The 1968 fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip Dick warns readers of possible consequences of the moral decay in modern community and reminds them of their responsibility for the environment. Contrasting androids and human society in his fiction novel, Dick attempts to define the inherently human qualities and real life values.
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The depiction of empathy as the feeling characteristic of humans only and thus distinguishing them from other living beings can be regarded as the major underpinning of the whole plot of the book under consideration.
Disregarding the peculiarities of the science fiction genre chosen by the author, the motive of feeling and not feeling empathy towards other creatures conveys an important philosophical message. Thus, the fact that humans living after the World War Terminus need to buy real animals for demonstrating their ability to feel empathy proves that they themselves hesitate in it.
The feeling of empathy is put into the basis of their religion Mercerism and the so-called Voigt-Kampff test used for distinguishing between humans and androids. However, this approach shows the lack of true feelings in the human race and reflects the author’s criticism of the moral decay in modern community. Thus, overemphasizing the importance of feeling empathy, the book characters look for the empathy experience for its own sake.
Using the empathy boxes and buying real animals for the purpose of generating feelings, the characters lose their humanness. Rick Recard, one of the main characters works as a bounty hunter and killing androids who came to earth from Mars is his daily job. However, he dreams of having a real sheep instead of his electric one for showing his empathy and improving his social status. Buying a real animal becomes obsession to Rick: “My job requires it, he thought, scraping bottom.
Prestige. We couldn’t go on with the electric sheep any longer, it sapped my morale” (Dick 168). This inner monologue reflects the stream of consciousness of the main character who feels his inferiority due to inability to own a real animal. Making empathy the main value in the fiction community, Dick expresses his criticism of the moral decay in modern society and the lack of real feelings in humans.
The difficulties of distinguishing between real and artificial, sincere and hypocritical are one more important moral message which can be read between the lines of the book under consideration.
Actually, the author’s goal is not limited to distinguishing between humans and androids, real and electric animals, but is rather extended to defining the true values of life. Thus, after it is cleared out that Mercerism was a fake religion that was engineered by Hollywood filmmakers, the author does not diminish its value, on the contrary, explains how precious this belief is for the spiritual guidance of humans.
The characters of the book are in constant search of true feelings and values, but using the mechanical methods for saying real from artificial and good from bad, they fail to reach their goal. The episode in which the android Luft admires a picture before being arrested and violently killed by human Resch motivates not only Rick observing the situation but also all the readers to reappraise their values concerning empathy as inherently human quality.
Observing how Resh kills Luft in cold blood just for the sake of killing, Rick even doubts whether his colleague is human and conducts the Voigt-Kampff test. Regardless of the fact that according to the results of the test Resch appears to be human, his prior behavior demonstrates the opposite and shakes Rick’s beliefs.
Getting accustomed to hypocrisy and artificiality of the surrounding world, main characters lose their faith in existence of something real. The exclamation of Rick’s wife Iran who looks at the goat under different angles and still hesitates whether it is real demonstrates the level of her disbelief. “Is it really real? she asked. It’s not false?” (Dick 169).
Repeating the word ‘real’ two times and its antonym false in such a short phrase, the woman expresses her doubts because after being deceived so many times, she does not give faith even to her own eyes. Parallel to the idea of distinguishing between real and artificial, the author outlines the message of telling good from bad which is even more important for the modern community.
Developing the idea of defining the true values, Dick communicates the idea of feeling empathy towards all living beings, including androids and criticizes the biased views of the majority of his characters. Actually, there are only several humans, including John with mental disability and Rick who realize that the feeling of empathy should not be limited to other humans and animals only.
The principle of killing Androids despite of the overall call for empathy as the main principle of Mercerism reflects the author’s indirect criticism of the world’s religions. In fact, as opposed to the proclaimed principles of unification and spiritual development, some religions encourage killing people of other faith. Mercerism is the fiction representation of this drawback of the modern community.
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Only Rick and mentally disable John doubt the appropriateness of this approach and have true feelings towards androids. The final scenes of the book in which Rick finds a toad and hopes that it is real but then is disappointed at discovering that it is mechanical express the author’s main idea. Finally, Rick realizes that he can feel empathy towards the mechanical animal as if it were real.
This final conclusion of the main character can be regarded as the main moral message of the whole book, implying that distinguishing between real and mechanical should not become an end in itself and the definition of human nature is much broader than ability to feel empathy and should not be limited to it solely. The philosophical meaning of the title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is comparison between humans who are possessed with the idea of buying real animals and androids who try to survive.
Moreover, the question posed in the title of the book under consideration motivates readers to think of androids, their dreams and the reasons for which they escape from Mars to earth. The ability to feel empathy towards androids which is not dictated by religion and community can be regarded as true feeling and the main feature that is really human.
In general, it can be concluded that behind the frame of science fiction genre, Dick hides philosophical issues of defining humanness and real values. Depicting androids in contrast to human bounty hunters, the author criticizes the people’s attempts to justify their cruelty by engineering religion or other fake beliefs.
Dick, Philip. Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Del Rey Mass Market Edition, 2007. Print.