Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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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.
Memory Theme Icon

By forming new memories, humans build relationships with each other, mature emotionally, and gain knowledge and wisdom. Without memories, ideas of selfhood and humanity become more difficult to define. But in Do Androids Dream, memory isn’t a reliable tool for humans looking to understand their environments. On the contrary, characters’ memories seem hazy, and on the rare occasions when characters do remember the past clearly, their memories often turn out to be artificially implanted. Then there are “collective” memories of an entire civilization; these kinds of memories, too, are hazy and unreliable. It’s worth understanding the novel’s interpretation of memory, and the ramifications for the characters, a little more closely.

To begin with, Do Androids Dream makes it clear that memory is extremely unreliable, and this gives the novel a disturbed, paranoid tone. In the future, scientists have learned how to implant characters in people’s brains. In this way, scientists can fool androids into believing that they’re human beings by giving them artificial memories of a childhood they never had. On multiple occasions, characters who believe that they’re human learn that they’re actually androids—their memories are just clever illusions. Even the characters in the novel who seem not to be androids, such as Rick Deckard, seem to have few, if any, memories of the past worth sharing. For this reason, it’s often unclear to readers how well Rick knows other characters in the book: we don’t necessarily know if he’s meeting someone for the second time or the 500th. Because he’s so familiar with the concept of artificial memory, Rick seems to live in a “perpetual present”—the only information he can trust is what he’s experiencing right now.

All of this points to the fact that memory is a (and maybe the) critical part of being human—androids realize that they’re not human in the same instant that they learn that their memories were implanted, and by the same token, Rick doubts his own humanity because he finds it hard to trust his memories of the past. Much the same could be said of humanity as a whole: people know that there was a great war in the recent past, World War Terminus, but they have no idea what exactly prompted this war, or how it ended. Because humanity’s memory of its collective past is cloudy and unreliable, life in the present becomes paranoid, unpredictable, and—it must be said—inhuman. Without a common heritage—a common memory, in other words—humans are alienated from one another, and find it impossible to move forward with their lives.

In the end, Dick isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know about remembering. Memory, we can all agree, is inherently unreliable: the more time passes, the more our memories of the past distort. In this way Do Androids Dream takes the imperfection of memory to its logical extreme: a world in which almost all memory has disappeared, and the memories that remain are unreliable.

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Memory ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Memory 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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Memory 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 Memory.
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 5 Quotes

To Eldon Rosen, who slumped morosely by the door of the room, he said, "Does she know?" Sometimes they didn't; false memories had been tried various times, generally in the mistaken idea that through them reactions to testing would be altered.
Eldon Rosen said, "No. We programmed her completely.”
“But I think toward the end she suspected." To the girl he said, "You guessed when he asked for one more try."
Pale, Rachael nodded fixedly.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Eldon Rosen (speaker), Rachael Rosen
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Rick Deckard has just administered a Voigt-Kampff test for Rachael Rosen, and concluded that Rachael is an android. Surreally, Eldon Rosen, the president of the powerful Rosen Corporation, then chats with Rick about Rachael's identity as a robot--in front of Rachael herself.

In a split second, Eldon and Rick go from treating Rachel like an equal to suddenly treating her like an obedient pet. Discovering that you're an android, one would think, is just about the most traumatic event imaginable, and yet because she's not fully human, Rick and Eldon feel comfortable talking about her calmly and briskly, seemingly unconcerned with hurting her feelings. Their behavior, we should note, is alarmingly un-empathetic--despite the fact that Rick's only reason for deciding that Rachael is an android is her lack of empathy. Rick entirely alters the way he treats Rachael--he goes from being respectful to being cruel and dismissive--simply because of her score on a test.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Garland said, "That damn fool Resch."
"He actually doesn't know?"
"He doesn't know; he doesn't suspect; he doesn't have the slightest idea. Otherwise he couldn't live out a life as a bounty hunter, a human occupation — hardly an android occupation." Garland gestured toward Rick's briefcase. "Those other carbons, the other suspects you're supposed to test and retire. I know them all." He paused, then said, "We all came here together on the same ship from Mars. Not Resch; he stayed behind another week, receiving the synthetic memory system." He was silent, then.
Or rather it was silent.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Garland (speaker), Phil Resch
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disorienting passage, Rick has been arrested by a group of supposed police officers and taken to a police station Rick has never seen before. In custody, Rick meets two officers, Garland and Resch. While Resch is out of the room, Garland reveals that they're both androids--but only he (Garland) knows this. As far as Resch is concerned, everyone in the station is a human being.

Coming on the heels of Rick's realization that he might be an android himself, Garland's revelation is especially surprising. There's no outward difference between Resch and Garland, and yet Resch is convinced that he's a human being, while Garland is sure that he's a robot. Dick implies a question--if an android acts like a human being and believes itself to be a human being, is it a human being? Dick strongly suggests that the answer should be yes--as even after Rick discovers that Garland is an android, he can't help but think of Garland as a "he," though he quickly corrects himself ("It was silent). This connects again to the shifting definitions of humanity within the novel, and how far empathy extends--whether it's enough to bridge the blurry divide between human and android.

Preoccupied, Phil Resch drove by reflex; his progressively more gloomy train of thought continued to dominate his attention. "Listen, Deckard," he said suddenly. "After we retire Luba Luft — I want you to — " His voice, husky and tormented,broke off. "You know. Give me the Boneli test or that empathy scale you have. To see about me."
"We can worry about that later," Rick said evasively. "You don't want me to take it, do you?" Phil Resch glanced at him with acute comprehension. "I guess you know what the results will be; Garland must have told you something. Facts which I don't know."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Phil Resch (speaker), Garland
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Resch and Rick have escaped from the police station where Rick was being held captive. Resch claims to be a human being, despite the fact that Rick has been informed that Resch is really an android. As Resch drives Rick away from the station, he asks Rick to test his humanity later on. Resch shows every sign of believing himself to be a human being and yet suspecting that he's really an android--he can tell from Rick's face that Rick knows the truth (although it turns out that he's wrong).

Throughout the chapter, Dick challenges our understanding of whether or not Resch (and, for that matter, Rick!) is an android. Dick illustrates the futility of any formal "definition" of humanity--there simply isn't a reliable test, let alone a reliable authority figure--that can weigh in on who is and isn't human. Resch is an interesting figure, because he is ultimately found to be technically human, but also a sadistic person without empathy or compassion--so what, then, is the definition of humanity?

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 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.