Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

World War Terminus has left the Earth a radioactive wreck. Most survivors have emigrated to Mars, where the authorities promise them an easy life with android servants. Only those too poor to emigrate, or who have been genetically damaged by radiation (the chickenheads), remain on Earth. They huddle in scattered population groups; use mood organs that allow them to predetermine how they will feel each day; follow Buster Friendly, who is on television and radio twenty-three hours a day; and practice Mercerism, a universal religion that teaches empathy and community-feeling through repeated images of an old man struggling to climb a barren hillside. Animal life has been more severely affected by the war than has humankind, so social status in this bleak postapocalyptic world is determined by keeping an animal; those who cannot afford an animal keep a robot simulation.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter whose job is to retire (kill) androids who attempt to escape their servitude on Mars. He and his wife, Iran, have an electric sheep, but they dream of being able to afford a real animal. Deckard gets his chance when six Nexus-6 androids escape to San Francisco. The Nexus-6 is the most advanced android to date, indistinguishable from humans, and it is not at all clear that the standard Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test for identifying androids will work on them. So Deckard must first visit the manufacturers. The first individual on whom he tries the test, Rachael Rosen, seems to come out as human, but Deckard is suspicious and asks her one last question. Her answer reveals that she is indeed an android. Rachael then offers to help him hunt down the escaped androids, but he rejects her offer.

The first android is masquerading as a Russian police officer, but Deckard sees through the deception and kills him. The second is a singer with the San Francisco Opera, but before he is able to administer the Voigt-Kampff test, she has him arrested. Though himself a police...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Thanks to the film Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is Dick’s best-known novel. (A tie-in edition was issued in paperback under the title of the film, with Dick’s original title given in small print.) That is ironic because, as is often the case, the screenwriters omitted significant elements of the novel, changed others, and added material of their own.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a postnuclear holocaust novel. This subgenre is one of the most crowded in science fiction, including masterpieces such as A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), by William M. Miller, Jr., as well as countless forgotten books. Writers from outside science fiction have often contributed to this subgenre too; one notable example is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1982).

Dick’s novel, written in the mid-1960’s and published in 1968, is set in 1992. World War Terminus and the resultant fallout have rendered much of Earth uninhabitable and much of the population sterile. Many of the survivors have emigrated to the barren landscape of Mars. Others, despite the hazards (there is a whole class of people damaged by radiation, known as “specials” or, more popularly, “chickenheads”), have chosen to remain on Earth.

This scenario is familiar enough, but Dick’s way of developing it is characteristically fresh. Postnuclear holocaust tales tend to veer toward cynicism or sentimentalism; Do...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Summary

The Situation
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place in the year 1992, after World War Terminus has...

(The entire section is 1558 words.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Chapter Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 1

New Characters
Rick Deckard: A bounty hunter of androids for the San Francisco Police Department.

Iran: Rick Deckard’s wife; she rarely leaves their apartment.

Buster Friendly: A popular TV personality whose show runs continuously in the homes of most humans residing on Earth.

Bill Barbour: Rick Deckard’s neighbor; he owns a coveted Percheron mare and keeps it in a stall next to the pen where Rick keeps his mechanized sheep.

Summary
Rick Deckard wakes to the automatic alarm provided by his Penfield mood organ. His wife, Iran, lies in her bed, refusing to get up. Rick attempts to persuade Iran that she should set her mood organ high enough so that she’ll want to be awake. In response, Iran orders Rick to keep his "crude cop’s hand" away. They argue about the nature of Deckard’s job as a bounty hunter and about the ease with which Iran spends Deckard’s bounty money despite her complaints.

The argument then turns to the subject of the mood setting which Iran has chosen on her mood organ. Iran explains that she has purposely set her mood organ for depression and explains that she recently became concerned one afternoon when she became aware of the disturbing silence of their building, but she wasn’t emotionally affected by it. This silence was due to a significant decline in the human population of Earth, and Iran realized that she wasn’t able to respond emotionally due to the setting on her mood organ. Iran says that this inability to feel and react to the absence of life is unhealthy and was once considered an "absence of appropriate affect," so she decided to experiment the settings. Deckard and Iran continue to discuss Iran’s choice of moods when she finally argues that she doesn’t feel like dialing anything into her mood organ. Deckard responds that she should set the dial for a mood that will make her want to dial a different mood. Iran refuses, claiming that setting the dial to a mood that will make her want to re-set the dial will only perpetuate her feeling of false emotion. Deckard then sets his own dial for "a creative and fresh attitude towards his job."

After quickly eating breakfast and dressing in his requisite radiation-proof lead codpiece, Deckard ventures up to the rooftop of his apartment building, where he and all other tenants house their animals, both real and mechanized. Deckard doesn’t divulge to his neighbors that his sheep is electric; to do so would be admitting to his own inferiority. Deckard reaches the rooftop and regards the smell and color of the radioactive air around him. The potency of the radioactive dust that now covers the surface of the earth has subsided considerably since the end of World War Terminus. However, Deckard is still concerned about the negative impact of his exposure to the dust, although he consistently tests as a "regular," and as such he is still allowed to reproduce and emigrate to Mars if he chooses. Deckard knows that there still exists the possibility of being damaged, even with his lead codpiece, and recalls the popular slogan, “Emigrate or degenerate!”

When Deckard makes his way to his small patch of sod, his neighbor, Bill Barbour, is in the adjacent stall tending to his Percheron mare. Bill informs Deckard that his mare is pregnant after successful fertilization by the highest quality plasma available in California. Deckard silently reflects on the demoralizing aspect of owning an ersatz pet. Deckard inquires whether or not Bill has...

(The entire section is 1448 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 2

New Characters
John R Isidore: A special; a human whose mental faculties have been deteriorated by the radioactive fallout.

Hannibal Sloat: Isidore’s boss at the Van Ness Pet Hospital.

Wilbur Mercer: The founder of Mercerism; an elderly man.

The killers: an unidentified entity equated with "evil" in reference to the persecution of Wilbur Mercer.

Summary
John Isidore is the only tenant remaining in an unoccupied apartment building in an abandoned suburb of San Francisco after WWT, the war that has resulted in the massive emigration of humans from Earth to colonies on Mars and other locations in the solar system in response to devastating...

(The entire section is 978 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 3

New Characters
Harry Bryant: Police Inspector with the San Francisco Police Department.

Dave Holden: chief bounty hunter with the San Francisco Police Department.

Ann Marsten: Rick Deckard’s secretary.

Miss Wild: switchboard operator for the San Francisco Police Department who relays information to Deckard’s secretary.

Dr. McRae: veterinarian at the false animal shop where Rick Deckard purchased his ersatz sheep.

Summary
On his way to work, Deckard stops to window shop at a large pet store where a rare and, thus, expensive ostrich is for sale in the window. Deckard admires the ostrich, but he knows that he isn’t able to...

(The entire section is 740 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 4

New Characters
Max Polokov: the Nexus-6 android that injured Dave Holden.

Lurie Kampff: a psychologist who wrote the influential article, Role-taking Blockage in the Undeteriorated Schizophrenic.

Rachel Rosen: employee of the Rosen Association; niece of Eldon Rosen.

Eldon Rosen: senior representative for the Rosen Association.

Summary
In his meeting with Bryant, Deckard is notified of his next mission involving the retirement of Max Polokov, one of eight Nexus-6 androids that recently immigrated to earth illegally. Deckard is informed that Holden was able to test and retire two of the eight illegal androids before being injured by...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 5

Summary
Deckard applies the various components of his testing equipment to Rachel Rosen. He informs the Rosens that he’ll be asking questions involving a variety of social situations, but that only her involuntary eye muscle and capillary reactions will be measured. During the questioning, Deckard realizes that Rachel Rosen’s verbal responses do not reflect her uncontrollable physical responses. She is physically unaffected by questions involving animal cruelty, although her verbal responses are seemingly well rehearsed and appropriately stated. Partway through the questioning, Deckard quits and states that he has concluded that she is indeed an android. Rachel and her uncle argue that the Voigt-Kampff...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 6

New Characters
Pris Stratton: a new tenant in Isidore’s building who turns out to be an android.

Summary
Isidore makes his way to the apartment where he can hear the sounds of Buster Friendly announcing his upcoming exposé on a television. Isidore’s knock on the apartment door is answered by the immediate silencing of the television. Confident that someone is in the apartment, Isidore announces himself. In response, a timid female opens the door. Sensing her fear and timidity, Isidore notes that she must be startled at the realization that she is not the only tenant in the building. Isidore’s excitement at finally having a neighbor seems to restore confidence in the...

(The entire section is 669 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 7

New Characters
Amanda Werner: a perpetual guest on Buster Friendly’s television show.

Titus Corning : U.N. Secretary General.

Milt Borogrove : a repairman at the Van ness Pet Hospital.

Mrs. Pilsen: cat owner.

Ed Pilsen: Mrs. Pilsen’s husband.

Summary
Isidore mulls over the recent interaction with the woman as he makes his way back to his apartment. He wonders why she seems so strange; she wasn’t aware of Friendly, and she was inconsistent with her name. Isidore concludes the she must be in need of help and leaves for another day as driver for the Van Ness Pet Hospital.

Isidore’s first pick-up of the day is a...

(The entire section is 1128 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 8

New Characters
Sandor Kadalyi: a Soviet cop from the W.P.O.

Mr. Ackers: personnel manager at the Bay Area Scavengers Company.

Luba Luft: an android posing as an opera singer with the San Francisco Opera.

Summary
After returning from his mission at the Rosen Association headquarters in Seattle, Deckard parks his hovercar on the roof of the San Francisco Hall of Justice and heads directly for Bryant’s office. Bryant gives Deckard the details on the whereabouts of Deckard’s first Nexus-6 target, Polokov, who is apparently mimicking a special and working for the Bay Area Scavengers Company. Bryant informs Deckard that Sandor Kadalyi, a Soviet cop sent...

(The entire section is 740 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 9

New Characters
Officer Crams: a police officer called by Luba Luft to arrest Deckard.

Summary
Deckard arrives at the opera house in time to catch part of a rehearsal for "The Magic Flute." While listening, Deckard falls into deep introspection about his job. He concludes that he is actually expediting the inevitable end, or decay, of everything that now exists. Deckard eventually reaches the conclusion that he is a “part of the form-destroying process of entropy,” as a destroyer of androids, the very thing that the Rosen Association exists to create.

Deckard realizes that one of the main characters of the opera is Miss Luba Luft, his next target. He is...

(The entire section is 770 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 10

New Characters
George Gleason: bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department.

Phil Resch: bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department.

Officer Garland: police inspector for the San Francisco Police Department.

Miss French: lab worker for the San Francisco Police Department.

Summary
Crams books Deckard at the Hall of Justice on Lombard. Deckard asks himself how both the Lombard and the Mission police departments can co-exist without either office being aware of the other. Crams orders the performance of a bone marrow test on the corpse found in Deckard’s hovercar to determine whether or not it is actually an android. As...

(The entire section is 821 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 11

Summary
Garland claims that he already knows the results of the testing to which he and bounty hunter Phil Resch are about to be subjected. While Resch is away, retrieving his apparatus for the Boneli Reflex-Arc Test, Garland pulls a laser tube at Deckard. Deckard explains that killing him would not relieve Garland of his obligation to take the test, and this prompts Garland to lower the laser tube. Garland explains that Resch is an unsuspecting android, and that he knows each of the other androids on Deckard’s list because they all arrived together on the same ship from Mars. According to Garland, Resch stayed behind in order to receive a synthetic memory system, which is the reason Resch is unaware of his...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 12

Summary
As Resch and Deckard make their way to Luft, Resch continues to discuss the possibility that he's an android. When they arrive, Resch asks Deckard if he’s ever known of an android to own a pet. Deckard responds that he is only aware of two instances in which androids have owned pets. In each case the android has failed to keep the animal alive because of the lack of genuine nurturing provided by the androids. Resch then inquires about whether or not his pet squirrel would require such nurturing because he is only a rodent.

Resch and Deckard spot Luft and approach quietly. Luft reacts with surprise at seeing Deckard, whom she thought was arrested. Deckard introduces her to Resch and...

(The entire section is 1325 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 13

New Characters
Irmgard Baty: Pris Stratton’s friend from Mars; wife of Roy Baty.

Roy Baty: Pris Stratton’s friend from Mars; husband of Irmgard Baty.

Summary
Isidore excitedly heads home after his eventful day at work. He has purchased some rare and expensive food items from a black-market grocery store bean curd, ripe peaches and soft cheese all of which cost him two weeks’ worth of pay. He has also retrieved an extremely rare bottle of wine from a safety deposit box at the Bank of America.

When he arrives at his apartment building, Isidore heads straight for Pris Stratton's apartment. She answers the door and notes that Isidore sounds more...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 14

Summary
The three friends, Stratton, Roy and Irmgard Baty, huddle together for a private conversation while Isidore watches uncomfortably. Stratton introduces everyone and Isidore confirms that Roy and Irmgard are indeed from Mars. Isidore explains that he lives upstairs, and Roy responds by confessing that he had assumed Stratton and Isidore were living together. Roy turns to Stratton and announces that Polokov has been killed. He then lists the others who have been also been killed. Irmgard then declares that they are the only ones remaining. Roy describes how a bounty hunter named Holden almost got Polokov, but that Polokov managed to injure Holden before escaping. Irmgard then interjects to provide a...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 15

Summary
The androids have a vote amongst themselves to determine where they should hide. Roy votes to kill Isidore and move on to a new location. Stratton then offers her vote to stay put, adding that Isidore’s knowledge of their status as androids is insignificant compared to his value to them as a human. She continues to argue that the reason the other androids were discovered might be due to the fact that it is impossible to live amongst humans without being discovered. Roy responds that confiding in even one, special human might have been the cause of their demise. Irmgard then heatedly responds that it is probably their superior intellect that makes them stand out amongst humans. The discussion ends...

(The entire section is 1928 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 16

Summary
As he waits at the hotel for Rosen, Deckard reads the profiles of two of the remaining three androids. Roy Baty was posing as a pharmacist on Mars, and Deckard contemplates the androids’ difficult and laborious jobs on Mars as manual laborers for the humans and considers their illegal flight from the outpost as a probable attempt to achieve independence from their servile positions. Baty had also served as a leader of the escaped androids, organizing their flight and administering drugs that he believed would allow them to share in an experience similar to that of the empathy box. Deckard feels empathetic towards his attempt to share in an experience of which androids are mechanically incapable, but...

(The entire section is 1128 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 17

New Characters
Oscar Scruggs: guest on the “Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends” show.

Summary
Deckard enjoys a cup of coffee while Rosen showers. Rosen tells Deckard that he made a great deal when he accepted her offer. She claims that androids are incapable of controlling their physical and sensual urges and that Deckard probably knew that when he agreed to sleep with her. Rosen asks Deckard if he enjoyed himself and if he would ever go to bed with an android again. Deckard says that he would sleep with another android only if it was a female that resembled her. Rosen and Deckard then discuss the lifespan of an android. Deckard confirms that androids exist for...

(The entire section is 764 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 18

New Characters
Mr. Wade Cortot: a former special-effects man who once worked in Hollywood.

Mr. Al Jarry: an actor who portrays Wilbur Mercer.

Summary
Stratton asks Isidore to retrieve the rest of her belongings from the apartment below his, including her television so she can listen to Friendly’s important announcement. Isidore explains that his television is only able to receive a government channel, and Roy Baty explains that they are only interested in watching Buster Friendly's show.

Isidore reaches Stratton’s apartment and unplugs the television. The silence that results begins to disturb Isidore, and he concludes that people must live...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 19

Summary
Isidore realizes that he is gripping the handles of the empathy box when the lights go out in his apartment. Irmgard grabs him by the shoulder and directs him to go to the door if the bounty hunter knocks. She then tells Isidore to tell the bounty hunter that he lives in the apartment and that he is alone. Stratton then urges Isidore to prevent Deckard from entering the apartment because of what he will do to the androids. Isidore makes his way to the door and pauses to listen. Roy moves behind Isidore, who is now able to smell fear seeping out of the android. He directs Isidore to move out into the hallway, which Isidore does, still clutching a small spider in his hand. Isidore makes his way down the...

(The entire section is 985 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 20

Summary
After talking with Bryant, Deckard orders Isidore to leave the area while the police come to clean up the mess. Isidore responds that he is leaving the building to go to a more populated area of town. Deckard tells Isidore that there might be an empty apartment in his building, but Isidore firmly declines the offer and states that he doesn’t want to live anywhere near him.

When Deckard returns to his own apartment building his wife is waiting for him. Deckard realizes that she is disturbed and he tells her that his mission is over. Before he can finish his sentence, Iran informs him that the goat is dead. Deckard isn’t entirely surprised by the news. He responds that he thinks the goat...

(The entire section is 345 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 21

New Characters
Dr. Costa: Dave Holden’s doctor at the hospital.

Chief Cutter: San Francisco Police Chief.

Summary
As Deckard makes his way north, he observes the barren landscape below him and compares it to an abandoned shipping room where only fragments remain. He is amazed when he considers that the dead landscape beneath him used to accommodate farms and animals. Deckard then brings his hovercar to a screeching halt on a rocky hillside. He decides to call Holden to discuss his recent encounters with the androids. When he dials the hospital where Holden is recovering, an operator informs Deckard that Holden’s condition is serious and he can't talk. Deckard...

(The entire section is 946 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 22

Summary
As Deckard sets down the receiver to the vidphone in his hovercar, he spots a toad among the stones on the ground outside. He grabs his copy of Sydney’s to confirm that they have toads listed as extinct. Deckard finds a cardboard box in his car and heads for the toad, which he realizes is the same color as the dust-covered ground upon which it sits. Deckard tries to recall what happens to people who find animals believed to be extinct and imagines that there’s some sort of recognition from the U.N. and possibly a stipend. In addition, Deckard reflects on how precious toads are to Mercer. Deckard, in disbelief of his find, then imagines that he might have suffered from radioactive exposure and has...

(The entire section is 884 words.)