Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Identity

By Philip K. Dick

Identity

Chapter 1

Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article. (1.36)

In the future, society identifies people by the animals they keep. Cricket-owners are pathetic, cat-owners are nice try but can't you give it a little more effort, and horse-owners are living large with their equine entourage. As for electric animal owners, well, they're really just not our kind of people, if you know what we mean.

Chapter 2

He had been a special now for over a year, and not merely in regard to the distorted genes which he carried. Worse still, he had failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test, which made him in popular parlance a chickenhead. (2.13)

Poor Isidore. It's not his fault that radioactive dust has gone Donkey Kong all over his genetic material and that he's saddled with the identity of "chickenhead," rather than the more accurate one of "super cool guy with a heart of 24k unradiated gold."

Chapter 4

"The Leningrad psychiatrists," Bryant broke in brusquely, "think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If you tested them in line with police work, you'd assess them as humanoid robots. You'd be wrong, but by then they'd be dead." He was silent, now, waiting for Rick's answer. (4.22)

What does it mean to be human? Talk about a major question of identity. In the future, the novel identifies humans as uniquely capable of feeling empathy, but what if a human is born or raised, so he or she lacks the capacity for that emotion? What do we consider that person? An organic android? A psychopath? A Vulcan?

Chapter 5

And Eldon and Rachael Rosen consisted as spokesmen for that corporate entity. His mistake, evidently, had been in viewing them as individuals. It was a mistake he would not make again. (5.51)

Eldon and Rachael live their lives entirely for the benefit of their company. Rick has to remember to identify them with the Eldon Association rather than look at them as, you know, them. Think about that next time you put on your Nike t-shirt.

Chapter 9
Rick Deckard

"An android," he said, "doesn't care what happens to another android. That's one of the indications we look for."

"Then," Miss Luft said, "you must be an android."

That stopped him; he stared at her.

"Because," she continued, "your job is to kill them, isn't it? You're what they call—" She tried to remember. (9.24-27)

Although we know Rick isn't an android, Luba Luft's argument makes sense in a syllogistic kind of way. All androids don't care what happens to other androids; Rick doesn't care what happens to androids; therefore, Rick is an android. Boom! Use with caution, people.

Chapter 12

"I really don't like androids. Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I'm concerned, a superior life-form." (12.30)

Even androids can code switch. She's android born, erm, built, but she wants to inhibit human traits, so she can actually be human. Maybe it's just our reading, but she seems to have gotten caught in the middle along the way.

Chapter 14

"That's right, Mr. Baty," Isidore said. "But what does it matter to me? I mean, I'm a special; they don't treat me very well either, like for instance I can't emigrate." He found himself yabbering away like a folletto. "You can't come here; I can't—" He calmed himself. (14.78)

As a "chickenhead," Isidore has been isolated from human society. As androids, his new roomies have been isolated from human society as well. This means Isidore just might have more in common with androids then he does with his own species—at least until a certain spider puts that idea to the test.

Chapter 15

The old man said, "You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe." (15.112)

Mercer sure isn't one for uplifting speeches, is he? The curse of life is that it's impossible to live without doing violence to another creature. Mercer identifies this with violating one's own identity, as though doing violence to another is doing violence to the self. Hm. Veganism is starting to look really good right about now. Now, where'd we put that seitan?

Chapter 19

"For what we've meant to each other," the android said as it approached him, its arms reaching as if to clutch at him. The clothes, he thought, are wrong. But the eyes, the same eyes. And there are more like this; there can be a legion of her, each with its own name, but all Rachael Rosen—Rachael, the prototype, used by the manufacturer to protect the others. (19.32)

It must be a real head trip to be an android—to know that you are yourself but also one among a host of other identical yous, sort of like being a boy in salmon shorts.

Chapter 21

For Mercer everything is easy, he thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self. (21.14)

Rick's in a weird place at the end of the novel. He just can't with his former self, but he's still finding out who his new self should be. And where does that leave him? Without an identity, unable to follow Mercer's example and accept himself. (It gets better, Rick.) Does he ever figure it out? You'll have to think that one through on your own.