Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439
Philip K. Dick published his first novel, Solar Lottery, in 1955. Eye in the Sky was his fifth novel and one of the first to take up the theme that would eventually dominate his work: What is real? As Jack Hamilton and his companions move from worldview to worldview, how do they know which is the real world and which is not?
Eye in the Sky is most interesting for its use of setting. The novel employs a frame tale—Jack and the others in the common world—as well as four stories inside that frame, totaling five settings in Eye in the Sky. Among other things, the frame tales setting is marked by Communist paranoia. Marsha Hamilton is a freethinker: She contributes to left-wing causes, subscribes to left-wing journals, and attends left-wing meetings. Therefore, the Establishment sees her as pro-Communist, and her husband is branded a security risk and given a choice: to divorce his wife or quit his job. While under this cloud, the couple goes to the Bevatron demonstration.
Arthur Silvester’s worldview is that of a religious fundamentalist, and the problems of living in a society constructed on the basis of religious fundamentalism are demonstrated in the chapters controlled by him. Edith Pritchett is a self-centered Victorian prude, and when she has control, she eliminates anything she finds uncomfortable, so that her world becomes less and less interesting. Joan Reiss, in her paranoia, constructs a world in which no one can be safe, in which nothing is what it seems to be and everything is dangerous. Finally, Charley McFeyffes world is a caricature of the Communist view of the United States. When the characters escape from it, they are back in the world of the frame tale, a world dominated, appropriately enough, by an excessive, paranoid fear of Communism. In other words, they have returned to the real America in the period when Eye in the Sky was written.
The two most fascinating things about Eye in the Sky are its use of setting as a means of characterization and its analysis of the major social ills of the United States during the 1950s. The worldviews of the four characters show what it would be like to live in their places (characterization); each worldview also highlights what Dick saw as a major social ill of the time (social analysis). Contemporary social criticism fueled Dicks writing up to The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), when he began to concentrate even more fully on the issue “What is real?” as in such novels as Ubik (1969) and VALIS (1981). Eye in the Sky is one of Dicks best early novels.
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