Right off the bat, on page one, you can see that Philip K. Dick is using good imagery and wording to blur the lines between man and machine, and this is what Dick intends on doing throughout the entire story. The major theme of this book is humanity, and what it means to be a human; quite a common theme within the sci-fi genre and anything involving robotics.This theme is expressed through the need of animals in this society, how society determines who is or isn’t an andy (android), and how Decker and other characters seen in the story can be described in very synthetic/mechanical ways.
The animals in this story are extremely important symbols of its theme. To the people of this post-apocalyptic society animals are highly coveted and sought out; they are so coveted that those who can not obtain an animal buy artificial ones instead(pg8), but why? Well, the animals are symbols of class; only those who are wealthy enough can afford to buy a real animal. Additionally, a major corporation in the book, the Rosen Organization, have a collection of animals on their roof(pg 40). This is one way in which the animals represent human characteristics, such as the pursuit to feel superior to your fellow man. This, however, is but an additional side to what the animals represent. On page 14 Decker says, “I don’t want a domestic pet. I want what I originally had, a large animal.”, they key phrase here is “domestic pet”. Now, why would Dick choose that wording to convey what kind of animal Decker wants? This is Dick’s way of expressing the true meaning of the animals in his story. Domestication of an animal is often seen as taming, and a pet is often seen as a companion that is owned. Undomesticated animals are seen as wild, uncontrollable, and free; furthermore, both domesticated and undomesticated animals are often seen as a symbol of innocence; nothing drives their existence other than their basic animal instincts. The animals of this story are a symbol for the the need of humans to feel like they are in control of themselves and are independent unlike domesticated animals, hence people feel the need to own one. Additionally, animals are only important on earth and not on mars; the people of mars have become dependent on andys, so they do not feel the need to own an animal. On pg 17 the androids are compared to the slaves of the pre-civil war era; in this society andys are seen as slaves; therefore, people feel the need to prove that they are not slaves to anybody, they need to prove their free will, they need to prove that they are not something that can be programmed, they need to prove that they are not andys and actively prevent resembling one. Despite these efforts the animals only further blur the lines between humans and androids. On pg 42 Decker directly compares his electric sheep to a real one, “…he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived”. Even though Decker wants a real animal, he has to care for his electric sheep like he would a real animal, Decker even feeds it oats. In the text Deckers thoughts about having to care for his sheep as if it were real are in tones of hatred. Decker is full of hate in this moment not because of his lack of a real animal but rather the lack of difference between the two. If something that is mechanical can so easily be compared to something living the same could be done for the andys, being a bounty hunter, that is a thought Decker can not afford to have. That is also why he desperately needs a real animal to replace his electric sheep.
In this book empathy tests are used to determine who is or isn’t an andy. So far honestly my ideas on this are under developed, but I see how important it will be in the story from what we have seen so far. We are told that these empathy tests are the definitive way to determine if someone is an andy in disguise; however Dick also informs us of a major flaw with it: humans that are schizos fail the test. If a human can fail the test then it could also be possible for an andy to pass it. These tests are based on the ability for one to empathize with a fellow being, empathy is dependent on emotion and as we have seen from Rachel, andys can experience emotion; Rachel expressed fear when she thought Decker would retire her. Additionally, previous empathy tests eventually failed to properly identify andys; therefore, andys have continuously shattered the definitions set by the humans over what humans are and what is real. It is only reasonable to expect the andys to shatter those definitions once again.
There are three times in which Dick really caught my attention in his description of other characters in a artificial manner. On the very first page Iran says, “Keep your hands off my settings!”,the word settings really sticks out immediately. Changing the setting on something is often associated with something mechanical: you can change the settings on a phone, t.v, computer, stereo, etc. Additionally, a little later on Decker uses the phrase “I Program…”(pg6), an excellent choice of words. The next two instances happen on chapter 3. Holden, the chief bounty hunter, has been shot by an andy and is in a hospital. It is stated that Holden will be in the hospital for a month until he can get “one of those new organic plastic spinal sections to take hold”(pg 28). Plastic spinal, that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Lastly, when Decker saw Rachel he thought that her(or its) eyelashes were “artificial”. Although Rachel turned about to be an andy she(or again, it) was thought be a human at first by Decker, further showing how similar androids are to humans. Although there are currently only three instances in which humans are described in a synthetic way, I have no doubt that there will be more instances of this throughout the book.
These are only my basic thoughts right now with a lot more in the back of my head. Right now my thoughts are extremely jumbled up so my blog was a little chaotic, so sorry about that. I’m looking forward to reading on and seeing how Dick further explores the question, what defines being human? How can we determine what is and isn’t “real”?