Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Study Guide

Philip K. Dick

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | Themes



Many of Philip K. Dick's works address the nature of reality. The relationship between reality and illusion is usually shifting and complicated. Characters operate according to one understanding of reality for a time, then encounter something that forces them to rethink this understanding, and often to rethink the idea of reality itself. To further complicate this issue, characters often experience something that changes their mental functions, so the very tools they use to evaluate reality changes on them as the characters use them. In the story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which was the basis for the movie Total Recall, this meant characters had artificial memories implanted. In the first chapter of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Deckard and his wife change their relationship to reality by using their "mood organ," which changes their emotions accordingly.

In this novel, people use illusions to escape reality, or to make up for a reality that has failed them or cannot give them what they desire. People often know they are using a substitute, and this gnaws at them. Deckard and other characters long to own real animals, and often buy well-made imitations to take the place of the real thing.


As a writer, a citizen, and a human being, Dick was concerned with the application of the term human. This question takes several forms in the novel. The first is confusion between humanity and artificiality. This theme is central to the novel's plot, because Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who makes his living identifying, hunting, and killing androids (artificial humans). Like many aspects of Dick's work, what is striking about this theme and how it plays out is that it is not static, but always shifting. Specifically, as inventors create better androids, it becomes harder to tell whether they are real or fake. The test Deckard uses on Rachael early in the novel used to be essentially foolproof. He could always use it to tell who was human. Now it takes more work and is not nearly as reliable.

Other factors shift, and when they do, humanity shifts with them. The radiation caused by the nuclear war threatens people's status as human: they must wear special protective gear (or move to another planet) just to remain human. Society cruelly classifies those they find lacking as "chickenheads," referring to their lack of intelligence, and tagging them as not fully human. In this novel, humans are moving to other star systems, and this means they will be living in new environments. One of evolution's central tenets is that organisms evolve to match their environment, and this mean humans will fundamentally change. The book suggests long space voyages are already changing people, because the human experience in a completely artificial environment (the spaceship) is so different from that in a natural environment.

Isolation, Connection, and Empathy

People are isolated in this novel, and they long for connections with other people, but they also ache to connect with other species. Dick is very clear that people long to feel connected with one another, and that this connection is essential to their humanity. A conceptual recognition of connection isn't enough. People in this book must feel to connect.

In this novel Dick uses empathy to define humanity. If people do not empathize, they are not human (at least in this world). Empathy is how people connect in a largely depopulated world, and empathy transforms people who experience it. To feel together is to be human in this novel. The entire invented religion of Mercerism centers around empathy. This emphasis on emotion is rare in science fiction and gives Dick's works an uncommon depth for the genre.


Dick often paints a negative picture of capitalism—the economic system where goods are owned by individuals or corporations and sold in a competitive free-market system. The author treats low-level workers like Isidore sympathetically because he understands people get caught in a system larger than themselves. Individual businesses, such as the pet shop, are portrayed as somewhat insensitive but relatively innocent. In contrast, Dick portrays large corporations, such as the Rosen Association, as unethical—a quality bred by the capitalist system. They actively deceive and manipulate Deckard when he visits them, and they try to bribe him with an owl and lie about it being artificial. They produce more and more advanced androids and blame market demand for their actions.


Entropy, or the process of ruin or disorder, is a scientific concept in thermodynamics—the science of physics that addresses mechanical action and heat. Entropy states that the universe has a tendency to run down or dissolve into chaos. Order collapses into randomness and disorder, a recurring theme in the novel.

Dick uses entropy to establish both mood and setting. Chapter 2 opens with an image of decay: only one TV set is on in a building where thousands of people used to live. The war that destroyed humanity accelerated the process of entropy. In Chapter 6, characters have a discussion about one of entropy's effects on human systems: places where people live tend to break down and fill with "kipple"—a term for useless junk.

Entropy also makes Deckard's job harder. A key part of his job is making distinctions: Are you human or not? As an agent of the law, Deckard is dedicated to supporting social order. Entropy introduces randomness and disorder, making it harder to make distinctions and create or maintain order.

Questions for Themes

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