Androids as Metaphors
Brianna R. Pinckney
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in a post apocalyptic future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged by a nuclear war during World War Terminus. Due to the radiation most species were extinct while most of mankind was left to begin life on another planet. Along with the dying species something else is at risk of extinction; the empathy of humans. American author Philip K. Dick published DADES in the late 1960’s, a pivotal moment in the United States during a cultural revolution.
One of the main critiques of capitalism during this period was the belief that America’s own capitalistic hunger only fueled the machines of war that sprung up all over the world during this time, specifically in Vietnam. Through this novel, Dick claims that those propagated violence on others have just as much responsibility for the economic and social conditions of the world as do those that they fight. This theory correlates to the heavy use and talk about empathy.
A corporation such as the Rosen Association, will do anything for their own survival, including cheating, even to encourage the injury or death of the bounty hunters that seek to destroy their androids. This is Dick's critique of an economic system that abandons all value for human life except for the value that creates the most economic gain.
Androids, represent the literary theme of duplication. A character in the novel is presented with a person or thing that looks and acts exactly like him or her, except that this double character is an imperfect reflection, showing a flaw or trait that was otherwise unknown. Androids play this role by looking and acting exactly as humans do, yet they also represent humanity’s dying trait – the opportunity to empathize. Empathy is a unique quality that allows one to understand and share the feelings of others and according to DADES the only subject to possess enough intellect is the human race.
Empathy is the main theme of the novel and is the root on which Dick's metaphysical reflection on the meaning of life hangs. Each character in the novel must deal with what it means to be empathetic and whether that allows someone to be valued as a living thing. By persecuting and killing androids, humans are really trying to destroy a flaw within themselves. In this way, androids represent a half of the human condition. It’s as if the androids are a foreshadowing of what the humans could become if they lose their empathetic response.
These natural emotions are the basis of humanity and the reader gets a glimpse at its control during Isidore’s dilemma with the dying cat. After failing to realize that cat was real, Isidore faced not only his own horror at having let an animal die but now he is also required to alert the animal’s owner. It’s assumed that the cat’s owner would be more horrified at the cat’s lost life however the owner decides to have replacement android can built so their spouse won’t be too disturbed. Here, Dick is calling into question the value of life and how easily humanity substitutes loss with some kind of replacement.
This empathetic flaw appears again while Rick is on the Rosen Association’s roof and sees their assortment of animals. Unaware that the animals are all androids, Rick’s jealously of the animal collections develops not from any desire to care for the animals, but from a place of personal greed. Rick wants the animals for himself, to simply upgrade his status, he is uninterested in the animals sake. It’s ironic how Rick hates his electric sheep because it is unable to relate empathy while Rick himself struggles to display the same trait. This feeling allows Rick to perform his work as a bounty hunter because he believes that androids similar to his sheep are incapable of human emotion and are not worthy of life in a society where life is the highest ideal.
The audience is also introduced to Buster Friendly, a talk show host that is on radio and television for almost every hour out of the day. Buster represents the power and influence of mass media. Buster’s entertainment segments create a reality that one is able to escape. Buster’s presence is used as a religious replacement. His shows provide guidance for those searching for something. Buster Friendly plays a significant role since many humans lost everything due to the war.