Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Study Guide

Philip K. Dick

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Chapter 2 | Summary



John Isidore is getting ready for work. He is the only person living in his apartment building. He listens to the television while he shaves, and thinks about the current state of affairs.

Before he leaves for work, Isidore uses his "empathy box." He holds the handles and experiences a kind of technological vision: a virtual reality that comes with physical sensation and emotional connection. He uses it to share the suffering of spiritual leader Wilbur Mercer. After he uses the box, Isidore hears a television playing somewhere in his building and realizes he is not alone in his apartment building.


This second chapter introduces a second plot line, which will develop in parallel to Rick Deckard's main plot of hunting androids. It also further develops the setting, and fleshes out the nature of this world, which is very dark, indeed. The war killed so much of the population that people like John Isidore live alone. He is the only person in his entire building. In passing, it also sketches the political implications of the war. Society classifies people according to their genetic condition and how intelligent they are. This is another way in which Philip K. Dick develops the theme of humanity. Isidore is considered "a special" and "a chickenhead." He is a special because his genes were damaged by radiation from World War Terminus, and he is a chickenhead because he failed to score high enough on an IQ test. Isidore is good-hearted and functional but not overly bright. Legally and socially, he isn't considered fully human.

This chapter also introduces the empathy box. Dick doesn't explain how this machine works, either, but as the mood organ changes individual moods, the empathy box changes people's collective experience. When people grab the box's handles, they experience an empathic fusion with other people using the box, and share a vision of Wilbur Mercer and his suffering. This vision is so real that when someone in the vision throws a rock that hits Mercer, Isidore bleeds. This goes beyond traditional empathy. Somehow, through this technological interface, the people using the empathy box now share a reality. They feel what others feel, and their bodies share a reality.

Finally, this chapter sketches the biological and political situation in which the novel occurs. Space colonization started before the war, but it really took off after the war. Androids were one of the main reasons. Any human who immigrated to a new world was given his or her own android servant. The novel doesn't dwell on this much, but it has several implications: It means humanity is exporting a kind of slavery to the stars. It means every human living on another planet is a kind of aristocrat, with a personal servant—and that half the population on alien planets is artificial. Finally, it means the androids that go rogue aren't just breaking rules. They are more like escaped slaves, which makes the novel's bounty hunter hero something like a slave catcher. Their desire to be free has consequences: they must kill human beings to escape. Dick portrays that lack of empathy as an essentially inhuman quality, but the reader must wonder, if only briefly, where the desire for freedom puts androids on the human–robot scale.

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