Android Symbolism in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”
In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” it is clear that the Philip K. Dick’s story is heavily influenced by what is happening in America during the 1960’s. To fully understand the meaning and symbolism of this book we must understand what is happening at the time Dick wrote this novel. During the mid to late 1960’s America was a place of turmoil. The country was war-torn, in the peak of action in the Vietnam War and in the midst of the Cold War between the U.S.S.R. Along with that cold war came the constant threat of nuclear warfare and communism. In this book, Dick uses symbolism to give us social commentary on these topics and others.
Throughout the story, there appears to be two forces fighting over the post-apocalyptic world Dick has described to us. One is Mercerism, and the other is Buster Friendly. This becomes apparent when Isodore says “Buster is the most important human being alive, except of course Wilbur Mercer.” (Dick,69) More importantly these two forces seem to be in direct competition. Isidore even goes on to say “I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting over our souls.” (Dick, 76)
What could these two conflicting powers represent in the time of Dick? To me these are the conflicting ideologies of Communism and the American way of life. Mercerism is Dick’s version of communism and Buster Friendly is the way of life America trusts and is used to. I feel like the connection between Mercerism and Communism is a simple one to make. First, the original name for Communism was Marxism. This is because the man who invented the idea of Communism was named Karl Marx. Even though the idea of Communism is that all are equal, it always ends up that one man controls all the power. Whether it is Stalin in Russia, or Mercer in this book, the idea of togetherness is simply a façade that is used to control the masses. Leaders of Communist regimes are often seen as larger than life figures. They have giant murals of them on city walls and monuments built for them. Mercer is described in this light when Isidore states “(Mercer) isn’t a human being; he evidently is an archetypical entity from the stars, superimposed on our culture by a cosmic template. (Dick, 74) Meanwhile, Buster Friendly is the opposition to Communism, which was Patriotism. Although Communism is a style of Government, it is not appropriate to say the opposition to Communism was truly Democracy, because it was more than that. During the Red Scare, we were not necessarily worried about the threat of a new government but more about a new way of life. Communism was a threat to our freedom and our ability to act for ourselves and think independently. To counter the Red Scare, the United States engaged in propaganda equally is biased as the communists did. Buster Friendly is very truly a propaganda machine. What I mean by this is that he is an Android designed for essentially the sole purpose of stopping Mercerism. We hear of his on page 74 when the narrator tells us that John would become irritated when Friendly would “In subtle, almost inconspicuous ways, ridicule the empathy boxes.”
If Mercerism is Communism and Friendly is the United States propaganda, what does that make the androids? To me the androids are the Communists. Americans had an idea of what Communism was before the Red Scare. These are the old non-threatening versions of the androids. However, when the Nexus-6s androids emerged they became a threat because they were too life like and too real. When Communism started to emerge in the US, there was a massive panic. The government did everything they could to stop the spread throughout the country. They were unfairly prosecuted and even hunted down. This is the role of Rick Deckard. Rick is symbolic of a US government agent who is searching and eliminating Communists. The hard part about being a US government ages in this time that it was extremely difficult to identify Communists by simply looking at them. This is why Dick goes to such great lengths about how lifelike and realistic the Nexus-6s’s appear. Rick even tells us that he finds Rachael Rosen, an android attractive. Also it is important to note that everyone taking the Voight-Kampff test was thought to be a believer in Mercerism. My point is furthered by the fact that when Luba Luff is being interviewed, she cannot understand many of the questions. This could be analogous of a private investigator interviewing a foreigner about being a communist.
If this is true, then why is the head of the proposed US way of life an android? I think this is Dick’s way of saying that the US was in a somewhat Communist state at this time. The fear created from paranoia and propaganda caused and environment where its citizens had an over dramatized sense of patriotism to the point where the accusations against communists or would be communists were unfair.
In conclusion, Dick is making a strong statement about the politics of the world in 1960. Through this story he is giving us a warning through different symbols that if we do not change the way our society is run, we will all die humans and androids alike.