Reading through the chapters of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Phillip Dick we notice that the main idea the author tries to convey to his readers involves question: what makes us human? One might say that we are categorized as humans because we are able to create memories, share with others, build new things, etc. However, in the novel, the main response of this question is that humans are humans because they are capable of feeling empathy, as the word appears in mostly all the chapters in the book. In this futuristic era, people are subjected to several tests such as the Voigt-Kampff and the Boneli Reflex-Arc test to determine whether an individual is a human being or a humanoid robot. But not everything seems simple as it is, because in some of these chapters, there seems to be internal conflicts among the characters that puts in doubt the distinction between what is human and no human. Two characters who seen to portray conflicts with themselves are shown through the characters of Rickard Deckard and Pris Stratton. Both entities, human and android, are presented to different situations that makes them think and act in a different way than the rest of their society. By using the two major characters of this futuristic world, Huxley tries to make his readers understand that in this futuristic world where humans are to the verge of extinction, androids can also, for all intents and purposes, experience what truly is being human.
Rick Deckard is one human character in the novel who presents a conflict inside him that puts in consideration his own humanness. In the beginning of the chapters, Rick is described as a cold and crude person, willing to kill anything that can threat his own self-interest. We notice that he does not demonstrate empathy towards owning an animal, on the contrary, he sees it more like a form of increasing his social status in society. However, there is a crux in the novel that changes and puts in doubt Rick’s perspective towards human life. For instance, after being arrested for attempting to kill Luba Luft, the android singer, Rick is presented to a parallel reality where his status as a human being are put in doubt. He is brought to a police department with members that perform the same work that he is trying to do. However, any of the members of this department are aware of Rick’s existence and start accusing him of being an android disguise as a bounty hunter who kills humans that threaten his permanence in Earth. This new reality becomes a disorienting experience for Rick as all notions of identity and being human are put into doubt. Furthermore, his encounter with Phil Resch becomes a major event in the novel, as Rick begins to question what it signifies to be alive and what are the lines that divide the real and unreal. This is revealed when Phil kills the android Luba Luft without any sign of compassion. The act makes Rick take the decision to stop killing androids. As he states to Phil “I can’t anymore; I’ve had enough. She was a wonderful singer. The planet could have used her”(136). Rick gets devastated of the assassination of Luba Luft since he started to sympathize with the android. The when he takes the empathy test, Rick discovers that he is “capable of feeling empathy for at least specific, certain androids”(142). This turn of events make Rick think that androids can also show human emotions and share similar experiences to that which they copy.
On the android side, a character who also reveals internal conflicts is found in Pris Stratton. Pris is an android who escapes the slavery inflected in the planet Mars, searching refuge and freedom in Earth. She is seen as the antagonist in the story as she, and her other android friends, plot to get rid of the bounty hunters that are chasing them. At first, Pris is presented as a humanoid that shows no signs of emotions or empathy feelings. This is revealed in her encounter with Isidore, who states that something “deplorable” like a “coldness”(67) is hidden inside her. However, as we continue the chapters, we observe that, despite her sense of vengeance and humanoids qualities, Pris displays occasional signs of human emotions that let the readers think what does truly mean to be human. This feeling of human connection is depicted through Pris relationship with John Isidore. For instance, Isidore tells Pris the reason why she behaves in a heartless and cold way is because she does not possess any friends in Earth. However, she reveals her friendship with the other fugitive androids and, as stated by Dick, she expresses it with a “sudden authority stiffened her voice; she palpably regain vigor”(147), meaning that she truly defends her bonds of friendship that she has with these other androids as she also depicted them as her best friends. Another example where Pris shows human emotions is when Isidore is preparing the dinner for both of them. Pris senses Isidore’s caring despite the fact that she is an android. Seeing the care and love radiated from this human being makes Pris feel more like a normal human being as she shows it when she “put her arms around his waist and for an instant pressed against him”(149). Through this action, we notice that Pris becomes more human when she gets closer to a compassionate and unselfish spirit, in this case the good Isidore. By showing these examples, Phillip Dick offers his readers the idea that what truly makes someone a human, or real, is when that person gets in contact with the noble values in life, such as friendship and love.