One of the goals of Dick's fiction is to show that the idea of technology as passive helpmate, slave, or fantastic mistress is unrealistic. Similarly, the opposite notion— that humanity can somehow return to a pastoral way of life and live in an agriculturally based paradise—is naive. These two beliefs, according to Dick, actually endanger the evolution of humankind: so long as humans are uneasy about their own tools, or regard them as in some way mysterious, those tools will be seen as having some innate power over mankind. In other words, regardless of technology's fallibility, if humans regard themselves as less smart or less able than their tools, then they will be at the mercy of their tools. Technology will advance, regardless of what the majority of humanity feels about that technology. Any struggle to remain the ruler or owner of new technology will surely fail. Dick believes the only solution to human uneasiness with technology is a wholesale acceptance of it.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? expresses Dick's ideas about technology in ways very similar to the story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. That creature, animated from lifeless flesh, embodied its creator's scientific success, but the doctor was so horrified by his creature's grotesque appearance that he ended up destroying it. In Dick's version, the trouble with scientifically created androids is that they resemble their masters too closely. Yet that is what the market has created and that is "what the colonists wanted," says Eldon Rosen. "If our firm hadn't made these progressively more human types, other firms in the field would have." So the problem is not whether androids can approximate humans, but continuing the classification of androids as non-life. It becomes harder to justify the slavery and "retiring" of androids if there is little difference between them and humans. As Isidore tries to teach the group of illegal androids, all life is sacred: all of it, even spiders—whose lack of empathy at one point is compared to the androids' lack. The question then becomes, what prevents androids and technology, in all its glorious animation, from being defined as a type of life and, therefore, sacred?
Throughout the novel, humans are. defined as constructs capable of empathy and "empathetic, role-taking ability." Human empathy is what the Voigt-Kampff test looks for; whether the test subject responds to a described situation as if it were real for them. Even without the test, humans reveal themselves through their need for other living creatures and their being needed in return. "You have to be with other people . . . in order to live at all," says Isidore. To be human, to be alive, is to depend on other people. Pris, Roy, and Irmgard have accomplished this to some extent, and they decide to accept Isidore. That is all he needs as verification that though "not alive" and illegal, the three are people. Through the ability of the three androids to work as a team and Isidore's acceptance of them, Dick leaves open the possibility of a harmonious future. At present, however, the definition of human is constantly challenged and then reconfirmed by human relations with androids—humans remain humans by eliminating the almost human. Dick is reflecting on "man's inhumanity to man" by putting humans in the position of defending their identity through the elimination of their imitators. It is a tense condition, and similar to the tension between the chickenhead and his employer, which is full of anger and resentment. The laws separating "human" from "special" from "android" are parallel to the Jim Crow laws in America, Apartheid in South Africa, or ethnic cleansing.
Phil Resch is an example of an exception to this general theory of the human condition as put forth in the novel. (One can make a similar case for Iran, who, until the very end, is absorbed only with her own individual problems.) Resch is a human who shows concern for Deckard, and he takes good care of his real squirrel. Yet his callous disregard for his android victims leads Deckard to doubt his humanity....
(The entire section is 1660 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Bill Barbour is the neighbor in the Deckards' apartment building who is wealthy enough to own a real live horse. Deckard and Barbour's interaction is mainly one of competition and provides an interesting commentary on interpersonal relations in their society. When Barbour reveals his horse is pregnant, Deckard asks if he can buy the colt from him. After Barbour refuses, Deckard's desperation leads him to reveal that his sheep is a fake. Barbour can afford to feel sorry for Deckard—"you poor guy," he sympathizes—because he has a live animal, after all. His empathy does not extend to helping Deckard with his problem, however. Only after Deckard brings home a live goat does Barbour consider dealing his future colt to his neighbor.
Wife of Roy, Irmgard is a "small woman, lovely in the manner of [1940s film star] Greta Garbo, with blue eyes and yellow-blonde hair." Of all the fugitive androids, she seems nearest to understanding human attributes—if only from a cold, objective standpoint. She appreciates Isidore's peaches as Pris cannot, and she is able to recognize how Isidore has emotionally accepted them. But while she seems to be sympathetic to Isidore, she cannot comprehend what the spider means to him, and she is the one who suggests they cut off its legs to see what will happen.
Leader of the renegade android troop, Roy is the android who proposes flight to Earth for the eight "friends." Roy is the most intelligent and most dangerous of the eight illegal androids. Deckard's report tells him how Baty framed the escape attempt within the context of a new religion. The basis of this ideology, says the report, is the "fiction" that android "life" is sacred. Baty attempts to instill an ideology within the group that would somehow mimic human Mercerism. That is, he attempts to fake the very emotional empathy that the eight androids are unable to experience. To further his plan and improve the fakery, he experimented with various drugs.
Despite his efforts, the cooperation of the androids lasts only as long as it takes to make their escape. After that, they break up. In the end, one reason the Batys are the last to be retired is that they understand that they are different from humans. The others, particularly Garland, Polokov, and Luft, tried to masquerade as human, and failed. Roy Baty recognizes that the androids can never duplicate the human sense of empathy, and hopes they will be accepted once Buster Friendly reveals the "truth" behind Mercerism. After the announcement, he proclaims proudly that now everyone will know that "the whole experience of empathy is a swindle." He does not understand, as Mercer tells Isidore, that the revelations will change nothing because humans need to share with each other. Instead, Baty easily falls victim to Deckard's laser tube.
Borogrove is the repairman at the Van Ness "Pet Hospital." He sympathizes with Isidore after he discovers that the wheezing cat he has just picked up from the Pilsens' was real. He tries to diffuse the tension between Sloat and Isidore when the former forces Isidore to call the owner and report the cat's death. He has the best manner on the phone and cuts in on the call to help convince Mrs. Pilsen to replace the cat with an electric duplicate.
Inspector Harry Bryant, "jug-eared and redheaded, sloppily dressed but wise-eyed," gives Deckard the assignment Holden could not finish. He is worried about this assignment, particularly by the possibility that the Voigt-Kampff empathy scale may no longer be an accurate method of distinguishing androids from humans. Only after Deckard successfully assesses androids at the Rosen offices does Bryant turn over Holden's notes to assist him in his hunt. Even after Deckard retires three of the androids during one day, Bryant pressures him into resuming the chase that same evening.
Wife of Rick, she is the very image of the stereotypical bored housewife. While technology has provided her with a mood machine that enables a toleration of her tedious life, its very artificiality depresses her. This upsets Rick, who, after talking to her during one of her dialed "depressions," thinks that "most androids I've know have more vitality and desire to live than my wife." Rick feels responsible for Iran, however, so she inspires him to continue on with his job, with the electric sheep, and everything else that seems hopeless. In many ways, she is the only one in the novel to have a practical epiphany. She realizes she loves Rick: when he returns from his assignments, she thinks, "I don't need to dial, now; I already have it—if it is Rick." This leads her to cover up the panel on the electric frog and take on its care—she orders some electric flies.
The lead character of the novel is having doubts about himself, his professional abilities, and the morality of his job. His doubts are embodied in his relationship with his electric sheep. He is tired of pretending that his electric sheep is real; "owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one." He is trying to deal with these emotions when he is called on to "retire" six Nexus-6 androids who have escaped to Earth. Although he recognizes that "the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim," he is able to rationalize his duty: "A humanoid robot is like any other machine," Deckard tells Rachael Rosen; "it can fluctuate between being a benefit and a hazard very rapidly. As a benefit it's not our problem." Yet though he tells himself clearly that he is justified in killing killers who have "no ability to feel emphatic joy for another life form's success or grief at its defeat," he begins to have doubts. "This is insane," he says after killing Luba Luft, whose singing could have been a joy to humans.
His experience with Phil Resch creates more doubts. As he later tells Iran, "For the first time, after being with him, I looked at them differently. I mean, in my own way I had been viewing them as he did.… I've begun to empathize with androids." This only makes his task more difficult, not impossible. To get over his doubt, he takes Resch's advice and sleeps with Rachael. The act does not affect him as Rachael had planned, however. She reveals that she has seduced several other bounty hunters, and all except Phil Resch have been unable to continue killing androids. She believes that Deckard has been rendered harmless as well, for he cannot bring himself to kill her. For Deckard, however, her coldly calculated confession gives him new inspiration. His regret, finally, is that he didn't kill her when he had the chance. If he had, the goat would still be alive.
After he is done retiring androids and discovers his dead goat, he flies off for some time alone. He contemplates the day's events: "What I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self." He has a spiritual experience akin to the Mercer story. He finds himself climbing up a hill as rocks are thrown at him. He thinks he has somehow merged with Mercer. Instead, he gives up on the climb, and the toad he finds is a fake. He may now be known as the greatest bounty hunter, but in reality he is just another man, feeling confused and defeated.
Buster Friendly is on television and radio practically all the time. Unknown to most of his audience, however, everyone's favorite talk show host is an android. He aims to keep the housewives, and anyone else who watches, entertained and happy. He and Eldon Rosen are at the forefront in the struggle of android's rights. Part of his work involves the unmasking of Mercer as a fraud. The thinking is that if Mercer, who originated the rule that only life is sacred, is a fake, then perhaps his rules can be rewritten. As Isidore recognizes, "Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls."
Garland is an officer in an alternative police force summoned by Luba Luft after Deckard's attempts to question her. His police headquarters is unknown to the real police headquarters, and he similarly professes to have no knowledge...
(The entire section is 3493 words.)