Androids dreaming of sheep? Does the title sound mysterious to you? You might wonder why the author gives a human characteristic such as dreaming to a humanoid robot. This is mostly what the novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? written by Philip Dick talks about. Emotions play an important role in the novel as they help to distinguish the difference of what is human or nonhuman. The novel is set in a fictional future world, where war has left disastrous effects in Earth’s life. The World War Terminus have mostly annihilate all forms of life: animals and some humans have died from the exposure to the poisonous radiation whereas others have emigrate from Earth to escape of it. Since most animal life have become extinct from the toxicity of the air, the few remaining individuals who inhabits the surface of Earth are obligated to own an animal as it constitutes a symbol of social status and empathy, a trait that only human beings share. In these first chapters, we follow the life of Rick Deckard who is in charge of eliminating androids that came to inhabit the Earth’s surface, but also the life of John Isidore, a man with a low intellectual capacity who likes his job and enjoys another’s person company. By using these two characters in the novel, Dick wants to show how emotions such as empathy and appreciation of life help us identify what is human or nonhuman.
After the World War Terminus destroyed most of animal life, the individuals remaining in the surface of Earth were required to take responsibility for one animal for each family. Taking care of animal clearly represents having affection towards another individual or in this case a living creature. For this people owning an animal was considered a valuable, almost sacred possession and it signifies a symbol of both social status and empathy because of the almost extinction of animal life. Also, owning an animal and taking care of it represents a tool of empathy and a way to show appreciation towards a creature close to the oblivion. This human trait helps individuals distinguish between androids and humans. Here we are introduced to the character of Rick Deckard who after his real sheep died from tetanus, he tricks his neighbors by using an electric sheep. Due to his low financial stability, Rick cannot afford to buy a real animal, however his desire and need for a real animal to achieve the level of status in the society is present as he tries contacting the pet stores and negotiate deals in an attempt to possess a real animal (33-34).
Mercerism also plays a major element in these chapters as it shows how the sentiments of empathy and appreciation of life help the readers identify what is truly human. This technology-based religion is utilized to bring a sense of togetherness to the individuals who follow them. Followers of this religion use a mysterious device called the “empathy box” and when they grip the twin handles of this empathy box, individuals enter another world where everyone shares the same pain and sufferings of their main leader Wilbur Mercer. One of the characters who establish this connection within Mercer’s mind is a man named John Isidore. As stated in the novel, Isidore “crossed over in the usual perplexing fashion; physical merging—accompanied by mental and spiritual identification—with Wilbur Mercer had reoccurred. As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets.”(22) Everyone participates in this collective ritual and experiences Mercer’s pain after being hit with a rock, leaving his arm bleeding. Even though this ritual cause Isidore and other individuals a terrible pain, especially elderly ones who “had died, particularly later on at the top of the hill when the torment began in earnest”(25), by being part of this ritual, the individuals share empathy between each other as they understand and feel the pain or joy the other person is going through.