Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Animals and the Environment Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon

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

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Animals and the Environment appears in each chapter of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Animals and the Environment Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Below you will find the important quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? related to the theme of Animals and the Environment.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Bill Barbour (speaker), Iran Deckard
Related Symbols: World War Terminus
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In Rick's society, humans demonstrate their morality and empathy--essentially proving that they are human, and thereby different from androids--by taking care of animals. Pets of any kind are incredibly rare, due to the environmental devastation caused by WWT, a nuclear apocalypse that happened at some point in the recent past.

First, notice the subtle competition between Rick and his neighbor, Bill Barbour, in this passage. Bill lectures Rick about being a good pet-owner, but in reality, Bill is bragging to Rick about being able to afford an exotic pet. In other words, being a "good" person in Rick's society presupposes having the money needed to buy an animal.

Second, it's important to note that humans think of pet-care as an almost nostalgic act; a reminder of a time before WWT, when there were trees and animals in abundance. To own a pet is to gain access to humanity's vanished past. In general, then, animals exemplify many of the key themes of the novel: consumerism, memory, empathy, and the environment.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: World War Terminus
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Dick explains some of the history of World War Terminus, the mysterious global disaster that led to the current state of Rick Deckard's society. At some point in the past, the powerful nations of the world fought a long, brutal war--but as Rick points out, nobody can remember which side won the war. The message is clear: in trying to protect their own people and win glory for their side, the world's superpowers have in reality brought misery to everyone. As a result of (presumably) nuclear fallout, animals have been virtually wiped out; owls fall out of the sky, and at this point, as we see, even once-common animals like sheep are considered rare and exotic.

Dick describes the aftermath of WWT with a nearly Biblical fervor--his descriptions of owls falling out of the sky evokes Moses' Egyptian plagues and even the signs of the Apocalypse. (Dick will allude to the Biblical Apocalypse throughout his novel--later on, we learn that all successful humans have found the money to fly to other planets, dividing the species into two ironic groups, the "saved" and the "damned.")

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.

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 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 15 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mood Organ
Page Number: 174-175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick Deckard admits to his wife, Iran, that he's begun to empathize with the androids whom he's been tasked with hunting down and "retiring." Up to this point in the novel, Rick has defined empathy as the ability to feel a bond with other human beings--here, though, he expands his definition of empathy to encompass a bond with androids and animals. As a way of staving off his guilt and anxiety (and showing off his new bounty hunting rewards), Rick has purchased an expensive pet. He continues to play by "society's rules"--when he's sad, he sees no solution other than shopping, just as his friends and neighbors do.

Rick's interaction with Iran in this passage is important because it brings up the idea of apathy in contrast to empathy. While the human characters in the novel define themselves according to their ability to empathize with others, they're more notable for their disillusionment with emotional connection of any kind whatsoever. Rick has previously felt disconnected from his depressed wife, and here, when he reaches out to her and opens up about his feelings, she interrupts him to discuss money. Both characters, struggling to feel an emotional bond with anyone or anything, can only attempt an apathetic, futile solution to their problems--shopping therapy.

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 20 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker), Rachael Rosen , Bill Barbour
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick Deckard, who's just finished retiring the final androids on his list, returns to his home. There, his wife Iran gives him some bad news: his prized goat (which he's paid for using the bounty from retiring the androids) has been pushed off the roof. Based on Iran's description, we can tell that it was Rachael, furious with Deckard for killing more androids after her attempts to dissuade him from doing so, who killed the goat.

Rachael's behavior is petty, spiteful, furious--and, in short, eminently human. Throughout the novel, there have been many attempts to define human nature. While most of the characters in the book believe that to be human is to feel empathy, Dick suggests that being human is a much uglier, nastier business. Rachael's decision to kill the goat is arguably more recognizably human than any of the acts of empathy we witness in the novel.

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.