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(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Do-Androids-Dream-of-Electric-Sheep/.
Course Hero, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Study Guide," June 23, 2017, accessed July 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Do-Androids-Dream-of-Electric-Sheep/.
The Voigt-Kampff test is extremely important on a literal level. It is the most sophisticated tool Deckard has to determine if someone is an android or a human. To apply this test, Deckard connects sensors to the person he is testing, then asks a series of questions. Each question explores a scenario where empathy comes into play, especially human empathy for animals.
This test symbolizes how hard it is to determine humanity in this world. The very name indicates this. The test used to just be called the "Voigt scale" until Kampff modified it three years earlier. This indicates that the line between human and android is always shifting. "Kampff" is close to the German word Kampf, which means a struggle or fight, a term to indicate how hard it is to tell who is human. The test's title may also remind readers of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Hitler classified people as either human or less-than-human, and so does this society.
Two other aspects of this test are worth noting. First, it repeatedly fails. Deckard gets ambiguous results when testing Rachael. Her "uncle" Eldon explains that these results came from her background. When he tests Luba Luft, he runs into cultural barriers. Deckard's boss mentions people with some psychological conditions would not pass. This test can determine people's life or death, but Dick shows it is flawed, biased, and shifting.
Second, the questions Deckard asks Rachael during the test (in Chapter 5) explore situations from the reader's world. These include eating oysters raw and boiling lobsters alive. By using examples from actual history, Dick is commenting on history. He is also applying the Voigt-Kampff test to his readers, quietly saying, "You would not pass for human."
When the novel opens, the Deckards own a fake sheep. The fake sheep represents anxiety and shame for three reasons. First, they used to have a real sheep, but it died. They know they are now living a lie—and by the standards of their society, an inferior existence. Second, there is social competition, a desire to keep up with the neighbors. Their neighbor, Bill Barbour, has a real horse. The Deckards know their fake sheep marks them as socially inferior. Third, in Mercerism people reach a higher level of empathy through owning and caring for animals, so owning an artificial sheep also marks them as spiritually inferior.
The novel starts with one fake animal and ends with another. The first, the sheep, has personal meaning to Deckard. The toad (the second fake) is a much larger symbol. Toads are sacred to Mercer and thought to be extinct. When Deckard finds one in the book's final chapters, it seems like a huge, meaningful, and multifaceted reward. If it is real, he will become rich and famous. The discovery will also strengthen Deckard's ties to the religious figure, Mercer. In Chapter 22, he thinks that he found the toad because he is seeing the world "through Mercer's eyes."
When the toad turns out to be fake, Deckard's entire sense of completion and reward is undercut. He moves from feeling triumphant to feeling confused and depressed. However, Deckard's disappointment prompts his wife, Iran, to act in a loving, supportive fashion. She offers direct emotional support for the first time in the novel, and it works. Deckard chooses not to use the mood organ, and ends the novel sleeping peacefully. The toad is like Mercer himself: a fake (or created) being that nonetheless has real effects on the human soul.
In Western culture, owls have long been associated with wisdom. This tradition stretches back to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, and the owl that rode on her shoulder. Dick's selection of owls as the first victims of nuclear war indicates that the postwar world will lack wisdom, or it will possess only the artificial wisdom companies like the Rosen Association (manufacturer of the Nexus-6 android). When the Rosens try to bribe Deckard with an owl, they are symbolically tainting wisdom. Rather than using it for good purposes, they are using wisdom for power and profit.