Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer Character Analysis

Wilbur Mercer is a media personality and religious leader who commands millions of followers around the world. His religion, Mercerism, is based around the idea that empathy is mankind’s quintessential quality. For this reason, his followers are supposed to join together, feeling each other’s emotions and experiencing each other’s sensations. Mercer’s religion, as Rick Deckard realizes, is morally bankrupt because it has no true “rules” at all—everything is permissible, because Mercer accepts that it’s impossible to live a moral life anymore. Toward the end of the novel, it’s revealed that Wilbur Mercer isn’t a real person at all. Although he appears before his followers as an old, bearded man in a robe, Mercer is just a character, played by a small-time actor named Al Jarry, pretending to bring dead animals back to life. It’s left up to the characters to decide whether Mercer’s fictitiousness discredits Mercerism altogether—it’s possible to argue, as John Isidore does, that the emotional tone of Mercerism has some “truth” to it, even if Mercer himself is a lie.

Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? quotes below are all either spoken by Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer or refer to Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ballantine Books edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? published in 1996.
Chapter 2 Quotes

He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky — not Earth's sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available.

Related Characters: John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, John Isidore, a mentally challenged young man living by himself, participates in a strange religious event--albeit one that's mass-marketed in his society. John grips the sides of the empathy box, a strange, futuristic device that allows millions of people to feel the same sensations as the box's controller. In this case, the controller is Wilbur Mercer, a pseudo-religious figure who stands for the most popular religion of the future, Mercerism.

As should be clear from the passage, the tenets of Mercerism are vague, if existent at all. John senses that he's climbing a big hill along with Mercer, his leader--but why John, or Mercer, needs to climb the hill remains unclear. It's equally unclear how John's out-of-body experience qualifies as empathy (as the name of the device would suggest). It's often said that empathy is the ability to "put yourself in someone else's shoes," i.e., experience life from their point of view. In the future, however, technology allows people to interpret empathy in a hilariously literal way. Put another way, "empathy" has seemingly come to refer to the literal ability to experience someone else's senses, without any of the emotional or moral connotations of the word. At the same time, this mass-marketed empathy is the defining feature of Mercerism, and, as we later learn, is the defining trait that humans use to identify themselves as different from androids.

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion withMercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed.
Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick contemplates empathy and its relationship with the ideology of Mercerism (the most popular religion in Dick's futuristic society). As Rick sees it, empathy is a survival mechanism and nothing more. The biology is simple: if life forms are "programmed" to feel empathy, then they have an automatic incentive to stick together and take care of each other. Over the millennia, humans have evolved to feel a strong sense of empathy for one another, simply because empathy is good for the species.

The problem with Rick's account of empathy, of course, is that it's incredibly cold and callous. For Rick, empathy doesn't have any relationship to morality or compassion--it's just another "tool" to help people survive. Put another way, Rick treats empathy as if it's a purely logical behavior--when in fact, feeling empathy is arguably one of the least logical behaviors of which humans are capable.

In spite of Rick's rather cynical account of empathy, it's clear that empathy has become more and more important to humanity precisely because it's grown scarcer and more commodified. Mercerism, the most popular religion, is based on one principle and one principle along: humans can feel empathy (and, by the same token, androids cannot--thus they are like "solitary predators"). Paradoxically, empathy seems to have become more important to civilization, and yet also cheaper. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

Maybe Buster is jealous, Isidore conjectured. Sure, that would explain it; he and Wilbur Mercer are in competition. But for what?
Our minds, Isidore decided. They're fighting for control of our psychic selves; the empathy box on one hand, Buster's guffaws and off-the-cuff jibes on the other. I'll have to tell Hannibal Sloat that, he decided. Ask him if it's true; he'll know.

Related Characters: John Isidore (speaker), Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer , Buster Friendly , Hannibal Sloat
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, John Isidore contemplates a growing rivalry between two famous media personalities, Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer. Wilbur Mercer is a supposedly religious figure: he presides over a popular religion called Mercerism, which is practiced by millions of people. Buster Friendly has no religion, and yet he interacts with his fans in much the same way as Mercer--via television and other media. Friendly and Mercer, it's suggested, have a "celebrity feud"--as John insightfully points out, they're both competing for an audience's attention.

The equation of Mercer, a religious leader, and Friendly, a TV personality, suggests the cheapening of religion in John's society, and the elevation of entertainment to a form of worship. In a world where media and entertainment have become all-important, religion itself is just another diversion--just another program to watch after work. Furthermore, the rivalry between Mercer and Friendly cheapens Mercer's signature product: empathy. If Mercer himself is just another entertainer, vying for high ratings, then his product, empathy, is just another gimmick designed to attract people's attention. As Dick has already shown, this society's definition of empathy is cold and clinical--which perhaps is why true empathy and compassion are so desperately sought after.

Chapter 18 Quotes

"No, it's that empathy," Irmgard said vigorously. Fists clenched, she roved into the kitchen, up to Isidore. "Isn't it a way of proving that humans can do something we can't do? Because without the Mercer experience we just have your word that you feel this empathy business, this shared, group thing. How's the spider?"

Related Characters: Irmgard Baty (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 209-210
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Irmgard Baty sums up the complicated relationship between humans and androids. Irmgard is watching John Isidore, who's been sheltering her in his home, as he interacts with Wilbur Mercer via an empathy box. Irmgard, who knows very well that society defines androids by their inability to feel empathy, points out that the human race needs to persecute robots in order to feel more secure in its own identity. Humans define themselves according to their ability to feel empathy. And yet in the aftermath of a huge war, there doesn't seem to be very much genuine empathy going around. In a pathetic attempt to prove their own capacity for empathy, humans participate in religious ceremonies with Mercer. The problem is that Mercer's empathy box and the mood organ are commodified and mass-produced--and there's not much true compassion that comes from such devices.

Chapter 21 Quotes

It would have been rewarding to talk to Dave, he decided. Dave would have approved what I did. But also he would have understood the other part, which I don't think even Mercer comprehends. For Mercer everything is easy, he thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer , Dave Holden
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

Rick Deckard has successfully retired all the androids on his list. He wishes he could talk with Dave Holden, his colleague who was severely wounded while trying to retire the androids. Rick believes that Dave would be able to alleviate some of his guilt and anxiety at having killed beings that, at times, seemed totally human. And yet Dave is unavailable.

Strangely, Dave's absence--i.e., the absence of a benevolent authority willing to forgive Rick for everything he's done--prompts Rick to study his society more critically, and reach a surprising discovery. Forced to sit with his sins, Rick comes to realize the true corruption of Mercerism: Mercer forgives everything and approves of everything, no matter how evil it is. Mercerism is the appropriate religion for Rick's society--a society in which acts of cruelty and even murder are excused on the grounds that the victims weren't "truly" human. In Mercerism, everything is permitted, but nothing is "right."

It's important to note that Rick comes to such an epiphany when he's on his own, cut off from the rest of society. Throughout the novel, the characters have defined humanity as the ability to connect with other people, but by refusing to connect with others, Rick comes to a genuine moral insight.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I'm a special, he thought. Something has happened to me. Like the chickenhead Isidore and his spider; what happened to him is happening to me. Did Mercer arrange it? But I'm Mercer. I arranged it; I found the toad. Found it because I see through Mercer's eyes.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Toad
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Rick goes into the desert, where he has a semi-religious experience. Like so many followers of Mercerism, Rick experiences the world through the eyes of Wilbur Mercer himself. While he's in the desert, Rick comes upon what he believes to be a monumental discovery: a "real" toad, an incredibly rare animal. Rick considers his discovery of the toad a miracle--proof that Mercerism might be a valid religion after all. Rick's renewed faith in Mercerism comes at an unusual time: Mercer has just been exposed as a fraud; a TV personality performing before a studio audience.

Rick seems to be approaching a counterintuitive conclusion: even "fake" objects and beings can produce a kind of emotional truth in their audiences. So even though Mercer himself might be a fraud, his pseudo-religion might be capable of producing genuine comfort (or even a genuine miracle, though the toad, as we'll see later, is "fake," too) in its followers. By the same token, a "fake" human being can experience and elicit a "real" emotional connection in another person; which is to say, Rick is capable of feeling genuine emotional bonds with other people, whether or not they (or he!) are androids.

"Do you want to use the mood organ? To feel better? You always have gotten a lot out of it, more than I ever have."
"I'll be okay." He shook his head, as if trying to clear it, still bewildered. "The spider Mercer gave the chickenhead, Isidore; it probably was artificial, too. But it doesn't matter. The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Mood Organ, The Toad
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

Back in his home, Rick Deckard is disappointed to discover that the "miraculous" toad he found in the middle of the desert is just an electronic toy, and therefore not very valuable at all. Rick is frustrated--he'd thought that his toad would bring him lots of money, and that its discovery was a kind of religious miracle.

Yet in spite of his frustration, Rick still seems to experience an epiphany in this passage. Rick has been trained to believe that things are "real" if and only if they pass a rigorous test: if they can be purchased for a high price in a store; if they pass a Voigt-Kampff test, etc. Here, however, Rick seems to change his mind. Even a fake spider has its own kind of life. Rick characterizes the life of a robotic spider as "paltry"--but of course, the life of a "real" animal (or a real human being!) is just as paltry in the grand scheme of things.

What Rick realizes about animals applies to robots and people, too. Even robots, it's implied, have lives, thoughts, and feelings. Dick subtly implies the shift in Rick's thinking by noting that Rick refuses to use the mood organ. Rick refuses to accept socially-approved definitions of emotion, humanity, or life. Instead, he chooses to feel his own emotions and construct his own definitions of life and human nature.

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Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer Character Timeline in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The timeline below shows where the character Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer appears in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...himself climbing up the side of a hill with, and as, a man named Wilbur Mercer. Suddenly, John feels a pain in his left arm—a rock has hit Mercer’s arm, and... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Still gripping the handles of the empathy box, John, taking on Mercer’s personality, remembers “his” foster parents: they took care of him after they found him floating... (full context)
Chapter 7
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
...paths with his boss, Hannibal Sloat. He tells Hannibal his theory about Friendly competing with Mercer for psychic control of the population. Hannibal snorts and says that the two men are... (full context)
Chapter 15
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...Iran tells Rick that to show gratitude for their good fortune, they should “fuse with Mercer.” It would be immoral, she adds, to keep so much pleasure to themselves. (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...up the phone and grips the empathy box with Iran. He sees a vision of Mercer, an old and frail man. Mercer tells him, “There is no salvation.” It’s a basic... (full context)
Chapter 18
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
On TV, Buster Friendly shows the audience photographs of Mercer, the founder of Mercerism. The photographs of Mercer prove that he uses fake backgrounds for... (full context)
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...John has a vision in which he sees animals—donkeys, spiders, etc. He cries out for Mercer, and Mercer appears before him. He demands of Mercer, “Is the sky painted?” Mercer smiles... (full context)
Chapter 19
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
...are staying. John replies, “If you kill them you won’t be able to fuse with Mercer again.” Rick shrugs and walks past John, into the building. (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
...Rick draws his gun and orders the figure to stop. The figure introduces himself as Mercer. Mercer explains to Rick that one of the people Rick is trying to kill is... (full context)
Chapter 20
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
...get some rest. Rick hangs up the phone and bids John goodbye. Rick remembers what Mercer told him—all humans are guaranteed to “do wrong” during their lives. (full context)
Chapter 21
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
...praise him for retiring six androids in only one day. It occurs to Rick that Mercerism is an “easy” religion, because Mercer accepts absolutely anything as natural and “right.” (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
...climbs, a stone hits him on the cheek. Rick has a strange sense that Wilbur Mercer is waiting for him at the top of the hill. Before Rick reaches the top... (full context)
Chapter 22
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...Furthermore, there’s a massive reward for discovering an animal previously considered extinct. Rick wonders if Mercer arranged for him to find the toad, as toads are the animal most sacred to... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
...strong sense of connection to the toad, and realizes that he’s seeing the world through Mercer’s eyes. Excited to show Iran what he’s found, Rick drives back to San Francisco. (full context)