Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Empathy Box Symbol Analysis

The Empathy Box Symbol Icon

The empathy box is a cornerstone of the religion of Mercerism, which, in the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, has millions of followers. Mercerists join together with each other by touching the empathy box—when they do so, they’re rendered capable of feeling each other’s thoughts, feelings, and pains—the most literal kind of empathy imaginable. Despite its name, however, the empathy box doesn’t seem to make people particularly empathetic in real life—on the contrary, the world of the novel is bleak, frightening, and cold. In this sense, the empathy box could be said to symbolize the failure of community in the future. Despite people’s best efforts, they’re alienated from each other. Furthermore, the empathy box resembles the mood organ, in that they’re both tools designed to build group conformity by playing on the idea of individual human emotion. In this way, the empathy box might as well be a television, a radio, or an iPhone—a sinister symbol of the homogeneity of mass culture.

The Empathy Box Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Empathy Box. 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:

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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:

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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:

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Chapter 16 Quotes

In addition, this android stole, and experimented with, various mind-fusing drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in androids a group experience similar to that of Mercerism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids.
The account had a pathetic quality. A rough, cold android, hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to a deliberately built-in defect, it remained excluded. But he could not work up much concern for Roy Baty; he caught, from Dave's jottings, a repellent quality hanging about this particular android.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard, Roy Baty, Dave Holden
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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The Empathy Box Symbol Timeline in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Empathy Box appears in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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
Before he leaves for work, John touches his “ empathy box .” He grips the handles of this machine and feels an electric current. John senses... (full context)
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
Still gripping the handles of the empathy box , John, taking on Mercer’s personality, remembers “his” foster parents: they took care of him... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
John releases the handles of the empathy box and finds himself back in his room. He sees that his arm is bleeding, and... (full context)
Chapter 6
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
...area in the apartment where she can sleep. He asks her if she owns an empathy box , and the girl replies, “I didn’t bring mine with me.” John rhapsodizes about Mercerism... (full context)
Chapter 15
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Rick and Iran grip the handles of the empathy box . As Rick does so, he realizes what Iran gets out of Mercerism. He tells... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Rick hangs up the phone and grips the empathy box with Iran. He sees a vision of Mercer, an old and frail man. Mercer tells... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
Rick stops gripping the empathy box and leaves his home. He mentally prepares to retire the androids, and realizes that he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 18
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...doing so, they remind themselves of their superiority to androids. She also notes that the empathy box makes it very easy for humans to be controlled by a “would-be Hitler.” (full context)
Chapter 19
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
John Isidore finds himself gripping the handles of the empathy box —he just had a profound vision. Irmgard grabs John and tells him to send the... (full context)