Agency, Purcell learns that Luddy started working at a competing firm taking all the packets with him. Purcell realizes that this means they will need to focus on creating entirely new packets, this was an unfortunate side effect of firing someone. Purcell calls his wife, making a joke by pretending to be from the Mortuary League, before making dinner plans. That evening the Purcells, along with their two kids, visit a museum which had a disply on life in the “Age of Waste.” Ned, their son, wants to see an exhibit recreating their homes and the destruction of the nuclear war. Purcell tells Janet about Luddy’s defection and theft of materials. He is confident that he is still more creative than Luddy and can develop better packets in the future. He decides to take the job as head of Telemedia, in part to crush Luddy’s new employers Blake-Moffet. The next morning, Purcell lets Sue Frost know he is taking the job.
Chapter 11—Allen Purcell has a dream that involves him destroying a parked Getabout with a giant stone. He returns to his bed without a work to his wife.
Chapter 12—The next day Allen Purcell wakes up next to his wife, who asks him where he went around 3 AM. He tries to explain his dream, which took place on some jungle planet. Janet Purcell notices that the head of Major Steiter is in a laundry bag in the closet. Allen realizes that the dream was real, he had grabbed a large stone in the form of Steiter’s head. Allen calls the Mental Health Resort to get advice from Droctor Malparto. “Mr. Coates” arrives in Malparto’s office and tells him how he stole the head. Malparto artempts an ESP deck experiment. The tests confirm that “Coates” does not have normal psi-talents, but Malparto wonders if he has “extra extra-sensory perception.” Malpart begins a series of tests to identify Purcell’s ability. They all fail. Before Malparto can finish his long list of tests, “Coates” leaves the office with a vague promise to return.
Chapter 13—Allen Purcell gets off a bus and encounters a suburban neighborhood. He talks about shopping with the man next to him. Purcell does not know where he is and knows that he is not in Malparto’s Health Resort anymore. He also knows this place is not Morec society, especially when encountering a nude sunbather. He asks the woman for directions to his home, which she discovers from an identification card, listing his named as John Coates. He goes to the house, passes a baby that recognizes him and enters. Inside he finds Gretchen Malparto addressing him familiarly. He learns that they have been married. Apparently they have been married for four year. He mentions the stone head, but Gretchen does not seem to understand. Purcell realizes that he is in a delusional world constructed by the John Coates personality. Purcell begins to hear people discuss his case. Purcell tells Gretchen that he is having a psychotic fantasy. His environment breaks down around him.
Chapter 14—Allen Purcell opens his eyes and finds the room returned but Gretchen had vanished. He explores the room and hears voices that he identifies as Doctor Malparto and Gretchen. He finds out how Gretchen was creating a fake room using an electronic device. He uses it to expose the reality. Looking at a newspaper he finds that he is not in a fantasy world but in the Vega System, the Other World where Morec society sends people who cannot be cured. He writes his “wife” a note telling her that he apparently impregnated another woman. He calls for instructions on getting off the planet and back to Earth. Unable to afford the fare, he tries to call Earth. He goes to the space port, and demands to be allowed to return to Morec. He threatens to kill a hostage until he is allowed onto the ship, into the hands of a Morec sheriff.
Chapter 15—It took Allen Purcell a good part of a week to return to Earth, giving him one day before he had to start his job at Telemedia. He realizes that Malparto was attempting to spirit him away to the Other World for some reason. Janet was told by Malparto that Allen was having a breakdown and needed to recuperate in the Other World. He contacts Sue Frost who demands he come immediately to her apartment. When he arrives at Frost’s apartment she confronts him on his long, unexpected, and unexplained absence. Tony Blake from Blake-Moffet arrives as well, along with Luddy. She tells him that Blake had provided documents that suggest Purcell has divorced his wife or has been seeing other women, crimes that would make him illegible for the job. They had knowledge that he left Earth with Gretchen (although they had the named Grace Maldini). They know he left Earth and that Janet Purcell lied about his actions during the week. They demand to see the girl. He confesses only to the trip to Hokkaido to get materials, denying any affair or plans for divorce.
Chapter 16—Allen Purcell is preparing to start his new job at Telemedia and Myron Mavis wishes him luck. Mavis knows that Blake was obviously sore at Purcell getting the position. They also review the rejected packet showing the tree that died. Purcell suggests a desire to see that packet put out. He calls his wife and tells her to make plans for celebrating. He refuses to explain what happened at Frost’s apartment. The first person who comes to see him is Gretchen Malparto.
Chapter 17—Allen Purcell threatens Gretchen Malparto with being arrests for her and her brother’s actions. He locked the door and calls his colleague at his Agency to come in secret. Gretechen defends her actions, blaming her brother for the planning, but expressing a real desire to be with Purcell in the Other World. She also explains that her brother really thinks that he has a psi-ability, maybe precognition. Gretchen, however, thinks Purcell has something more dangerous, a sense of humor. He is a rare example of a balanced human being in an unbalanced world. He has been given the job of overseeing the ethics of society. Gretchen sees Purcell as ethical, but not sharing the ethics of society at large. Both japery and Morec are necessary to keep the society functioning, in the same way that censorship requires people willing to sell banned books. She confesses a romantic attraction to Purcell and asks for a kiss goodbye before she parts from him forever. He does, but their kiss is caught by a juvenile. Purcell manages to destroy the juvenile, but Blake and Luddy barge in and try to retrieve its film. He instructs Gretchen to flee. With evidence of the kiss, Purcell will lose his position to the Blake-Moffet men.
Chapter 18—Allen Purcell tells Janet that he is going to go to the block meeting and fight against the system, since they are going to lose their lease anyway. He thinks that as long as he is Director of Telemedia he may be able to get a lease out of Sue Frost. He decides that Gretchen was not in the frame-up job, but he is still not clear on her and her brother’s motivations for taking him to the Other World. He has no idea how Sue Frost will read the event and respond to it.
Chapter 19—Allen Purcell is brought before the housing unit block meeting for engaging “in a vile enterprise” with a woman and for destroying the surveillance equipment (the juvenile) that recorded the deed. The public investigation into his actions two days earlier (one his first day of work at Telemedia) it contentious. Purcell attempts to claim that the woman he was with (Gretchen Malparto) was just a friend, and had nothing to do with his earlier trip to Hokkaido. Purcell begins to lash out at the voice—much more harsh than the one he faced before. He also attacked the entire system of public inquisition. With this, the council of ladies terminates Purcell’s lease in the building. He and Janet have two weeks to move out. He sees Mr. Wales who tells Purcell that has had secured a new lease and had moved out so he could not be there to defend Purcell. Wales invites Purcell over to his new place for a visit. Back at work, Sur Frost also invites Purcell and his wife to dinner, later asking for his written resignation. Purcell refuses, forcing Sue Frost to go through the formal process with the committee.
Chapter 20—Mr. Wales enters his new apartment and is overcome with guilt over having not helped Allen Purcell, who had helped so many others during the block meetings. He yells to the empty room: “You can have it back.”
Chapter 21—Allen Purcell informs his staff that he has been asked to resign and will be fired soon, within a week. He tells them that they may be fired for what he will have them do over the next week, giving them the option to sit out the assignments. Only a woman named Nan stayed behind from his immediate staff. He sends her to survey the departments. Purcell directs Phyllis Frame of the historical research department to put together a profile on Major Streiter. He supplements his depleted staff with workers from his private agency. Another worker who stayed behind was the head of music Mr. Gleeby. Later in the day, Purcell explains to Gleeby that they are going to put out a major jape on Streiter. At home, Allen Purcell shows Janet the television plug for the broadcast, which will be about Major Streiter’s “active assimilation” policy. The newspaper later reported about the emerging interest in “active assimilation,” which Purcell explains was something he just invented.
Chapter 22—Debate about reviving active assimilation is running high, with many people thinking its return will help deal with the social deviants increasingly populating the Other World and undermining Morec society. With the project done, near total saturation of society with the message will be easily accomplished. Sue Frost comes to Purcell’s office to find out what he has been working on. He refuses to explain. Purcell prepares bottles of Scotch for celebration. He takes a call from Myron Mavis and instructs the former head of Telemedia not to miss the broadcast. The broadcast is called “The Pageant of Time” and it is about Major Streiter’s policy of active assimilation. It is presented as a formal historical documentary, with some Telemedia staff members posing as established academics. Sugarman comes to help with the broadcast as well. It begins with a review of the decline of society in Streiter’s time and how morality was only being preserved within the small bands of Reclaimers. They explain that active assimilation preceded the autofac system and that the first assimilation took place in 1987. Gleeby, posing as one of the academics, makes it clear that assimilation was a euphemism for cannibalism. The broadcast is shut down at this point.
Chapter 23—The staff at Telemedia manage to get their power back up to continue the broadcast. The discussion had moved on from the methods of assimilation (boiling being a favorite) to the contemporary use of assimilation to solve social problems. Properly prepared assimilation will not only create a deterrence against anti-social behavior but will also create a gourmet cuisine. Eventually, the broadcast is shut down and the audience is advised to stop watching due to “technical difficulties.” The Telemedia staff implements their escape plan. Allen Purcell finds his wife who is prepared to leave. He tells her that Streiter did not litearlly eat people, but that it was a good metaphor for Morec. The Purcells were about to catch the same ship as Mavis Myron, leaving for Sirius. Myron promised them use of half of the planet, but they decide to face the consequences. While waiting for the Cohort to arrest him, Allen Purcell announces to a small crowd that he japed the statue of Major Streiter.
Important Characters and Concepts
Allen Purcell: Allen Purcell is the head of Research Agency, a government contractor providing propaganda for the government. His is one of the smallest of the agencies in his field, but it is known for its creativity and challenge material, called packets. Over the course of the novel Purcell is lifted up to be the head of the major government media apparatus, called Telemedia. Despite this he is secretly—and initially unknown to himself—a political dissenter. His realization that he has contempt for the system is the major plotline in the book. He involves himself in two major “japes”: the vandalism of a statue of Major Streiter and a falsified documentary. By the end of the novel, Purcell is in open moral and political rebellion.
Morec: Morec is short for Moral Reclamation, a neo-Puritian philosophy the emerged after a nuclear war (ending in 1972) under the leadership of Major Streiter. The details of this movement are shadowed by propaganda, however. The major components of Morec are the total surveillance of the population through mechanical devices called juveniles, public inquisitions at the level of the housing unit, the expulsion of those deemed neuropsychiatrics to the frontier worlds, a heavy propaganda apparatus, and the use of local leaders to distribute knowledge (called dominos). Philip K. Dick presents the major weakness of Morec as the autonomous individual, a sentiment briefly introduced by Purcell early in the novel.
Telemedia: At the beginning of the novel Telemedia (known as T-M) is run by Myron Mavis, an overworked and burned out bureaucrat. It is presented as the most important and powerful of the government bureaus. T-M is responsible for all the propaganda, television, radio, and print media within Morec society. They make used of contractors such as Allen Purcell to craft their message. The major goal is to promote policies of the government with undermining Morec principles. Sometimes this is difficult as evidenced by a packet Purcell presents that suggests a central Morec concept, but at the expense of frontier agricultural policy. Outside of Telemedia The Man Who Japed gives little information about the rest of the government.
Gretchen Malparto: Gretchen Malparto is a dark-haired and sexually attractive woman who catches Purcell’s attention at the park while he watches the police deal with the vandalized statue. Using her brother (a psychiatrist) as an accomplice, she get Purcell into psychiatric treatment and then spirits him away to the Other World, a frontier dumping ground for the morally debased. Her motives are left ambiguous, but she is integral in Purcell’s realization that he is an enemy of Morec. She is also responsible for Purcell being forced into open rebellion, by kissing him in front of the gaze of juveniles. Her connection to the Other World strongly suggests that Malparto and her brother are part of a resistance movement.
Block meetings: The most important possession that people in Morec society have is their lease. All land is owned by the state, so leases are earned and passed down through the family. People can lose their lease if they are deemed morally unacceptable to the block community. In weekly meetings, reports on the morally-suspicious behavior of building residents are investigated in public inquisitions. Violators are punished in various ways, the most extreme punishment being the loss of a lease. A voice serves as an apparently neutral, but authoritative, arbiter. The voice is always a disguised resident of the building.
Economy: The economy of Morec society entails a deep contraction. On the one hand it embraces a Calvinist work ethic that requires everyone to work hard. Leisure is always a potential violation of Morec. Yet, autofacs (automated factors, see “Autofac”) have taken over much of the work of production. The frontier economies are apparently less automated and focus on agricultural production.
The Other World: The Other World is a planet in another star system where neuropsychiatric “patients” are sent for exile. Life on the Other World resembles 1950s American suburbia, but without many of the moral hangups. Sexuality is much more liberated. Martial monogamy is nonexistence and nudity is accepted. However, it appears to be a functioning society largely independent from the Morec core on Earth. Other colonies are more closely tied to Earth through agricultural programs, investments, and settlement.
Hokkaido: Hokkaido is a place on Earth that has not been subject to Morec, largely due to the intense levels of radiation there. Purcell visits Hokkaido before the events of the novel. His travels there are held in suspicion by the block leaders. A vibrant black market exists in Hokkaido. Purcell himself finds a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, while visiting Hokkaido, although he cannot afford to purchase it.
Psi-ability: As in many of Philip K. Dick’s novels and stories, The Man Who Japed is populated by some posthumans. The Malpartos suspect that Purcell had a psi-power, although Gretchen Malparto eventually concludes that his ability is merely to have a sense of humor in a humorless world. However, the novel does not give any verified demonstrations of psi abilities, nor an analysis of how they fit into the Morec society.
The Man Who Japed combines a handful of ideas from Philip K. Dick’s early stories, but is still quite unique, particularly in in world-building. Dick’s major contribution in this novel is the construction of Morec, or Moral Reclamation. Although we have some Orwellian imagery here (the abbreviated names, the struggle of the individual who feels at odds with the system, “juveniles” are informers on adults—here they are robotic), Morec is not the full dictatorship of a party-state. Instead, we are given a much more decentralized and loose system. Morality is enforced not by the state but by the individual housing units. In this way, Morec looks more like an expanded system of gated communities, or elite suburban developments. The punishment for not obeying the laws is exile from the community through the loss of a lease. The worst offenders are sent to the Other World. Other criminals go to agricultural colonies to work. So while the state seems to care about how people think—it creates Telemedia to try to enforce conformity—it is not too worked up when the system fails. No torture, no executions are necessary. Dick, looking at the 1950s middle class in America probably though that would be enough to create a morally-unified community.
The most philosophically interesting part of the novel has to do with the protagonist, Allen Purcell, and his relationship with Morec. When the reader meets Purcell, we learn that he is a high-ranking supporter of Morec. His entire profession revolves around crafting its message. Yet, he is driven to break the rules of the society. Some are minor infractions such as drinking too much or visiting Hokkaido, known for its black market. His worst crime, however, is the japery of the statue of Major Streiter, the founder of Morec. He has only a vague memory of doing this. Gretchen Malparto and her brother attempt to learn what made him do it, and in the process take him to the Other World, where Gretchen attempts to seduce him into being his wife. He flees the Other World, returns to Earth to take a job as head of Telemedia, but with his memories fully awakened. This allows him to enter into full rebellion against the system, leading to the ultimate japery, the construction of a false history of Major Streiter, suggesting that he was a cannibal.
Here again we see Dick coming out as fundamentally anti-Orwellian. In 1984, truth was being denied by the state in order to sustain its own power. Without a past, the people could have no future. Dick turns this on its head and shows how a false history can be used as a tool of resistance. It is important to remember that censorship is not so much the suppression of truth, but the imposition of one subjectivity (that of the state) on all of society, abolishing competing subjectivities. Dick realized this and wrote The Man Who Japed to show how lies can be liberating, or at least a challenge to those in power. This is the major power of the novel. Even the title shows that Dick thought the moral center of the novel is in the japery, not in the “truth.”
It is often too easy to downplay the importance of Philip K. Dick’s early novels, calling them undeveloped, hasty, or “apprentice” works. They are not often read by students of Dick. Fans may look at them with curiosity but tend to prefer his later famous works. I believe, however, that we have much to learn from Dick’s early novels and, especially, the 1952–1955 stories. They have themes that do not exist in the later works. It is for this reason that they are often ignored. Those looking for the religious, philosophical, or spiritual messages will leave The Man Who Japed with disappointment. Reading it with an open mind is revealing, and helps us think about power. Community morality can be as powerful as the tyranny of the state. We rarely glimpse the police or the government authority in the novel, but Ms. Birmingham, who runs the block meetings at Purcell’s building is an authoritarian figure indeed, and much more frightening in her own way than “Big Brother,” largely because she is so familiar.