Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Study Guide

Philip K. Dick

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Chapter 1 | Summary



Rick Deckard wakes up on January 3, 2021 (in earlier editions of the novel it's 1992), when his mood organ goes off and fills him with artificial emotions. His wife, Iran Deckard, also wakes. They argue about the settings on her mood organ. This dispute slides into a larger argument about Deckard's job. Deckard is a bounty hunter who hunts down rogue androids (artificial humans). Iran accuses him of being a murderer. They then shift back to the original fight over settings on the mood organ. Iran finally gives in and tells Deckard to program moods for the both of them.

Deckard eats breakfast, puts on an "Ajax model Mountibank Lead Codpiece" (a device to protect the reproductive organs from radiation exposure), and goes to the roof to look at his artificial sheep. His neighbor, Bill Barbour, comes up to see his pet horse and informs Deckard the horse is pregnant. Deckard asks about buying the foal, but Barbour isn't interested. Deckard argues that for Barbour to own two horses when Deckard has none is immoral and violates the principles of Mercerism. Barbour disagrees, saying Deckard has an animal and can achieve "true fusion with Mercer." Deckard admits his sheep is a fake (he used to have a real one, but it died). Barbour promises he won't tell anyone. They squabble a bit, and Deckard leaves for work.


Philip K. Dick introduces the central questions of this novel—What is real? What does it mean to be human?—in the book's opening scenes. What is striking about this novel (and much of Dick's work) is how easily the author introduces these complex themes. On one hand, the scene is completely normal: a couple wake up and squabble over his job. However, on the other hand, his job involves making complex ethical and emotional judgments over whether other people are real or not. They also have this argument while under the influence of their mood organ. Dick never explains just how the mood organ works, but people can use it to select a very wide range of intense emotional states, some of which last for hours. How can people think clearly when under the influence of machinery that makes them feel specific things? And how can people ever experience an authentic emotion when they can so easily change moods?

This first chapter also introduces another theme group: isolation, connection, and empathy. While people today care about animals, people in the postnuclear war landscape of this novel need them. Having an animal is important on an emotional level. It is also part of the novel's new religion, Mercerism: empathizing with an animal has spiritual implications. Animals are so important that those who don't have them, like Rick Deckard, tend artificial animals. They even care about them, but they know they aren't real. In this way, Dick's theme of how important empathy is for humanity gets interwoven with the themes of reality and humanity. The fact that Deckard's neighbor can't tell Deckard's sheep is fake also foreshadows the main plot issue in the novel: Deckard won't be able to tell the rogue androids from humans.

Deckard's preparations for the day also show the role capitalism plays in this postnuclear society. Deckard's world is so damaged that radiation is a continual threat. However, he not only takes this threat in stride, he wears a lead codpiece. This is Dick commenting on capitalism: it will find a way to profit from even a nuclear holocaust, and will carve new market niches.
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