Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Essay on Empathy as the Novel’s Theme

Words: 1695
Topic: Literature


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a sci-fi genre novel, was created by the fantastic mind of Philip K. Dick in 1968. Later it became widely known as Blade Runner. It also became an inspiration to the popular 1982 movie adaptation under the same name, starring Harrison Ford.

The focus of the novel is on the most humane feeling, empathy. It is shown as unique for people and makes them different from other life forms. Throughout the story, Philip Dick leads the readers in search of our innate qualities and moral values.

This analytical essay on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep explores the critical questions on the philosophy of the novel.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Summary

The story takes place in 1992 (changed to 2021 in later editions) after World War Terminus, a nuclear war. As a result, the Earth’s atmosphere becomes radioactive, and people are forced to escape to other planets. Those who can’t afford it have to stay on Earth and survive in communities.

After the war, almost all animals are wiped out, and the remaining species are endangered and need proper care. Owning an animal becomes a sign of the elite. People living in colonies on other planets also have the newest generation androids. Robots are almost indistinguishable from people.

The bounty hunter Rick Deckard and his wife are dreaming about owning a real animal. Rick takes a job to track down and kill six androids who escaped from Mars. With the bounty money, he wants to buy a real animal instead of the electronic sheep they have.

One of the quick ways to distinguish androids from humans is by doing an empathy test. Throughout the novel, Rick hunts down three androids. On the money he earns, he gets a real goat.

He wants to stop then but is forced to proceed with finishing the rest of them. It is hard for Rick to kill the remaining three androids because he feels empathy towards them.

In the end, his goat is dead, and he goes out of town to reflect on everything. There he receives enlightenment on the real significance of empathy.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Characters Analysis

In this Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep essay, empathy is the main issue that bothers Rick Deckard. He questions things that most people don’t think about. He wonders whether androids are indeed non-humans and tests everything he used to believe in. At the same time, Rick follows the usual social dogmas, such as saving money to buy a real animal.

One of the most important scenes is when android Luft appreciates the beauty of a picture. A moment later, she is killed by Resch in cold blood. According to the test, Resch appears to be human, despite his doubts. However, even Rick realizes that there is something wrong. Such behavior can hardly be named humane.

One of the essential characters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is Rachael Rosen. She is an android who is forced to believe she is human. During the whole novel, she struggles with morality.

When she sleeps with Rick, Rachael opens up and tells him that she does it with many bounty hunters. This way, they start feeling empathy towards other androids and stop killing them. It implies that she has realized her true nature.

The ending of the novel is ironic. Rachael Rosen becomes just like humans. Being cruel and jealous, she kills the goat Rick and his wife own.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Main Themes

From the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep summary, it is not hard to understand that empathy is one of the main themes of Philip Dick’s novel. Every chapter highlights this issue very explicitly. The readers can reflect on this topic together with the characters. Rick Deckard may be seen as the primary guide developing the inner dialogue about morals and values.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep animals are valued so much because they can prove that their owners are humans. It is because only humans are believed to show empathy. Taking care of your pet is one of the aspects of being empathetic.

Philip Dick is pretty ironic about all the fuss with empathy because people don’t show a lot of it there. We can even see the opposite: Rick is distant from his wife and cheats on her, Resch is violent and cruel.

Even more ironic is the fact that androids seem to be more sensitive and compassionate than humans. They create some sort of friendship and attachments. Some of them are not lacking sentiments and sorrow after their dead fellows.

The whole point of this theme is that empathy is not enough to be called a human. It also kind of reflects the current critical situation in our world. People need specialized training on emotional intelligence because they don’t possess it naturally.

Another issue of high importance is the question about reality. In the fiction world where it is so easy to create fake people and animals, real stuff becomes priceless. People spend enormous amounts of money just to own animals whose copies would be precisely the same.

It makes readers think about the perceptual nature of reality. If we don’t know that the pet is fake and we believe it’s real, does it make it real? Mood organ is the technology used in the novel to make people feel a certain way. The feelings created by it are not real, but they seem to be better than real.

The last chapter shows Rick finding a toad in the desert. He believes it’s real and brings it home. Only there, it appears that the toad is fake. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Rick’s experience with this toad changed.

This conclusion highlights Philip Dick’s idea that our own perception creates reality. Life circumstances can make some corrections, but our reaction is what matters after all.

This issue is also connected to Mercerism, the main religion in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Rick understands that Mercerism appears to be a scam. It all comes down to a TV show that imposes the required feelings on the followers. However, people don’t realize it, and the whole experience feels real to them.

Another essential and highly relevant theme is the relationship between humankind and nature. Through Rick’s experience, the readers can realize that people don’t only want to enjoy the gifts of nature. People want to control and dominate it.

One of the examples is people’s desire to possess real animals. It is not just the heart-breaking nostalgia after nature. Humans don’t just want to take care of animals and be close to them. They want to own them.

Moreover, humans flee to other planets and establish their control and power over them. This simple fact proves that they haven’t learned anything. Just think about how it may be a parallel to our current situation. We have been destroying nature by using and controlling its processes. Now, we are seriously considering moving to Mars instead of trying to save our home.

The message about consumerism has the same relevance nowadays. In the novel, mass media convinces people that buying stuff that everyone owns can make them happy. Unfortunately, we can track the same case in our modern society. And there is no need for a thorough analysis of this novel to see how it is mirroring our world.


This essay on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep highlights the main themes of the novel. Empathy appears to be a central issue. Rick Deckard has been chasing the answers throughout the whole novel.  Finally, he realizes that empathy is not enough for humans to be different from other creatures.

The setting of the novel may serve as a warning to us. Even half a century later, Philip Dick’s work didn’t lose its relevance. He was hoping that the themes presented above would make us rethink our attitude towards nature and other people.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: FAQ

❓ Who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. His writing style is mostly known for creating alternate realities. He would highlight various moral and philosophical questions, especially about searching for one’s identity. As an author, he received many awards for his novels. His works are used to create movies, the most famous of which is Blade Runner (1982).

❓ When was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep written?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was created between 1966 and 1968. Those were some of the most intense years in the history of the US. The publication date of the first edition is 1968. Unfortunately, the novel itself has not become as popular as its movie adaptation Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford. However, it didn’t lose its relevance.

❓ Where does Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep take place?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep novel takes place on Earth in San Francisco in 1992. In later publications, the year is changed to 2021. It pictures the post-apocalyptic world, in which only the weakest people are left. World War Terminus killed most of the animals and made the atmosphere of the planet radioactive. The last scene is set in Oregon.

❓ When was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep published?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published in 1968. The later editions have some changes in the setting. Before that, only a few of twenty-two Philip Dick’s novels were published in hardcover. It may indicate that his work was gaining more and more success and respect in those years. This novel inspired movies, comics, and a prequel.

❓ What is Mercer in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Mercer is a religious leader who impacts millions of followers via the media. However, in the end, it appears that Wilbur Mercer is a character played by an actor Al Jarry. He would put on some old man clothes and beard and pretend to resurrect animals. His plot turn brings even more doubts.

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Frith, C., 2008. Life-Changing Books: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. [online] New Scientist. n.d. The Conflict Between Science And God In Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep8. [online] n.d. Android Dreams. [online]

Forward, S., 2007. A Reader’s Guide To Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. [online] OpenLearn.

Bhattacharya, A., 2018. Where Blade Runner began: 50 years of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Nature, 555(7695), pp.163-164. n.d. UC Book Of The Year 2018: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. [online]