Androids: The Communist Spies
Knowing the time period that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published in is important in understanding the metaphors that reoccur throughout the book. Philip K. Dick was born in 1928 and had lived in a world dominated by two superpowers for the majority of his life. The book was first published in 1968, in the midst of the Cold War. The Cold War was a century long standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States. They fought a series of proxy wars in order to push their ideologies and raced to build the biggest weapons and most innovative technologies. This racing also included spying on the other country in order to steal technologies. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep shares a strong connection to the Cold War. The United States and the Soviets are still in existence in a world that has obviously been devastated by nuclear war (Dick 15,28); something that never happened in our world but was very much a possibility. The androids that populate Earth are a metaphor for the rampart spying that occurred in the U.S. No one knows who the androids are just as no one knew who the Soviet spies were. They could be anyone.
McCarthyism is a term used to describe the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy to oust communist spies living in the United States. He handed out accusations left and right and led investigations of actors, writers, and even members of the Truman administration. Although he could not prove most of his accusations, it still fueled fear among Americans that spies have infiltrated the United States and could be anyone. The characters in the book feel this sentiment as well. Just as many celebrities were accused of being spies, such as actor Charlie Chaplin and Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, opera singer Luba Luft is accused of being an android. Anyone in the book, even Rick Deckard himself, could be an android and we would have no way of knowing unless they are administered the Voigt-Kampff test. This test is similar to polygraph tests that would have been given to individuals suspected of spying.
The hysteria surrounding the fear of not knowing who is a spy or android isn’t the only facet that relates the Cold War to the book. Bounty hunters can be seen as American spies trying to find and kill Soviet spies. Androids and bounty hunters both seem to have specialized weaponry (the laser tube) (Dick 106) like a spy would have specialized gadgets. Some androids in the book are part of a nonexistent police department (Dick 122, 123). This secret police is similar to the actual Soviet secret police, the KGB, which existed in Communist Russia until it’s collapse. In the time leading up to the book’s publishing, there had been suspicions of brain washing prisoners of war (which include caught spies) to accept communist regimes. This can be seen as a metaphor of androids having memories implanted in their pseudo-brains (Dick 122).
One thing that androids cannot have implanted in their brains is empathy. They are unable to feel bad for their brethren (Dick 124). Empathy, and by extension Mercerism, are indicative to capitalism and freedom. Mercer continuing to go up and down on the hillside can be seen as a metaphor for the free market; something that communist spies will never experience in their own country. The androids have their own brand of religion they follow in the form of Buster Friendly. Buster represents the propaganda spewed out in communist regimes. Buster is intolerant of Mercerism and broadcasts his message twenty-three hours a day. This reminds me a of a certain communist government in North Korea which has radios playing propaganda that can never be shut off.
An ongoing theme in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the unknown. The reader doesn’t know which animal is fake or real, if the Voigt-Kampff test is legitimate or faulty, or who is an android and who is human. This not knowing can lead to fear and assumptions as to who the actual androids are. This is exactly what happened during the time period it was written. Fear of the unknown was a big issue for the U.S. when Cold War tensions were at their height. United States citizens didn’t know what a Sputnik was flying around Earth beeping at them, they didn’t know when or if the Soviets would ever use their nuclear weapons, and they didn’t know who was going to turn around and betray the United States to the Soviet Union. This is the environment Phillip K. Dick lived in and it is easy to see this throughout the book.