“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phil K. Dick
The distinctions between animal, human and android (cyborg) are important in the world of the novel, just as they are in our world. What social functions do these distinctions play in the novel? In what ways is the world of the novel like and unlike ours in respect to these distinctions?
What is so fascinating about the world that Dick creates in this novel is that initially binary opposites between human and android are created and set up, but these are only torn down later on in the novel as Deckard finds it more and more difficult to establish the difference between humans and androids. The question of identity in this dystopian world seems to be so important, with androids being treated at best as second class citizens, and humans enjoying mastery over them. However, what challenges this binary opposition is the way in which androids are able to be given empathy. Note the following quote:
...ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.
In many ways, the whole point of the novel is to point out the falsity that exists within binary opposites and to profoundly challenge them. Deckard finds it impossible, in the end, to clearly identify who is an android and who is actually human, and much of the novel is spent in vain trying to locate something that clearly distinguishes android from human. In the end, the suggestion that Deckard himself might be an android cements Dick's argument: binary oppositions, which may seem to certain and obvious, are in fact based on nothing more than lies and prejudice. This of course has massive implications in our own world where many binary oppositions are in play, such as race, gender, ethnicity and age. The message of this novel is that these binary oppositions, just like the binary opposition of human and android, need to be questioned and challenged, before being overthrown.