Narritive and Technology
Throughout Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we are presented with several ways of looking at the novel. Whether it is at face value of a man trying to capture and “retire” androids or a more philosophical reasoning. During chapter 1 of Marcuse’s text, he says “intellectual freedom would mean the restoration of individual thought now absorbed by mass communication and indoctrination.” This can easily be used to develop a better understanding Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The first sign of intellectual oppression and the fight that is waged on throughout this novel is in the first chapter when Iran scheduled “a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” (p.2). This is a rebel act because they have the power to just skip emotions, and “dial” whatever feelings they wanted to enjoy. Iran, in contrast to the women of Frankenstein, is active in the process of rebelling against the societal norms. She recalls hearing “the emptiness intellectually”, when talking about turning on the television. This is critical in Marcuse’s thought that to obtain intellectual freedom, you must fight off the “mass communication and indoctrination” of our time. Once she felt this emptiness, she rejects the thought to use her “Penfield mood organ” to adjust how she is feeling(p.3); instead she decides to do something unheard of, she scheduled her six-hour depression session. Her rebelliousness startles Rick, for Rick himself is at this point completely enveloped in the indoctrination. He decides to “dial” her setting that indoctrinates her to have “pleased acknowledgment of [her] husband’s superior wisdom in all matters.” (p.5). So right from the beginning, the novel is started off in a war for intellectual freedom. As I mentioned before, Iran is not just a passive woman, she is willing to fight for what she believes is right for her. She clearly is on her way to becoming free, if not on the threshold already, for on page 83 when Rick phoned Iran, she was experiencing the “six-hour self-accusatory depression which she had prophesied”. This confused Rick, as he is not accustom to this rebelliousness that his wife is displaying. The beauty of this is not the fact that she is depressed, because that in itself is sad, but the fact that she is achieving freedom. If she wants to be depressed she is allowed to be depressed, she isn’t just going to be happy all the time, because that is not truly normal.
Even though she has started to rebel in one part of the novel, as the book progresses we become aware that she in fact goes through the much needed cycles of rebellion. At one point slipping right back into following what Buster has to say. She asks her husband for confirmation on the subject, unaware of his undergoing change with Mercer, which shows a light relapse back under Buster’s control. However with all changes in life, when a strong person tries to rebel, there will be setbacks. In Iran’s case, hers was not a full set back because she still has the presence of mind to question Buster, “Do you think it could be true?” (p.201). Talking to Rick about Buster’s assault on Mercerism. Her full coming of complete rebellion is in her indecision in the last chapter. She sits at the mood organ, and just like an addict, toys with the thought of using it. Relapsing back totally to the beginning, before the novel. The only thing is she cannot make up her mind, subconsciously she understands that it is inherently “evil” to her. This much we can tell from her total hesitation on using it. She thinks about using it as a substitute to make her feel better because her love, Rick, is in an unknown location. The transformation comes when she hears him, “a knock sounded at the apartment door,” this shows that intellectual freedom does not come solely by yourself. You need others to help you make it the whole way, just like anything else. Rick comes in, as her savior, as her Mercer, and just like that she doesn’t need anything other than him. She “already [has] it” in Rick (p.213). Her fight of mass media, and intellectual rebellion was only able to be completed with the help of her husband.
Isidore is someone else who is not quite along the road to freedom that Iran is. In fact Isidore, starts his journey during the beginning of the novel. In the first few chapters while he is still alone, we learn just how confused he is, because of indoctrination and mass media. He believes in a religion of sorts called Mercer. Where he is connected with everyone, but because he is connected with everyone, he is in fact at a loss of intellectual freedom. We are introduced to him as a “chickenhead” or a “special” (p.15), which means his IQ is not very high. However, that is what makes him so impressive of a character. Throughout the novel, we see him very little, but every time we do he is making great strides toward breaking through the bonds of intellectual oppression. Isidore is a tool for us to see into the indoctrination of mercer, and the fight that mercer is having with Buster, the universal television broadcaster.Isidore provides us an interesting insight to how there is a war between the two when he has a conversation with his boss Mr. Sloat. Isidore believes, with good reason that “Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls” (p.67). This is a direct relation with what Marcuse is saying about breaking free from the people trying to control you. At the end of their discussion, they come to a consensus that “Buster is immortal, like Mercer” and in fact, “There’s no difference” (p. 67). They are immortal, because they are trying to control the people of earth, and thus will continue on forever until the people of earth are able to liberate themselves from that bond they have created with Mercer and Buster.
Without Isidore, we lose sight of how bad it really has become on Earth and how much he is able to change in a short amount of time. As he is a chickenhead, the general populous feel as though he truly is below them. In fact when Mr. Sloat wants Isidore to phone the owner, even Isidore believes that he can’t do it because he’s “hairy, ugly, dirty, stooped, snaggle-toothed and gray” (p. 69). The thought of having to deal with someone outside of his normality, scares him into feeling like he is “going to die” (p.69). This is why he is so sensitive to the indoctrination of Mercer and Buster, however we see that once he calls the owner and doesn’t make a complete idiot out of himself that he gains confidence in himself. He then takes semi-charge and decides to “call them now before it starts to decay” (p.73). This confidence only continues on his way home from work when he buys Pris food, and approaches her door. As of right now we can only assume that his new found confidence is not only a result of talking on the vidphone but also that of no longer living a life of solitude. At this point Mercer takes a back seat in his life, as he can fully focus on his “romance” with Pris. However this all starts to crumble when the two are no longer alone, that is when Baty and Irmgard show up. Baty now becomes the alpha male in the group, even though he is not a human. Isidore is once again on the outside of the box, but even though he still not totally lose his faith and courage in himself yet. “Isidore spoke up, summoning courage,” this is where we can draw that he is starting to lose his confidence (p.137), for he has to summon the courage, it is no longer available outwardly. After this the group of three androids thus starts to talk down upon him and thus continue the slow progression of destroying his new found courage. “I’m not going to live with a chickenhead,” Pris absurdly remarks when the idea of her moving in with him is suggested (p.137).
As his courage starts to take hits left and right from the new found “friends” he is still willing to make himself useful by “making [their] stay here on Earth pleasant” (p.146). As he starts to move Pris’s things into his apartment, he amazingly finds a rare wild spider. This excites him enough to make his “heart pound” and give him “difficulty breathing” (p. 181). Unfortunately for him this is the beginning on his total relapse back to mass media. The Androids are so curios to why the spider has eight legs, they decide it would be best to experiment and see if it could survive with four. Irmgard wants to “cut four off and see” if it can still survive and move (p. 181). This strikes a “weird terror” into Isidore, for he cannot bear to see his precious spider destroyed (p.181). After the spider has had its four legs cut off they torture it more by lighting a match and holding it “near the spider, closer and closer, until at last it crept feebly away.” (p.185). This combined with the thought that Mercer was just a swindler put him over the edge and threw him right back to Mercer. He subconsciously grabbed the handles of the empathy box, and came face to face with the mass media “god” Mercer. The weird thing is, if we look how Mercer is, we almost feel that he is not at all a mass media man, but a literal “god” of some sorts, appearing when needed and helping those who need him. Mercer tells Isidore, that yes “I am a fraud” and that “they’re sincere” (p.189). This is exactly what Isidore needed to fully break the chains of the “intellectual oppression” that Mercer and Buster bring about. In the end, after his new found “friends” were killed off, he realizes that he needs to “live deeper in town where there’s more people” (p.199)
The final person that is able to break the bonds of society and gain “intellectual freedom” is Rick himself. As we recall at the beginning of the novel, he is heavily reliant on the mood organ. He talks about how his wife is going to “defeat the whole purpose of the mood organ” when she is scheduling her depression (p.2). His character is one of the most dynamic, because thought the whole novel he is continually changing, becoming confused with himself and questioning the world around him. At one point he gives himself the Voigt-Kampff test, just to understand the changes he is going through. As it turns out he has got a soft spot for attractive female androids. He starts to feel horrible about killing androids such as Luba, and soon to be Pris. This is when we first get to see his encounters with Mercer. His conversation with Mercer in their first interaction is a very interesting one, for Mercer tells him to “go on as if [Mercer] did not exist” (p.156). But this is a time of trial for Rick, so he has fallen to Mercer asking for help, which Mercer gives him a simple and vague answer for Rick. This leads to Rick getting a bit frustrated, and then getting hit by a rock which is the norm for the empathy box. As Rick is about to “retire” the last of the androids, Mercer shows his full potential and comes to Rick not through an empathy box, however he does it in real life, right before Rick’s eyes. Mercer “inhabit[s] this building because of Mr. Isidore” (p.195), and he speaks to Rick to help and give reassurance to what Rick is about to do. Rick now has no problem retiring the last of the androids, however when he goes home he finds out that his someone “dragged [the goat] to the edge of the roof” and threw it off (p.200). This pushes him over the edge and forces him to go out in to the wilderness and become and transcend Mercerism. This is the final change that he makes, after toiling up the rocks for so long, he comes to the realization that he is Mercer. How can this be we wonder?
It is simple because it happened with two of the three characters that I talked about in this essay. Mercer and Mercerism was in fact not completely just mass media as I have hinted at throughout my essay. However it is a mass media tool created by Mercer to help people realize and overcome mass media. Mercer as a person might have been a fraud, however if you think more abstractly about what Mercerism is exactly, we find out that it truly helps people overcome the hysteria of living in times people live in isolation. Mercerism is a thought, a religion, a transcending quality that one must work at to achieve rest and peace of mind, not by gaining empathy, but by realizing that being connected to others in the world is what will keep you alive and happy. Rick and Isidore both finally achieve this near the end of the novel, with the help of Mercerism. Iran gains this knowledge with little help of Mercer, she develops this on her own and because of her love of her husband. Iran rebels against the mass media and the social norm by refusing to use the mood organ for its intended purpose throughout the novel. The similarity between the three is that they rebelled by using, and with help from, what they were rebelling against. Rick and Isidore was mass media, Mercerism, and Iran with the mood organ. In the end, it was the ability to realize that being connected with people, whether it is friends (Isidore) or your spouse (Iran and Rick), that will keep people sane and give them their “intellectual freedom” in a world desolated and filled with mass media.