Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? What's Up With the Title?

By Philip K. Dick

What's Up With the Title?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a difficult title for two important reasons. First, it takes forever to type, and our autocorrect hates that question mark.

Second, our autocorrect isn't the only one struggling with that question mark. We at Shmoop are having a hard time coming up with an answer for the question posed by this title. We're pretty sure the "dream" and "sheep" part is a reference to the belief that counting sleep will help you fall asleep, with the electric sheep part being a play on the fact androids would count electric sheep rather than real ones.

But think about this: the human nervous system also uses electrical signals to process information (source). So maybe the sheep we dream of as human beings are the same electric sheep. Perhaps a reality outside the electrical is beyond us as well.

Consider this scene, where Rick asks himself a similar question:

Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently; that's why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here. A better life, without servitude. Like Luba Luft; singing Don Giovanni and Le Nozze instead of tolling across the face of a barren rock-strewn field. (16.2)

In this scene, Rick is struggling with his job and his growing empathy for the androids he hunts. He's starting to wonder if androids dream, with all the implications of dreaming: imagining, hoping for, and attempting to claim a better life. While dreaming is hardly unique to human beings, it is unique in that only living creatures dream (source). So, if androids do dream, they must be a form of life, which means that Rick's android-killing job is to hunt down and destroy life.

Think of the novel's title as extending these questions to you, the reader. Do you believe the androids are truly alive? Do you think they dreamed of sheep, electric or otherwise? And what does this mean for our consideration of what is and is not human?

Before you try to answer these questions, let us just say: Good luck.