Seeking Identity in the Police State: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said


The first half of the 1970s was difficult for science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (PKD). During this period, the author's marriage to his fourth wife, Nancy Hackett, began to crack, and his wife moved to a separate house. He was mentally exhausted from the heavy use of amphetamines and has almost lost his ability to write. After separating his wife, he accepted young people who use drugs into his home and began to live a chaotic life.

In November 1971, someone sneaked into his house, blasted his safe, and stole many of his personal notes. This caused the author to panic, and many suspects appeared in his mind, including the Russians and the CIA. The police could not determine who the intruders were and even suspect that the PKD brought this scenario to life.

A short time later, PKD traveled to Canada to attend the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention as the guest of honor. There he fell in love with a woman named Janis and decided to stay in Canada. He attempted suicide by drinking potassium bromide in March 1972, after his relationship with Janis ended. After receiving treatment at a clinic in Canada, he returned to the USA penniless and lived in a student residence.

PKD met Tessa in 1973 and married after a while, and completed his novel Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said, which was published in 1974. The novel deals with the themes resembling what he experienced during this period: identity, loss of identity, being famous or being an average person, and the effects of drugs on the mind.

Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said takes place in 1988 when the USA turned into a police state due to the second civil war. Jason Tavener, a famous singer, wakes up one morning to find himself in a cheap hotel room. He was attacked by one of his ex-lovers and taken to that place after emergency surgery. He wears a specially sewn silk costume and has a wad of money in his pocket but no ID cards. Moreover, his agent, lawyer, and even his girlfriend, Heather, do not know Jason Taverner. The night before, he was a television star with millions of fans, the next day, he turned into a person nobody knew.

It is no coincidence that Jason Tavener was admired by millions. He was the product of a genetic engineering experiment that began forty-five years ago in Washington. With the genetic interventions, he has had a superior memory and concentration as well as physical beauty and attractiveness.

The environment is quite challenging for a person without an identity card. There are police checkpoints at every street corner, students collected from university campuses are sent to labor camps. Meanwhile, a population control program is underway to reduce the population of African Americans.

Jason Tavernier, like his creator Philip K. Dick, seeks peace with women. It cannot be said that he fully trusts the women he spends time with. He deceives them from time to time; he fears being deceived, betrayed but still always in their orbit. First, he tries to ask for help from his girlfriend, Heather, who is also a television star. When Heather doesn't recognize him, he turns to Kathy, who turns out to be a police informant, for help, and Kathy prepares fake identity papers for him. In the later parts of the novel, he spends time with Alys, the sister of a high-ranking police officer, and finally, Mary Anne.

The female characters in the novel are portrayed very vividly, and their dialogues with Jason are deftly written. The female characters with interesting personalities have added some color to the novel and balance the dark atmosphere.

PKD's works are called science fiction as well as paranoid fiction. The events in Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said, like other PKD works, occur in an uncanny atmosphere dominated by uncertainty and anxiety. While the novel carries traces of the USA of the period, it also reflects the paranoid tendencies of the PKD.

We know that PKD was greatly influenced by Franz Kafka in the early stages of his career. Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said bears similarities with Kafka's novel The Trial. In both novels, the main characters are torn from their old lives without knowing their crimes. Jason Taverner is more sociable and resourceful than Josef K. Therefore, Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said is not as pessimistic as The Trial. We can attribute this to Jason Taverner's close relationship with women and the underlying sense of humor of PKD.

The rational explanation of what happened to Jason Taverner is not strong. Therefore, some readers may find it difficult to follow how events unfold. Fortunately, there is an epilogue at the end of the book about what happened to the characters. This section, which we use to see mostly in movies, plays a key role in understanding the book in general.

Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and won the John W. Campbell Science Fiction Award in 1975. It is one of the author's three award-winning novels, along with The Man in the High Castle and Scanning the Darkness, and the author's only book that was nominated for all prestigious science fiction awards.

As explained above, the book's period was quite complex and turbulent for PKD. He was a writer respected by science fiction enthusiasts. At the same time, he suffered from lack of money, health problems, fear of police investigation, and bonded with counterculture movements. We know that PKD includes biographical elements in his novels. In this respect, it is not difficult to guess that the novel's main theme is the conflict between the identities of a gifted star artist and a poor and aging man on the verge of mental illness.

Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said is one of the rarest pieces of the PKD collection, with its dark atmosphere in which the police state oppression is felt, interesting female portraits, and meticulous expression. Readers who consider science fiction to be good literature will likely love the book.

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