Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Study Guide

Philip K. Dick

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Pris Stratton guides John Isidore in moving the rest of her belongings. She especially wants the TV set up. The other androids want the TV on because the "Buster Friendly" show is about to start. As Isidore moves Pris's belongings he thinks about how his life has improved, and how he can't go back to being alone. During Isidore's last trip to Pris's apartment, he finds a spider. He captures it in the plastic bottle he carries for moments like this, and takes it up to his apartment to show the androids.

When Pris sees it, she asks why it has so many legs. Irmgard Baty suggests it doesn't need all of them. Pris gets a pair of scissors out of her purse and starts cutting off the spider's legs. As she does, the "Buster Friendly" show comes on. The show shares a revelation that the visions people see when they merge with Wilbur Mercer via the empathy box are "artificial." The background is a film set, the visuals are special effects, and the man who plays Mercer is an alcoholic actor named Al Jarry. Buster Friendly builds on this initial exposé, arguing Mercer is politically dangerous. The androids in the apartment add commentary as Friendly talks, ending with Irmgard arguing that without Mercer, androids have only the humans' word that they experience empathy. She then turns back to Pris, who snips off the spider's fourth leg. When the crippled spider won't move, Roy Baty lights a match and makes it move with the flame.

Irmgard realizes Isidore is upset but can't tell why. She suggests it is the loss of the spider and offers to pay him back. Pris says Isidore is upset because he uses an empathy box, and the conversation returns to Mercer being a fake. Isidore realizes something is wrong with the androids he had thought were his friends. Isidore's emotions begin to destroy the world around him. He goes into the living room and sees a vision of Mercer. The restored spider crawls across his foot, and he realizes Mercer is very close. He speaks to Mercer, asking if the claims are true. Mercer admits he is a fraud. As they speak, Mercer returns the spider, fully healed, to Isidore. Suddenly an alarm goes off, and Roy tells Isidore the bounty hunter is outside.

Analysis

Like Chapter 17, Chapter 18 is marked by reversals. John Isidore means it when he thinks that his life is so much better than it was, that he can't go back to living alone, and that all animal life is so rare in this devastated world that finding the spider is like a treasure or a blessing. His life seems to be going so well, but then the androids reveal their true nature. Their lack of empathy makes it possible for them to speculate if spiders need legs without recognizing how horrific this is to Isidore.

Philip K. Dick juxtaposes the two actions in this chapter intentionally and skillfully. While the androids in Isidore's apartment are torturing and crippling a spider—thereby revealing their fundamental lack of humanity—Buster Friendly is making a public announcement about Wilbur Mercer, showing he is not what he claims to be. The androids think this revelation will lead humans away from Mercerism. However, Buster Friendly's actions seem more like what the androids do to the spider. He is trying to cause pain, not present the truth.

The last portion of the chapter is both profound and confusing. When Isidore gets upset, his emotions seem to disrupt the fabric of reality: his apartment seems to crumble around him. Later, when Isidore releases the handles of his empathy box, it is possible that he had been experiencing the vision because he engaged the empathy box. However, if this is the case, why would the androids experience the disruptive vision, too? A more plausible explanation is that Dick is allowing the disruptions and ruptures in reality to spread until they include the reader. Just as Rick Deckard has had to determine throughout the novel what is real and what is artificial, so, too, must the reader. The reader must decide if the apartment changed at all, and why it changed if it did. Readers must also reach their own conclusions about the status of the healed spider. Is it an artificial spider? Or does Mercer somehow have supernatural powers despite his natural origins?

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