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The novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick is set in a futuristic time in which Earth is nearly destroyed by a nuclear war and many have migrated to Mars as their new home. One of the new inventions brought upon in this novel is the creation of androids with very sophisticated programming that make them almost identical to humans. The protagonist of the story, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter whose goal is to “retire” dangerous androids. As we see throughout the novel, all events take place in the span of 24 hours in which Rick undergoes major changes in his attitude and perspective towards androids and electric things. Because humans are living in a new environment it is hard for them to cope with the daily realities that things are not the same for them after the war. As for Rick, he is dealing with internal conflicts because he begins to question what is right and wrong in terms of what he is doing with his life. As the story progresses, we see Rick Deckard ponder the ethics of his job while simultaneously showing a growing sense of empathy for the androids. However, Rick manages to change his disposition towards his life in just one day.
The story starts off with Rick and his wife Iran arguing because of the conflicting views each of them has towards Rick’s job. Although Rick feels indifferent about retiring the “andys”, Iran clearly shows us that what Rick is doing is wrong and unethical. When she tells Rick, “You’re worse… You’re a murder hired by cops”, Rick becomes irritated and threatens to dial to a thalamic suppressant which would irk him enough to win the argument (4). So then Iran steps in with a greater threat when she tells him, “If you dial…for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing” (4). This shows how much Iran despises Rick’s job because she is willing to fight for what she believes is right even though Rick will not change. This causes Rick to feel isolated from his relationship with Ira and lose empathy for her just to get a real animal.
The reason Rick does this job is to get money in order to buy a real animal because they represent status in that society. In a world where most animals have gone extinct, owning a real one means everything and is extremely rare. Because of this, electric animals are viewed as lesser and devalued in this society. As Rick tells us, “The electric animal, pondered, could be considered a sub-form of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him” and by this it shows that he lacks all empathy for the androids, electric animals, and his wife (42). Ironically, Rick is punishing androids for lacking empathy yet he is being a hypocrite because for the first part of the novel he shows no emotion towards anything close to his life. Rick defines the characteristics of being a human in this portion of the story because as humans we all lack emotion for certain things and can be hypocritical as well. This happens to be Rick’s fallacy which is understandable due to the times he is living in.
As Rick is about to start to retire (kill) the androids he becomes very happy and optimistic because he will soon accumulate enough capital to get the real animal that he wishes for. But what if Rick is using retiring androids for money as an excuse to feed his personality of being heartless to non-living things, and in reality he enjoys this? In this case Rick is doing things for his personal benefit and is not showing any form of empathy for androids just so he can get what he desires. The reason he is committing these violent acts is because he will get the money he needs quickly and believes he is a good bounty hunter, for the moment. As we are told at the end of chapter 8, “[Rick’s] spirits brightened into optimism. And into hungry gleeful anticipation” because he was ready to start retiring the androids. This signifies that Rick is still a self-centered man who is not bothered by retiring androids and does not see their life as valuable. This however, is about to change when he is introduced to two important androids that will shape his perspective on the value of electric things.
In the middle of the novel is when Rick meets Phil Resch, a fellow bounty hunter, and Luba Luft, an android. When Rick is sent to retire Luba Luft he is partnered with Phil and they have to go to an opera house which is where we learn that Rick loves opera. Once they find Luba, at an Edvard Munch exhibit in a museum she confesses to being an android but more importantly of longing to be a human when she states, “I really don’t like androids. Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human” (133). As the conversation progresses, Luba Luft playfully harasses Phil about being an android which is a bad move since Phil retires her right then and there. Once Rick notices this he tells Phil, “I can’t anymore; I’ve had enough. She was a wonderful singer. The planet could have used her. This is insane” (136). Unlike many humans, Rick loved art, and opera in particular, so because Luba was a great singer Rick valued that which gave him more reason to see the importance of android lives. In this moment is when we finally see that Rick was starting to empathize with an android and is now torn down by this. Rick had so much empathy for Luba Luft that he had even bought her a book of famous paintings and claimed that she was, “genuinely alive” to Phil (141). It was too late though as she had “fell forward, facedown, in a heap” (134).
Rick finally started seeing other androids as humans and started questioning the ethics behind the way Phil Resch did his job when he tells him, “You’re a good bounty hunter… Your attitude proves it. But am I?” (144). Not only does Rick start thinking about the lack of empathy that Phil has for androids but he questions himself in which he thinks about the way he does his job and how he has now grown feelings for certain androids. This scene is imperative to the novel because it shows us the transition in Rick’s disposition as more empathetic towards electric things. The question that remains is would Rick have retired Luba Luft? If so in what way?
Towards the end of the day Rick has retired eight androids and is exhausted by the amount of work and emotional pain he has gone through. He goes home to find that Rachel Rosen, another android that he interacted with during the day, has thrown his goat off the roof. Extremely confused with all that life has thrown at him in one day, Rick flies to Oregon just to discover his new persona. Here it is blatant that Rick is even more confused with himself as he notes, “everything about me has become unnatural; I’ve become an unnatural self” (230). There is even a point where he thinks he is Mercer, the emotional religion of the people on Earth, when he tells us, “I had the absolute, utter, completely real illusion that I had become Mercer and people were lobbing rocks at me. But not the way you experience it when you hold the handles of an empathy box. When you use an empathy box you feel you’re with Mercer. The difference is I wasn’t with anyone; I was alone” (234). This major change in Rick’s attitude towards life is what drives Rick to empathize more for electric things. This is confusing because for humans it is hard to change even the smallest of habits but for Rick it only took him one day to become a new person.
Finally, the last chapter of the book is where we can see Rick Deckard come to terms with electric animals. After finding a toad in the desert, he becomes so joyful to the point where his wife Iran thinks to herself, “In all the years she had known him she had not encountered this expression before” (240). When Rick finally tells Iran that he has a toad, she looks at it, finding a tiny control panel which she immediately tells Rick about. At this point we would assume that he would be devastated since throughout the book all he wanted was a real animal. However, Rick tells us, “No, I’m glad I got to know… I’d prefer to know” (241).
Throughout the novel Rick grows as a person because he learns to empathize with androids and electric things by by doing what he believes is right when it comes to his job with retiring androids and he also stops being self centered and believes that he has become Mercer. He admits to the audience, “the electric things have their lives too”, which conveys his new attitude towards life (241). Rick’s new attitude of loving things that are not just human defines being human and this is important because although there is little to love in this new world, appreciating the little things is what gives him “long deserved peace” (243). In the final pages of the novel, Iran calls electric animal repairs so that she can make sure the toad is perfect for Rick. In the conversation with the repair service Iran says, “I want it to work perfectly. My husband is devoted to it” (244). The whole isolation Rick and Iran had is now gone because Rick is starting to be less self-centered and has developed more empathy not just for androids but his wife as well.
In conclusion, Rick had an eventful day that affected his way of thinking as well as behaving. He started his day off by being self centered and not caring about anyone but himself, to empathizing for android and electric things. We see this transformation when he becomes upset over the death of Luba Luft but also when he is not affected by the fact that he has an electric toad. What leads Rick to a change in his behavior and attitude towards life is that he starts to question the ethics behind his job and contemplates whether it is right or wrong. Although this story is set in the year 2021, many of us could take Rick as an example to question what we believe is right and wrong in order to have better empathy skills and be better people.
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