Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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John Isidore is a slow-thinking young man whose genes have been damaged by radiation, described both as a “special” man and as a “chickenhead.” He lives in an abandoned apartment building in San Francisco. John is an active participant in the rituals of Mercerism, a religion that puts him in touch with Wilbur Mercer and supposedly boosts his empathy. Because of his low IQ and poor health, John is unable to leave the Earth for another, better planet. Alone in his apartment, Mercerism is the only thing that gives his life meaning, and the only thing that gives him even a simulacrum of human contact. At times, it’s suggested that John is the only moral character in the novel—the only one who sincerely believes that all life (even that of androids) has value, and that other people deserve his respect. In the end, John remains a proud practitioner of Mercerism, despite all the evidence that Mercerism is only a hoax.

John Isidore Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? quotes below are all either spoken by John Isidore or refer to John Isidore . 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 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 13 Quotes

"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before — "
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
"Based on what?"
"On imagination. A lot of times they turned out wrong. For example they wrote about Venus being a jungle paradise with huge monsters and women in breastplates that glistened." She eyed him. "Does that interest you? Big women with long braided blond hair and gleaming breastplates the size of melons?"
"No," he said.

Related Characters: John Isidore (speaker), Pris Stratton (speaker)
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this self-referential passage, Dick pays homage to the generations of American science fiction writers who used their gifts to paint elaborate pictures of exciting futuristic worlds. Pris, an android who's been hiding out with John Isidore, tells John about the science fiction writers of the past. Many of these writers were optimistic for the future: they painted the future as a time for adventure and excitement, often of a sexual nature. When Pris asks John if the writers' vision of the future appeals to him, John immediate says that it doesn't.

John's "No" might suggest his sexual immaturity. But perhaps Dick is also using John to critique the naiveté of his sci-fi contemporaries. While many science fiction authors of the 60s and 70s looked ahead to a bright, dazzling future, in which technology would solve humanity's problems, Dick found it impossible to be so optimistic. Like John, Dick said "No" to gimmicky, childish science-fiction fantasies. Instead of using his novels to entertain and titillate his readers, Dick used sci-fi to paint a dark, disturbing view of the future while also critiquing the moral and social problems of the present day.

Chapter 14 Quotes

"The chickenhead," Pris said, "likes me."
"Don't call him that, Pris," Irmgard said; she gave Isidore a look of compassion. "Think what he could call you."

Related Characters: Pris Stratton (speaker), Irmgard Baty (speaker), John Isidore
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

John Isidore has agreed to shelter two robots hiding out from Rick Deckard: Pris and Irmgard. Pris has previously been kind to John, but here she insults him, and Irmgard immediately defends John from Pris's bullying. Surprisingly, Irmgard defends John on the grounds that John could bully Pris just as badly.

In spite of the fact that Rick thinks that robot are incapable of feeling true emotion, Irmgard seems to exhibit signs of "compassion" and even empathy. Irmgard's advice to Pris is a variation on the "golden rule" ("Do unto others as you have them do to you"), often said to be the most basic moral principle of human society. In all, the passage suggests that robots are more capable of emotion and compassion than humans would like to believe.

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 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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John Isidore Character Timeline in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The timeline below shows where the character John Isidore appears in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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John Isidore sits in the abandoned building, shaving his face and watching the TV. He’s lived... (full context)
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Before he leaves for work, John touches his “empathy box.” He grips the handles of this machine and feels an electric... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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John releases the handles of the empathy box and finds himself back in his room. He... (full context)
Chapter 6
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John Isidore sits in his building, watching television. Suddenly, a frail-looking young woman walks into his... (full context)
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John shows the woman an area in the apartment where she can sleep. He asks her... (full context)
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John tells the woman that he’s going to work soon. He asks her to fix some... (full context)
Chapter 7
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John Isidore is now alone in his apartment—Pris Stratton has just left. He goes to his... (full context)
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As he goes through his day, John listens to a radio show hosted by Buster Friendly, a famous and ubiquitous media personality.... (full context)
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John crosses paths with his boss, Hannibal Sloat. He tells Hannibal his theory about Friendly competing... (full context)
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John goes to meet with Mrs. Pilsen, the woman whose fake cat got sick, and explains... (full context)
Chapter 13
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John Isidore is driving his hovercraft from his job. At the apartment building where he lives,... (full context)
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Inside the apartment building, John tells Pris that he feels sorry for her, since she seems to have no friends.... (full context)
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John proceeds to cook dinner—peaches, cheese, bean curd, etc. As John works, Pris—much to John’s surprise—puts... (full context)
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...says, “It’s Roy and Irmgard. We got your card.” Pris quickly writes a note, telling John to go to the door at once to confirm these people’s identities. John opens the... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Roy and Irmgard have just entered John Isidore’s apartment. Roy, Pris, and Irmgard speak in private for a moment before addressing John.... (full context)
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John overhears Roy talking with Pris and Irmgard. Nervously, he tells Pris to do what Roy... (full context)
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Later in the day, John leads Pris to his TV room. He notices that Pris seems moody and frightened—Pris explains... (full context)
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...making it difficult for a bounty hunter to do his job. This mood will affect John, as well as the bounty hunter. John is impressed with Roy’s ingenuity. He tells Roy... (full context)
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Pris tells Roy that John will never turn them in. Even though he could get a large reward by going... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...Pris vote on whether or not to stay in the apartment. Roy votes to kill John. Irmgard votes to stay in the apartment. Finally, Pris votes to stay with John. She... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Back in John Isidore’s apartment, Pris and John are watching TV. Buster Friendly is about to make an... (full context)
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Buster Friendly begins his announcement. As John watches, he notices a spider crawling on the floor of the apartment. He picks up... (full context)
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John Isidore, who’s been listening to Buster Friendly and the androids, feels sick. He sees the... (full context)
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In his delirious depression, John has a vision in which he sees animals—donkeys, spiders, etc. He cries out for Mercer,... (full context)
Chapter 19
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John Isidore finds himself gripping the handles of the empathy box—he just had a profound vision.... (full context)
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John goes downstairs. There, he finds a strange man holding a flashlight (a man whom we... (full context)
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Inside the building, Rick turns off his flashlight. He recognizes that John, whom he calls “the chickenhead,” knows that Roy and his followers are androids. Suddenly, he... (full context)
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...he hears a woman’s voice from behind a door, asking, “Who is it?” Rick, imitating John’s stutter, says that it’s John, coming back from his job. The woman who called to... (full context)
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Rick turns and finds John Isidore crying. Rick’s only consolation to John is, “Don’t take it so hard.” Then he... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...him and tells him to 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... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...place a fake toad in the middle of the desert. He remembers the spider that John Isidore mentioned to him, and thinks that the spider was probably fake, too. But even... (full context)