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A turtle called Tu’imalila died in Tonga and “the people of Tonga regarded the animal as a chief” (Reuters 1966). Similarly, in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the characters are set in a dystopian society and they greatly value animals because they reveal the ability of humans to show empathy. In Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the world is in a post-apocalyptic future from a global nuclear war, which caused millions of deaths and many species to go into extinction. With advanced technology, humans emigrated to Mars with androids and the ones that stayed on Earth craved living animals, so companies had built life-like robot animals for humans to take care of. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter on Earth assigned a mission to terminate the androids that came back to earth. Rick does this to earn enough money to buy an animal but, he struggles to accept his actions.
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In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, the author illustrates a dystopian society as a reaction to his personal society through the blurred sense of reality created by advanced technology, the dehumanization of citizens, and the disastrous effects of the post-apocalyptic setting from war. Through the additional examination of these three points, it is evident that the novel depicts a dystopian society and that it is based on the author’s society.
Firstly, in the novel the characters have a blurred sense of reality with Dick’s use of advanced technology which depicts a dystopian society as a reflection of his own drug abuse at the time.
To begin with, Dick uses the empathy box as a device that connects the followers of the religion, Mercerism, into a collective consciousness to empathize with the feelings of their religious leader in a simulation which physically effects John Isidore, a “special”. For instance, when John activates his empathy box, in his consciousness, he starts seeing the landscape of a hill and he starts climbing the hill with his leader, Mercer: [John’s] feet now scraped; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and . . . smelled the acrid haze of the sky [from] . . . some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available. (Dick 22)
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To elaborate, John’s feeling of “some place alien” is a representation of the alienation people feel when using the empathy box despite being connected to the emotions of others with the device. This technology distorts the sense of reality because it creates an uncertainty in the senses of the user as they physically feel the manifestation of emotions instead of truly empathizing with others. In addition, Dick’s use of electronic animals instead of real animals in the novel creates a misperception of what is real and unreal in society because the technology in the dystopian novel is advanced enough to make genuine animals and artificial animals seem almost indistinguishable. For example, when Rick finds out the toad he found outside his car was electric and Iran apologizes for telling him the truth, Rick replies, “‘No . . . I’d prefer to know. But it doesn’t matter. The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are’” (Dick 241).
To clarify, Rick believed the toad was real because the design of the toad was visually realistic. Despite this, Rick accepts and appreciates the fake toad as a real life which suggests that artificial animals cause humans to lose touch with reality which is proof of a dystopian society. Lastly, the distorted sense of reality created by the two different technologies reflects the author’s drug abuse.
Specifically, Philip K. Dick was a drug abuser because “he viewed drug use as a tool for breaking through the reality of the everyday world and freeing the spirit. Drug use, Dick said, allowed him to experience as different a reality as possible” (Encyclopedia.com). Dick similarly had a blurred sense of reality like the characters in the book because he was a depressed man and wanted to lose touch with reality to not have to face his troubles. In his society, it was common for artists to use drugs, for instance, amphetamine, to think outside the box which reflects the common use of advanced technology in the novel. Therefore, it is evident that the use of advanced technology to control emotions and represent animals in the novel is proof of a dystopian society that is based on the author’s experience with drugs.
Secondly, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a dystopian novel because some citizens of the society in the novel, live in a dehumanized state which is connected to the author’s mental illness and his society. To start off, the humans that have damaged genes from radiation fallout and sometimes mentally deficient are classified as “specials” and they are not accepted by society. To specify, the humans that decided to stay on Earth instead of emigrating to Mars and had genetic damages from radiation and were mentally deficient were classed as: Biologically unacceptable, a menace to the pristine hereditary of the race. Even if accepting sterilization, dropped out of history. He ceased . . . to be part of mankind. John Isidore had been special . . . but failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test . . . which made him . . . a chickenhead. (Dick 16-17) To examine, it is revealed that there is a discriminatory hierarchy system in which specials are at the bottom since they are not even “biologically acceptable” (Dick 16). It is especially dehumanizing for these citizens to be called “chickenhead” as the name strips them of all human qualities referring to an animal (Dick 17).
Furthermore, certain humans are dehumanized as they are compared to the most human-like androids, called the Nexus-6 androids. Through the Voigt-Kampff scale which is the most advanced test used to differentiate between androids and humans, will not work “in human schizophrenic patients so this small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If they are tested . . . in line with police work, they [would] be assessed . . . as humanoid robots . . . [and] they’d be dead” (Dick 38). In this way, the test suggests that humans with mental illnesses are less human than an android and would be killed. It means that these humans with mental illnesses are below androids in the hierarchy structure and that the androids are more human than these patients because the androids can show empathy.
To connect, the classification of certain humans as “specials” and “chickenheads” and the empathy test to differentiate humans and androids both are a reaction to the author’s struggle with mental illness, the lack of mental illness research in the author’s time period, and the discrimination that occurred for certain groups of people. As an example, Dick believed that he contacted: A spiritual force which had unlocked his consciousness. By his own admission, he grappled with paranoia, and self-deprecatingly called himself a ‘flipped-out freak’. Dick used amphetamines to maintain his productivity and when his addiction went into high gear, so did the paranoia. (Publishers Weekly)
Due to Philip K. Dick’s addition to amphetamines, the public perceived him as a madman because of his claims of contacting a spiritual force and he admits it when he calls himself a ‘flipped-out freak’. Due to his paranoia, he struggled with his illness feeling less than others since he was broke. His societal position was similar to that of John Isidore since they both mentally struggled and in the 1950s mental illness was not seen as a societal concern as patients are portrayed to die through the Voigt-Kampff test for mentally unstable people. Overall, through categorizing groups of people biologically, and comparing androids and mental human patients it is apparent that the novel has a dystopian society.
Thirdly, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic future which has disastrous effects on society which connects to nuclear war. To begin, from a third world war called World War Terminus (WWT), nuclear weapons were used which caused severe environmental damages and caused most humans to migrate to Mars. To specify, after the war had ended, the radioactive fallout damages the environment and drove many animals to extinction while most humans set out to colonize Mars: The dust . . . contaminated most of the planet’s surface . . . [and] first, . . . the owls had died . . . the other birds followed. The colonization program entered a new phase . . . and under UN law each emigrant automatically received possession of an android. (Dick 15-16)
In this society, WWT caused the colonization of another planet which is an exaggerated worst-case scenario which supports the idea that this novel is a dystopia. Also, the UN portray the colonization of Mars as a utopia by offering emigrant androids to keep as servants but the negative side of the colonization of Mars is not discussed. The deaths of the birds causing a chain reaction of other animals to go extinct made living animals a rarity and humans do not take them for granted. To add, Rick hunting for a Russian bounty hunter called, Polokov is a representation of the Cold War. For example, in Rick’s search for Polokov, he is later joined by a Russian police officer named, Kadalyi and Rick suspect that Kadalyi is actually Polokov and replies, “‘You’re not Polokov, you’re Kadalyi . . . I mean you’re Polokov, the android’” (Dick 92). To elaborate, Rick is representing the US since he is a bounty hunter and Polokov is representing the Soviets since he is a Russian bounty hunter. The fact that Polokov is disguised as someone else and is secretly an android represents how the US and Soviet Union were spying on each other and in a way trying to dominate one another. Lastly, the fallout from the global nuclear war and the conflict between Polokov and Rick is connected to the author’s society because Philip K. Dick was a writer during the time of the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union. Specifically, since “Dick was in University, . . . he was antiwar and with the threat of nuclear war between the two nations” the whole world was on edge. Dick was also, a government informant and reported multiple scholars that were communist.
Philip K. Dick writes this book as a warning for readers of what nuclear war can do and the detrimental effects it will have on Earth. Therefore, with the environmental effects from nuclear war, the illusion of a utopia on Mars and the representation of political conflict prove Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a dystopian novel that is a reaction to the author’s experience with the Cold War. In conclusion, when it comes to the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, it shows the distorted sense of reality that characters in the novel have due to technology. It is a struggle for the characters to get a grasp on reality. Some people in the society are dehumanized. The catastrophic effect that global nuclear war has and the connection to the Cold War is evident. In the end, the dystopian elements of the novel shed light on the meaning of being human and the theme of empathy.
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