Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rick proceeds with his Voigt-Kampff test for Rachael Rosen. He shines a bright light into her eye to measure pupil dilations, and asks her a series of questions about hypothetical social situations. He measures Rachael’s biological reaction to each situation, for example, “You are given a calfskin wallet on your birthday.” At first, Rachael shows some biological reaction to the questions, indicating empathy. But after a while, she becomes quieter, not reacting to the questions in the way she ought to. Rick asks her questions about her past, and she says that she’s 18 years old. After some time, Rick concludes, “you’re an android.” Rachael angrily denies this, and Eldon agrees with her.
Here, we see how the test works. It’s designed to measure the patients’ physical responses to emotional stimuli (basically like a lie detector test—another controversial test of questionable accuracy). This is significant in and of itself, as the only way for Rick to measure a person’s thoughts and feelings is to measure their mannerisms and reflexes. This points to the unknowability of the human mind and spirit—Rick is forced to use the Voigt-Kampff, a flawed test, because there’s simply no better way to understand human nature. This would explain why Rick can get his test results so wrong.
Themes
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Rick talks to Eldon Rosen about his androids. Because of Eldon’s engineering, androids have become so advanced that it’s difficult to distinguish them from human beings. Eldon shoots back that Rick’s incompetence has probably resulted in innocent humans being mistaken for androids and murdered. Rick realizes that Eldon and Rachael have tricked Rick into revealing the inconclusiveness of his own test—by testing Rachael, Rick has proved that the Voigt-Kampff is invalid.
Here, it becomes clear that Rachael and Eldon were trying from the start to invalidate the Voigt-Kampff test altogether. By invalidating the Voigt-Kampff test, Eldon asserts his power (and his corporation’s power) over not only Rick, but also the entire law enforcement office of San Francisco. It’s telling that the characters in this chapter assert their power by questioning what is and isn’t human—you could even say that defining human nature is the only true source of power in this novel.
Themes
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Eldon tells Rick that he wants Rick’s help. He and Rachael offer Rick an owl—an especially rare animal. In return for this gift—a bounty—Rick will help the Rosen corporation hunt down the Nexus-Six androids. Rachael assures Rick that the Voigt-Kampff test will be sufficient for testing Nexus-Six robots. Rick agrees to these terms—he’ll hunt down all of the Nexus-Sixes, on the condition that, should he die, the owl will be passed on to his heirs. Eldon and Rachael “yield” to this last term, but Rick seems unsure that the corporation will honor the agreement if Rick dies; he mutters, “You own that goddamn owl.”
Rachael was indeed trying to use Rick’s desire for expensive pets to bribe him, and it seems to be working—Rick is so desperate to be perceived as prosperous and empathetic in that he’ll do anything to get the owl. It’s strange to think of so much attention being paid to an animal with no “practical” use to its owner—but because owls are in such short supply, they’ve become exceptionally valuable.
Themes
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Rick then has a suspicion, and tells Rachael he wants to ask her one more Voigt-Kampff test question. He tells Rachael that his suitcase is made from “human babyhide.” He notices on his dials that Rachael has a near-immediate emotional reaction to this news—but Rick knows from experience that a real human would respond to this information a tiny fraction of a second sooner. Rick realizes the truth: she really is an android.
In this scene Dick once again returns to the “mystery novel” aspect of the book, as the protagonist has a sudden intuition that allows him to make a big discovery. But considering everything we’ve just seen discussed about the weaknesses of the Voigt-Kampff test, it’s not clear that Rachael is an android at all.
Themes
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
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Rick walks out with Eldon and Rachael and abruptly asks Eldon if Rachael knows she’s an android. Eldon explains that she had no idea: she’s had memories artificially implanted in her brain. Rachael, who seems distraught by this revelation, tells Rick that she guessed that she was an android when Rick asked her the final question in the test. She tells Rick that the owl is a machine, too. Eldon kindly strokes Rachael’s shoulder and tells her that she has nothing to fear from Rick—she’s not going to be retired. Rick, still amazed, leaves the Rosen organization building, thinking that he has six Nexus-Six robots to retire.
Perhaps this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Rachael becomes an android in the moment that she accepts that she’s an android. In the absence of a perfect test of human nature, proving one’s humanity is much more a product of one’s behavior than one’s biological “essence.” The book proposes a question: if an android looks, talks, and acts like a human in every discernible way, is that android human? Although Rick and Eldon would say no, on a philosophical level the question is more complicated.
Themes
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon