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 is tested as a new species invades their world. Androids were first introduced by the government as a bribe to encourage humans to relocate to Mars after the devastating effects of WWT, “Emigrate or degenerate! The choice is yours” (Page 8). The government hopes to persuade the idea that the only way to generate society is to begin a new life on a foreign land. Contrary to their belief forms of new life emerged on planet Earth. Before one can begin to note an android’s significance, it is important to research the time period of when Dick wrote the novel. It doesn’t take much to correlate the events that occurred back then with some of the events in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Philip K. Dick published DADES in the late 1960’s, a pivotal moment in the United States during a cultural revolution. The United States joined the Vietnam War as France’s ally as an attempt to prevent the communist takeover of South Vietnam; this was part of a larger strategy to stop the spread of communism. Between the fight for civil rights, the nation struggling with the effects of the war, and other related cultural influences the 1960’s strayed further and further away from President Johnson’s goal of becoming a “Great Society”. The war divided the nation and was followed by a mixture of empowerment and polarization, resentment and liberation leaving a permanent mark on America’s political and cultural history. 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 who’ve propagated violence on others have just as much responsibility for the economic and social conditions of the world as do those that they fight. Dick uses forces in the book such as Buster and Mercisim as symbols representing two opposing teams fighting each other. The people must choose a side, shows separation.
Isidore even goes on to say “I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting over our souls.” (Page 76) This theory correlates to the heavy use and talk about empathy.
On an earth ravaged by nuclear war, life in any form becomes sacred. Replicate animals become a status symbol for their owners while real animals are owned by only the richest people. This compassion and emotional connection towards animal life becomes the only way to separate the humans from the androids. Dick is suggesting that this trait defines our existence as humans. Without the ability to love and value life humans are incapable of living. “You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all. I mean before they came here I could stand it... But now it has changed. You can't go back, he thought. You can't go from people to nonpeople." - J.R. Isidore” Philip K. Dick had a life-long fascination and love for animals. This element of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep reflects his vision of a world where animals are respected like humans, maybe more.
Empathy is the main theme of the novel and is the root on which Dick's metaphysical reflection on the meaning of life hangs. Characters such as Deckard, Isidor, Luba Luft and Phil Resch all encounter situations where they must relate to empathy based on past personal experiences. Androids pose fear to humans because their existence forces human kind to define its species. Humans are threatened when they are faced with the question, what qualities define them as humans? Or even a more specific question, how do intellectual and emotional responses to nature relate to the concept of humanity? While Rick Deckard reflects he decides "...ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated" (Page 31). In this quote, Deckard ponders the vague lines drawn between the creatures that are empathetic and those who do not have such ability. One of the novel’s major themes revolves around the question of which traits make something human and which traits ensures survival or defeat. An example of where a character’s empathy level is tested arises when Rick Deckard is preparing to administer the test on Phil Resch. Deckard has a preconceived notion that Resch is an android due to the fact that Resch is able to kill so coldly without a second thought of his empty conscious. "If I test out android, you'll undergo renewed faith in the human race. But since it's not going to work out that way, I suggest you begin framing an ideology which will account for-" (Page 140). This quote, spoken to Rick by the bounty hunter Phil Resch, is said just before Rick administers a test on Phil. If he is, this will validate Rick’s belief that androids have no understanding for life and can become completely closed off from all human emotion. However, as Rick later discovers, humans are cable of this same ability, blurring the distinguished lines between what is a true human and what is not.
In order to emphasize with another, one must first recognize the emotion that is being presented in front of them. This initial step of identifying another’s emotional content is essential for later phases like relating to another or showing compassion towards another because neither can be reached without the initial emotional recognition. The theory of androids not caring for other androids is discussed when Deckard approaches Luba Luft to administer the Voigt-Kampff personality-profile test, “An android doesn’t care what happens to another android. That’s one of the indications we look for" (Page 101). This quote is ironic because, as it turns out, some androids actually do care what happens to other androids, sometimes even more than human life. Supposedly, artificial bonds kept the Nexus-6 androids together and allowed them to fear for the safety of one another. Ultimately, if androids do care for other androids, it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is really an android and who is not, just another of Dick’s twists on logic.
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 passing however the owner decides to have an android created so their spouse won’t be too disturbed by the absence of their cat. Here, Dick is calling into question the value of life and how easily humanity substitutes loss with some kind of replacement.
"Do androids dream?" (Page 182). This quote reflects the title of the book and the basic philosophical question that the book asks: what qualities and traits make one human. Roy Baty, Rick's shadow character, seems to have just as many dreams as Rick has himself. The dreams consist of aspirations for a better life and for the ability to one day have spiritual fusion with Mercer. Baty’s character shows the same traits and motivations as Deckard. It’s interesting to come across an android that hopes for life improvement, similarly to how humans rely on dreams and even their religion to one day improve their current situation.
Although he still does not have a complete definition of what it means to be human by the end of the novel, Rick Deckard has accepted his emotions and gained a great deal of empathy for fellow life. He realizes he is in fact a human and knows that he can continue on and eventually find the solutions to his theories. His position has gone through some changes but his attitude toward life has changed for the better dramatically.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Del Rey Book Published by The Random House Publishing Group, Copyright 1968 by Phillip K. Dick
http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~felluga/reviewBender.html , Dan Bender