In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, humans have an uneasy relationship with the natural world. After decades of nuclear war, the natural world is in ruins: lush forests have become inhabitable deserts. Because the state of nature is so dire, pets are extremely valuable, and it’s a mark of social status to own a sheep, a goat, or a horse. The relationship between humans, animals, and the environment is even revealed as an important theme in the title of the book itself.
In no small part, the characters’ obsession with pets is indicative of their deep love and nostalgia for the natural world. It’s the basic law of supply and demand: because less of the natural world is available to the human race, animals—i.e., specimens of the natural world—become considerably more valuable. Pets are humans’ last point of contact with the environment. Contact with the environment is very important for the characters because civilization has become ubiquitous and nauseating. Life in San Francisco, for instance, is loud and stressful. It’s no coincidence that Rick Deckard has a semi-religious experience—arguably the only part in the novel that could be called a moment of enlightenment—while he’s far from civilization, wandering through the deserts of Oregon (areas that used to be covered with trees). In short, animals represent a tiny “window” to the natural world—a place for which the inhabitants of the dirty, corporate United States seem rightly nostalgic.
And yet humans’ relationship with the environment is less symbiotic than Deckard’s experience in the desert would suggest. Humans don’t just want to enjoy the natural world; they want to dominate it, asserting their own power and ingenuity in the process. By the same logic, humans don’t just want to have contact with animals; they want to own them, thereby proving that they have time and the money to spend on the natural world. In the end, Dick steers us toward the cynical conclusion that it’s human nature not only to love the environment but also to control it and thus ultimately destroy it. One of the few times in the novel when the android Rachel Rosen demonstrates a recognizably human emotion (spitefulness and cruelty) is when she pushes Rick Deckard’s goat off the roof, killing it. There’s something disturbingly human about Rachel’s act of vengeance: humans feel a tragic instinct to assert their power by conquering and destroying the natural world. In the book, the deserts surrounding San Francisco are concrete proof of mankind’s need to control the environment. Moreover, the fact that characters want to colonize other planets—asserting their control over new, unfamiliar environments—suggests that humans haven’t learned from their mistakes.
Animals and the Environment ThemeTracker
Animals and the Environment Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
As he started toward his car Barbour called after him hurriedly, "Um, I won't say anything to anybody here in the building."
Pausing, Rick started to say thanks. But then something of the despair that Iran had been talking about tapped him on the shoulder and he said, "I don't know; maybe it doesn't make any difference."
"But they'll look down on you. Not all of them, but some. You know how people are about not taking care of an animal; they consider it immoral and anti-empathic. I mean, technically it's not a crime like it was right after WWT. But the feeling's still there."
In addition, no one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won. The dust which had contaminated most of the planet's surface had originated in no country and no one, even the wartime enemy, had planned on it. First, strangely, the owls had died. At the time it had seemed almost funny, the fat, fluffy white birds lying here and there, in yards and on streets; coming out no earlier than twilight as they had while alive the owls escaped notice. Medieval plagues had manifested themselves in a similar way, in the form of many dead rats. This plague, however, had descended from above.
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.
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.
"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.
Rick said, "I took a test, one question, and verified it; I've begun to empathize with androids, and look what that means. You said it this morning yourself. 'Those poor andys.' So you know what I'm talking about. That's why I bought the goat. I never felt like that before. Maybe it could be a depression, like you get. I can understand now how you suffer when you're depressed; I always thought you liked it and I thought you could have snapped yourself out any time, if not alone then by means of the mood organ. But when you get that depressed you don't care. Apathy, because you've lost a sense of worth. It doesn't matter whether you feel better because if you have no worth — "
"What about your job?" Her tone jabbed at him; he blinked. "Your job," Iran repeated. "What are the monthly payments on the goat?" She held out her hand; reflexively he got out the contract which he had signed, passed it to her.
"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?"
"Rick," she said, "I have to tell you something. I'm sorry. The goat is dead."
For some reason it did not surprise him; it only made him feel worse, a quantitative addition to the weight shrinking him from every side. "I think there's a guarantee in the contract," he said. "If it gets sick within ninety days the dealer — "
"It didn't get sick. Someone" — Iran cleared her throat and went on huskily — "someone came here, got the goat out of its cage, and dragged it to the edge of the roof."
"And pushed it off?" he said.
"Yes." She nodded.
"Did you see who did it?"
"I saw her very clearly," Iran said. "Barbour was still up here fooling around; he came down to get me and we called the police, but by then the animal was dead and she had left. A small young-looking girl with dark hair and large black eyes, very thin. Wearing a long fishscale coat. She had a mail-pouch purse. And she made no effort to keep us from seeing her. As if she didn't care."
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.
"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."