What is the narrative structure of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has, in many ways, a rather ordinary narrative structure. The relatively short novel is divided into twenty-two fairly brief chapters. The narrative itself takes place in a single setting: a futuristic, post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco. In addition,...

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Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has, in many ways, a rather ordinary narrative structure. The relatively short novel is divided into twenty-two fairly brief chapters. The narrative itself takes place in a single setting: a futuristic, post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco. In addition, the main action of the novel all takes place within a single day.

The brief chapters, simplified setting, and short timespan of the narrative’s arc all provide a structure that suits the fast-paced, action-filled plot of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While certainly a work of central importance to the science fiction genre, Dick’s novel also resembles something like a classic detective story or thriller. The novel’s main thread, after all, is to follow the story of Decker, a bounty hunter tasked with tracking down and eliminating six rogue androids. The streamlined narrative structure of the novel helps readers stay focused on the action and increases its exciting drama.

At the same time, the narrative of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has features which can make it seem hard-to-follow, delusional, and just plain weird—all classic hallmarks of Dick’s style. The narrative is presented in a third-person point of view, which in and of itself is not unusual for a novel. The narrator’s point of view is limited, however, which means readers don’t get all of the information right away: some things are left as surprises. This goes hand in hand with a novel that has readers constantly asking themselves questions like: Is this character a human or an android? Is their pet an animal or a robot?

The secondary plot, which describes Isidore’s desire to help androids, also provides an important counterpoint to the story of Decker’s attempts to track down the fugitive androids. In terms of the novel’s structure, this wavering between seeing the androids as dangerous and criminal on one hand, and as human-like and worthy of friendship on the other, parallels one of the central questions in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: What does it mean to be called “human”?

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