Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


Philip K. Dick

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick grew up in San Francisco, a city that would play a major role in his novels and short stories. For most of his childhood, he was raised by his mother. He began writing science fiction stories when he was 12 years old, and his teachers noted his talent for building suspense and telling a gripping tale. He began writing science fiction stories professionally in 1951. From then on, he sold dozens of stories to science fiction magazines, and published several novels, none of which were particularly successful. His fortunes changed in 1963, when he published what was to become one of his most famous novels, The Man in the High Castle, a work of speculative science fiction about a world in which the Nazis won World War II. The novel won Dick the Hugo Award, the highest honor for American science fiction. Over the course of the next two decades, Dick wrote dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories. Although many of these developed a cult following, none were as critically or commercially successfully as The Man in the High Castle. Dick’s mental condition deteriorated in the 1970s, due largely to his experimentation with LSD, mescaline, and other drugs. He died in 1982, poverty-stricken and depressed. Ironically, 1982 was also the year that the first high-profile cinematic adaptation of one of his books, Blade Runner (an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), was released, to considerable acclaim. In the 80s and 90s, the literary world as a whole (not just the sci-fi community) began to take Dick’s novels seriously. To date, more than two dozen of his short stories or novels have been made into movies, including Minority Report (2002), Blade Runner (1982), Paycheck (2003), Total Recall (1990, remade in 2012), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and Next (2007).
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Historical Context of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick’s books reflect his feelings about the state of society in the 1960s and 70s. One of Dick’s main preoccupations in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the threat of consumer culture in America. Following the 1950s, America attained an unprecedented level of prosperity, and the average family could purchase more commodities than ever before. While this economic development was justly celebrated, it also led to a growing homogenization of American culture—everybody competing to buy exactly the same vacuous products. In the futuristic society of Dick’s novel, consumerism runs rampant, with every family competing to buy the best, most exotic pets. Dick’s novel also reflects the realities of the Cold War in the 1960s. Following the detonation of an atomic weapon in Hiroshima in 1945, the world entered a nuclear age: for the first time, countries had the power to blow up entire cities. Throughout the 60s, the United States was locked in a “Cold War” with the Soviet Union, the world’s other dominant superpower. Both sides stockpiled massive numbers of nuclear missiles, even one of which could have inflicted a catastrophic amount of damage if it was ever launched. In Dick’s futuristic society, there’s been some kind of global war, the result of which is the destruction of the environment and irradiation of the entire planet—disasters which Dick’s sci-fi predecessors before 1945 couldn’t ever have imagined.

Other Books Related to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick has been compared to many other science fiction and fantasy authors who blur the distinction between reality and illusion, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Ray Bradbury, and Robertson Davies. A dark, absurdist sense of humor pervades Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—there’s a strong sense that some shadowy authority figure presides over the action, but it’s never revealed who this figure might be. In this sense, Dick’s novel resembles the works of Franz Kafka and Thomas Pynchon. Kafka’s novels and short stories, such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial, thrust ordinary characters into similarly bleak and darkly absurd or amusing situations. Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) is, like Dick’s book, a satire of 60s culture, structured as a mystery novel and centered around a shadowy organization. Finally, Dick’s novels inspired the grim, paranoid tone of such important works of cinematic science fiction as The Matrix (1999) and Brazil (1985).
Key Facts about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Full Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Where Written: San Francisco, California, USA
  • When Published: Fall 1968
  • Literary Period: Cold War / postmodern science fiction
  • Genre: Science fiction, detective story, noir
  • Setting: Futuristic San Francisco
  • Climax: The death of Roy Baty
  • Antagonist: None—Dick blurs the line between heroism and villainy
  • Point of View: Third-person limited

Extra Credit for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Famous classmates: Philip K. Dick has a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time. One of the few authors who can compete with Dick’s reputation is Ursula K. Le Guin, whose books The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974) have been extravagantly praised for their intelligent and postmodern motifs. By a bizarre coincidence, Le Guin and Dick were members of the same graduating class in high school—but they never met each other.

A Prophet: In 1974, Philip K. Dick claimed to have a prophetic vision. Following his vision, he sensed that his infant son was very sick. Despite the fact that his son seemed healthy, he rushed the child to the hospital, where the doctors found that the child had a potentially deadly disease, which they were able to treat just in time. Following this incident, Dick concluded that the Biblical prophet Elijah had saved Dick’s child’s life. For the final 8 years of his life, Dick wrote autobiographical novels about his prophetic vision, such as Valis. At times, he seemed to acknowledge that he was delusional—he hadn’t really had a prophetic vision at all—but most of the time, he was adamant about the reality of what he’d experienced.