Do Androids Dream of Being Human?

Hans Persson
This essay is an exploration of the concept of artificially created men as presented in two novels. I will try to find out if there is some kind of inherent difference between a ''real'' human being and an artificial simulacrum of a man. I base my discussion on the treatment of the subject in the two novels Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away. -- Philip K. Dick


This essay is an exploration of the concept of artificially created men as presented in two novels. I will try to find out if there is some kind of inherent difference between a ''real'' human being and an artificial simulacrum of a man. I base my discussion on the treatment of the subject in the two novels Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The books are separated by 150 years and this of course gives them different approaches to the subject.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in 1797. Her parents were William Godwin, philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist. In 1816 she married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley after his wife had committed suicide. During a rainy visit in Switzerland that year, she and her husband together with Lord Byron and his physician John William Polidori decided that each of them should write a ghost story. Only Polidori and Mary Shelley finished their stories; he produced The Vampyre (1819) and she Frankenstein. Mary edited and notated her husband's works after his death in 1822 and also wrote a few more novels, none of which even begin to approach the fame and lasting power of Frankenstein. She died in 1851.

J. A. V. Chapple notes in Science and Literature in the Nineteenth Century that Mary Shelley's ''theme of perilous scientific interference with the fundamental mysteries of life makes Frankenstein the prototype of numerous works of science fiction.'' [Chapple, pp. 37 -- 38] Within the field of science fiction, Frankenstein is regarded as the first science fiction novel with as much consensus as one can expect from a field that has yet to agree on a definition of itself.

Philip K. Dick lived from 1928 to 1982, most of the time in California. He is considered one of the most important writers in science fiction though perhaps not one of the best known. During much of his life he wrote tremendous amounts but only late in his life and posthumously has he received any critical attention to speak of. During his last years, he suffered from schizophrenia and had a religious experience which he spent the rest of his life analyzing at several thousand pages' length. After his death it was discovered that in addition to all the science fiction that he published, he had also written a number of mainstream novels but not been able to publish them. Today, most (perhaps all) of these novels have seen print.

Many of Philip K. Dick's stories have quite simple plots. They can be read on this basic level, taking only plot into account and still be enjoyed. In most of his works, however, there are more complex issues involved. Two common themes are the uncertainty of perception and the illusory nature of reality. Nothing in a book by Dick is quite what it seems.

I will now start to look at the two novels and their treatments of the concept of artificial men. I will point out both similarities and differences in their approaches to this subject. One point where the novels differ is in the genesis of the artificial men.

In Frankenstein, the monster is created by Victor Frankenstein infusing the ''spark of being'' into a creature that he has constructed from various human parts gathered from corpses. We never see exactly how the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are constructed but it is clear that they are machines of some sort. While this could be seen as quite important, I have chosen to think of both the monster and the androids as artificially created men and leave it there.

In this essay, I will study several different areas related to the concept of artificial men. One of the areas is the relationship between the simulacra and the society that created them. How are the simulacra received by the humans that surround them? What is the reason for their creation? Another even more central area that I see in both novels is the search for a definition of humanity. In both works, the presence in society of artificial men that in many ways resemble humans is used to search for the critical properties that can be said to define humanity. The artificial men are put in a number of situations where one would expect a human being to react in one way and a machine or construct in another. As we shall see, this is not always the case. In fact, our expectations are often turned upside-down completely, thus leaving open the question of what really defines a human being.

I will analyse each of the novels in turn. Each chapter is headed by an analysis of the reception of the simulacrum into society. I then examine the comparisons between the simulacrum and humans that are made in a variety of situations where the concept of ''humanity'' can be said to be questioned. Both novels contain a number of scenes where we see an artificial man behave in a way that we normally reserve for humans and, similarly, scenes where various humans behave in non-human(e) ways. This is followed by a conclusion where I compare the findings from the novels. Here we see that in most of cases that show humans and artificial men reacting to the situations where different defining characteristics of ''being human'' are being tested, the humans are the ones that fail to behave in a ''human'' way. Finally, there is a brief analysis of the narration and how the way the stories are told can be said to influence the stories themselves.

Throughout this article, I will use the word ''human'' both to denote a member of the human race and to describe personality traits that are good or in accordance with accepted moral ideals. I consider it human, for instance, to help another person that is in danger. This double usage might be seen as a little problematic since what I am looking for are the characteristics that define what makes someone human. I will examine how each of the novels test both humans and artificial men against the criteria that are normally implicit in the word ''human'' to get at the criteria that defines humanity.


When giving her novel the title Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus Mary Shelley sets the focus firmly on the title character, Victor Frankenstein. In the course of the novel, we see that the effects of his decision to try and create life are disastrous for him, just as those of Prometheus were. I am going to focus primarily on the monster instead and the reactions that he meets from humans when he ventures out into their midst. I will also look at the parallels that can be drawn between the monster and his creator; many of them have interesting implications for the question of what it really means to be human.

The monster that Frankenstein creates has all of human society against him from the start. In fact, as soon as Frankenstein instills life in him and he opens his eyes, Frankenstein is revolted by the look of the monster he has brought to life and runs away to hide from him. Thus scorned by his creator, the monster goes off on his own into the world, trying to make friends with various humans. Because of the way he looks, however, the humans that he meets assume immediately when they see him that he must be evil and dangerous. They either attack him or flee without giving him any chance to prove to them that he is good and only wants to be their friend. He soon despairs of finding someone willing to judge him according to his personality and virtues and not only according to his appearance: ''I retreated, and lay down happy to have found a shelter, however miserable, from the inclemency of the season, and still more from the barbarity of man.'' [Shelley, p. 111]

The one and only time he has any luck in approaching a human is when he goes to the blind old man in the cottage when his children are away. He is accepted by the old man as a nice traveller thanks to his pleasant way of speaking. Unfortunately, as soon as the children come back home, they throw the monster out, solely because of the way he looks, before the old man gets a chance to stop them.

Through this episode and the teachings of the people in the cottage, the monster soon learns that humans are indeed not very kind to each other either -- in fact even less so than he originally thought -- not to mention how they treat those who are not human or look repulsive. He finds out about the gratuitous cruelty and lack of empathy of human beings when he saves a young girl who has fallen into a rapid river from drowning only to find himself being attacked and wounded without warning by another human:

''This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and, as recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound, which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.'' [Shelley, p. 151]

Even though the monster has done a very humane deed -- he has in fact risked his own life to try to save that of a human being in danger -- the only reward he gets is a bullet in the shoulder. Here it is clear that the monster is behaving in a way much more ''human'' than what the human with the gun is doing. In fact, the monster has been feeling depressed and dissatisfied with his situation in life just before he comes upon the damsel in distress. Despite having had negative feelings about both himself and the entire human race for a long while, he does not hesitate to throw himself in the stream to save the girl, risking his own life and limb in the currents. The human with the gun on the other hand needs only to take a quick look at the face of the person who has just saved the little girl from drowning to decide that any person who is that ugly must surely be dangerous. The apparent evidence to the contrary does not seem to bother him at all. Thus convinced, he shoots the monster in the shoulder without any warning and then runs away. In similar situations, the monster is treated badly time after time solely because he is so exceedingly ugly.

Having come this far, one might be forgiven for wondering which is the most ''human;'' the monster or the people that he tries to befriend and who consistently refuse his offers of friendship solely on the basis of his appearance. Throughout the novel, there is a number of comparisons made between the monster and other people. Many of these illustrate the presence in the monster of characteristics that are traditionally thought to be defining characteristics for a human. We see him transcend our expectations of him and do what we would expect a human to do. Likewise, we often see human beings behave in ways that indicate that they are lacking these characteristics that we have just found the monster to be in possession of. This leads us to the question ''What defines a human being?''

I will now start to look at some passages in which we see that the monster is in possession of various qualities that are traditionally held to be intrinsic parts of human nature. These include a desire for friendship, a thirst for knowledge and a capacity for love. I will also point out places where human beings fail to display their supposed possession of some of these characteristics.

At the beginning of his story, we see the monster trying more and more desperately to make friends with someone. After being refused a number of times, he hides and watches the people in the cottage closely. He then learns as much as possible about their life and how to approach them to minimize the risk of being turned down once again because of his looks. At the same time, he starts doing them favors anonymously. Finally he decides to try and make friends with the father first since he is blind and won't be prejudiced against him because of his hideousness. The monster's determined search for friends and thorough planning of how to get them to accept him for who he is shows that he has a strong desire for friendship, even in the face of being rejected a number of times.

This is very different from the way Frankenstein behaves during the two-year period that he spends creating the monster. Despite having made promises to the opposite effect when leaving home, he makes no attempt whatsoever to keep in contact with his family and friends back home during the entire period. Frankenstein is letting his family and friends down by caring only for his own attempts to create life.

After the monster has killed Victor's brother William and the servant-girl Justine is brought to trial for the murder, Frankenstein leaves the court room instead of telling the court about his suspicions that it is in fact his own creation that is guilty of the deed. He is afraid that the court will either believe him and consider him at least partly responsible for his monster's actions or that they will disbelieve his story and consider him insane. In order to avoid these two alternatives, he remains silent and prefers to see Justine convicted and later hanged. Admittedly, he feels very guilty for not speaking up, but the fact remains that he keeps his misgivings to himself and Justine has to pay with her life for his fear of being thought insane. This episode contrasts sharply with the one mentioned above where the monster puts himself at risk to save a drowning girl. It seems that the monster is more willing to take unselfish action to save a human life than what Frankenstein is.

The monster very much wants to stimulate his intellect and has a great desire for knowledge. He listens in eagerly on the humans' discussion and teachings and he revels in finding some books: ''The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories.'' [Shelley, p. 136] Just like his creator at the beginning of the narrative, he is thirsty for knowledge and reads everything that he can lay his hands on. According to Brian Aldiss, the quest for knowledge is universal in Frankenstein:

The characters passionately seek knowledge; this quest means everything to Frankenstein and Walton; they are never disabused. Frankenstein, indeed, praises the voyage of discovery as an honourable and courageous undertaking even as the creature's hands are about to close around his throat. The constant litigation which takes place in the background represents another kind of quest for knowledge, often erroneous or perverted. [Aldiss/Wingrove, p. 39]

In contrast to Frankenstein, the monster is of a reasoning disposition. When they meet and talk to each other on Mont Blanc, Frankenstein is in a rage and throws streams of invective at the monster and even tries to attack him. The monster is calm throughout and tries to reason with Frankenstein:

''Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation; come on, then that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.''

My rage was without bounds; I sprang on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another.

He easily eluded me, and said --

''Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head.'' [Shelley, p. 102]

It is also possible to regard the entire text as a metaphor for modern society with ''Frankenstein acting God, Frankenstein's monster becom[ing] mankind itself, blundering about the world seeking knowledge and reassurance.'' [Aldiss, p. 59] With this interpretation, the entire novel is about knowledge and the pursuit thereof.

Not only does the monster want to make friends with people, but he also desires Frankenstein to create a female for him ''with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.'' [Shelley, p. 155] Like a human being he wants to love and be loved, both in the sense that he wants to have friends, and that he wants to have a mate to spend the rest of his life with. Just as the monster wants to have a mate, Frankenstein longs to be married to his dear Elizabeth.

When the monster kills Elizabeth, he is motivated by revenge and hatred towards the one who destroyed his mate and his hope for the future. He knows these to be dark powers, and he also knows that Elizabeth is not responsible for any of the evils that have befallen him. Still, he feels that killing her is the most effective way of hurting Frankenstein, his creator and tormentor, and thereby revenging the destruction of his mate-to-be. He knows that the act he has committed is horrible and wrong, but he still does it to revenge himself, even though it hurts his heart. At the end of the novel, he sums up the struggle inside him:

''And do you dream?'' said the daemon; ''do you think that I was then dead to agony and remorse? -- He,'' he continued, pointing to the corpse [of Frankenstein], ''he suffered not in the consummation of the deed -- oh! not the tenthousandth portion of the anguish that was mine during the lingering detail of its execution. A frightful selfishness hurried me on, while my heart was poisoned with remorse. Think you that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears? My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.'' [Shelley, p. 242]

Contrary to what everyone thinks about him, the monster is not at all an unfeeling killing machine. He is tortured by the knowledge that he has killed. Chris Baldick even states in In Frankenstein's Shadow that ''the most disturbing thing about [the monster], indeed, is that he has fully human feelings.'' [Baldick, p. 8] There is actually a struggle between good and evil going on within the monster: ''I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.'' [Shelley, p. 103] Likewise, Frankenstein is drawn toward both good and evil. He agonizes at length about how to behave in the scene mentioned above where Justine is on trial. Similarly, he has trouble deciding whether to complete the mate for the monster or not. Here, however, his choice is between two evils. If he goes on to complete the monster's mate, he is good toward the monster and evil toward society and vice versa if he does not.

As we have seen, the novel contains a number of situations where the defining characteristics for humanity are tested in relation to the monster and to the humans that surround him (Frankenstein in particular). In these situations the monster often seems to be more human than Frankenstein. The monster has a great desire for friendship and gladly risks his own life and limb to save the life of another person. Frankenstein on the other hand ignores his promises to keep in contact with his family and lets Justine get killed to avoid risking his own reputation. Both of them have a great desire for knowledge but while the monster is able to reason clearly, Frankenstein sometimes succumbs to rage and violence. Likewise, both of them have a desire to have a mate to spend the rest of their lives with. We have also seen that even though the monster does some things that are evil, he is aware that what he is doing is wrong and his conscience is plagued by this knowledge.

The overall sense that one gets from reading Frankenstein is that the monster might well be as human as the other human beings if given the chance. As it is, he is rejected by everyone, often for no other reason than his ugliness. We see him behave in ways more human than humans do a number of times. As we shall see in the following chapter, the artificial men in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? experience similar difficulties in being accepted as fully human.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the relationship between the androids and the rest of society is more complex than that between the monster of Frankenstein and the society that the monster tries to live in. This has two reasons.

The monster in Frankenstein is one of a kind, at least so far, and society at large has had no chance to get used to the existence of another race more or less similar to human beings. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? there is a large number of androids present, so the concept of an android is well-known to everyone. No-one has to be afraid of the androids just because they are something new, a humanoid race to challenge the supremacy of man. The relationship between humans and androids is more established and mature than that between humans and monster. The androids have been on the scene for much longer than the monster has. We never see anything of the initial reaction of the humans to the androids, just the fully developed relations. We do know, however, that the androids were originally constructed as ''Synthetic Freedom Fighters'' and therefore must be considered a product of the entire society, not as in Frankenstein, one man's work.

The other difference is that the androids have two different modes of being, so to speak. The original idea is that every human who leaves Earth for some other planet will get an android as a servant. In this capacity, the androids are considered a valuable part of society and of great service to humans. Not all androids are content with this life in servitude, however. They escape from their masters and go to Earth where they are treated as dangerous fugitives, hunted down and killed. Thus, the same android can be either a useful servant or a menace to society, depending on where it is and who (if anyone) controls it.

In Frankenstein, the conflict is between the monster on the one hand and everyone else on the other. Things are not quite so simple in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There is a similar dichotomy here with human beings on one side and androids on the other, but there are other distinctions as well. Due to radioactive fallout after a major war, the genes of some humans have started to deteriorate, and when this decay has passed a certain level it is detected by mandatory periodic testing. The humans who fail this testing are henceforth termed ''specials.'' These specials are no longer considered real humans by those who are still able to pass the tests. They are looked down upon as sub-human and are no longer allowed to emigrate from Earth to avoid further radiation damage. Thus we have three distinct groups in Dick's society: humans, specials, and androids. Both the androids and the specials are considered less than human by those who qualify for ''humanness.'' While the specials are humans who have deteriorated by having their genes partially destroyed by radiation, the androids are indistinguishable from humans or even physically superior. They are still considered subhuman because they are created by humans. As we shall see, the distinctions between androids, humans, and specials are not clear-cut.

The narrative of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? consists of at least two different plot threads that are gradually woven together to meet in the end. The primary one concerns Deckard and his search for the escaped androids. There is also a secondary plot thread which concerns Isidore. We are introduced to both these characters early on in the novel, and are told at the start what ''class'' of ''persons'' they belong to and what this means. Both of them dwell a bit in their thoughts on their respective situations, together with their ''class.''

Deckard, the bounty hunter, is a human who might be said to epitomize the struggle that humans on Earth are caught in, at least mentally, at this time. By wearing a leaden codpiece he protects his genes from deteriorating in the radioactive fallout. If he didn't do this, he might fail the mandatory test and thereby lose his humanity. He is employed by the police department as a bounty hunter, tracing and ''retiring'' (killing) escaped androids. This is, in a way, a very ''human'' job even though it requires doing unpleasant things like shooting down androids. The androids act like human beings, look like humans at least on the surface and don't present an immediate personal threat to the bounty hunter. Still, society considers them a threat, probably at least partly because of fear that the androids will overcome their built-in age limit of a few years and become a new race to rival humankind.

At the outset of the novel we see Deckard tending to his fake sheep and wishing for a real one, just like so many other humans. Since the war that caused the radioactive fallout, real animals have become very scarce. At the same time, it has become almost required by custom for people to have a pet to take care of. This has at least two reasons: since so many animals have died out, having an animal means that you have a considerable amount of money. Animals have turned into status symbols. The other reason is that caring for an animal means displaying empathy towards the animal. This is something that androids are not able to do, and thus signals that people with pets are not androids.

Isidore has a much lower position in society than Deckard because of the fact that he is a special. Not only has he failed the test of his genes but he has also been unable to pass the ''minimum mental faculties test'' which makes him what is commonly known as a ''chickenhead.'' In his profession, he takes care of artificial animals (androids in sheeps' clothing, as it were) that have broken down and drives them to be serviced. Even though the artificial animals are kept by humans as pet substitutes, his work can be seen as helping a primitive kind of androids and thus his profession is a humane counterpart to Deckard's.

At the beginning of the novel, it seems clear to us which of these two main characters is the more human. Likewise, there is no doubt that Deckard is more human than Isidore according to the definitions and values of the society that they live in. As in Frankenstein, however, a number of situations arise which gradually reverse the original positions of these characters. There seems to be a reversal between the humanity that Deckard is supposed to represent and the substandard, decayed, no-longer-humanity of Isidore. As in Frankenstein, there are several passages where the three types of people (androids, specials, and humans) act in ways that don't seem to fit in with their original level of humanity. I will try to show that the question of what defines humanity is equally open in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as in Frankenstein.

To begin with, an important thing in the novel is the test that Deckard administers to persons that he suspects of being androids. At the beginning of the novel there is some doubt whether the old type of test that Deckard is using is still valid for the new and improved Nexus-6 model of android. In the beginning of the novel, he tests the test with the assistance of the Rosen Association (the android manufacturers). Naturally, they are interested in the test results so that they will be able to build even better androids in the future. After having detected that Rachael is actually an android and not a human as he originally thought, he decides that the test is valid. The fact that he only has tried the test once on the Nexus-6 androids ought to create some uncertainty, both concerning the validity of the test and his own interpretation of the results. There might be a case where he misreads something and lets an android get away which should not be so emotionally trying, but there is also the constant possibility that he might test a human being with a result that causes him to designate him as an android and shoot him. None of all this seems to affect Deckard who calmly administers his test without any misgivings at all about its accuracy. We get to see Deckard retiring one android after the other without showing any signs of emotion. It might be argued that he knows, both intellectually and emotionally, that the people that he is shooting are not human beings even though they look human. It is still a fact that all the weight of determining whether someone is human or not falls upon Deckard himself.

One of the most important criteria for humanity in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is empathy. The Voigt-Kampff test that Deckard uses to detect androids is actually an empathy test and the importance of empathy as a human characteristic is further emphasized by the recurrence of empathy boxes in the narrative. (An empathy box is a device through which a person merges, empathizes, with a person or entity called Mercer. It functions as a combination of recreation and religion and is used at least partly to prove to the users themselves that they are able to empathize with another person, something that androids are unable to do.) In the course of the novel we also see Deckard drift further and further away from his wife, Iran, the only person to whom he seems to have any real attachment. She also accuses him of not using their empathy box as much as he ought to. On the whole, we don't see him interact much with human beings. When he speaks to their neighbor, his attitude is a mixture of a desire to get rid of him and a desire to show off. On the whole, Deckard is, just like Frankenstein, somewhat lacking when it comes to emotions. At times he seems to have no emotions at all.

Isidore, on the other hand, likes to feel that he is close to other people and uses his empathy box regularly and often. When he realizes that he no longer is the only person living in his building he immediately takes a cube of margarine, the most suitable thing he can think of, to offer as a gift of welcome to his new neighbor. Pris, the neighbor, at first does not want to have anything to do with him, but soon she realizes that he might be useful. She lets Isidore help her and her two android friends. They move into his apartment instead of hers and he tries to take care of his three new friends as best he can. Throughout this episode, Isidore empathizes with the loneliness that he feels that his new-found neighbor must suffer from, just like he himself does. He does his best to get her and her friends to feel as comfortable as possible. When he gets to know about the bounty hunter that is stalking Pris and her friends, he is horrified:

He had an indistinct, glimpsed darkly impression: of something merciless that carried a printed list and a gun, that moved machine-like through the flat, bureaucratic job of killing. A thing without emotions, or even a face; a thing that if killed got replaced immediately by another resembling it. An so on, until everyone real and alive had been shot. [Dick 1968, p. 139]

In this passage we can see clearly the role-reversal that is taking place. Isidore is, in fact, the person in the novel who displays the largest portion of the traits that are considered ''human.'' He feels that he ought to welcome his new neighbor and he immediately empathizes with the androids when he hears that they are pursued by a bounty hunter. At the start, Isidore thinks that the three are humans and that the bounty hunter that is after them is some kind of evil machine, but when he later realizes that his new-found friends are actually androids it doesn't alter his feelings toward them. He knows them as nice people. That they happen to be androids has no relevance to whether they are nice or not to him; only their behaviour towards him matters. He does not consider someone to be worth less or to be less human just because they happen to belong to any particular ''race.'' There are no signs whatsoever -- at any point in the novel -- of there being anything wrong with his empathy towards other people (even if they later prove to be androids).

In the course of the novel, there is a change in Deckard's empathy pattern. There is a deterioration in his relationship with his wife and he begins to feel that female androids are more attractive than her:

Most androids I've known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife. She has nothing to give me. [...]

Some female androids seemed to him pretty; he had found himself physically attracted by several, and it was an odd sensation, knowing intellectually that they were machines but emotionally reacting anyhow. [Dick 1968, pp. 83 -- 84]

His statement that his wife has less to offer him than she used to might of course be read as meaning that she is no longer as human and interesting as she has been (she does come across a little bit like a couch potato). It can also, however, be read to mean that Iran is still the person that she has always been, while Deckard is becoming more and more like an android. Later, we see how he goes to bed with the android Rachael Rosen. Not only does he think of killing her while they are together, but he also gets her to promise to kill Pris, one of the remaining androids, for him in exchange for making love to her. Just previously, Rachael has told Deckard that Pris looks just like herself and that she is afraid of her own reactions when he retires an android that looks just like herself. Deckard doesn't stop to consider her fears when he gets her to promise that she will kill Pris for him. The fact that Deckard is married and still goes to bed with Rachael is another indicator that his empathy is not very strong. He does not stop to consider what his wife would think and feel if she knew that he is going to bed with a machine.

In this scene, we are also shown conflicting character traits in Rachael. She tells Deckard that she loves him and she is willing to make personal sacrifices to get him to make love to her. First, she gives Deckard an emergency device that cancels breathing in both androids and humans for a few seconds. She does this so that he will be able to protect himself from Roy Baty, but it is just as dangerous to her. Second, she frees Deckard from the task of retiring Pris by promising to kill her herself. Even though she has previously agonized about her own reactions when Deckard shoots Pris (who looks just like her), she is still willing to take this task upon herself to get Deckard to love her. It is clear that she is capable of both empathy and coldbloodedness.

''I love you,'' Rachael said. ''If I entered a room and found a sofa covered with your hide I'd score very high on the Voigt-Kampff test.'' []

''We're not the same. I don't care about Pris Stratton. Listen.'' Rachael thrashed about in the bed, sitting up; in the gloom he could dimly make out her almost breastless, trim shape. '' Go to bed with me and I'll retire Stratton. Okay? Because I can't stand getting this close and then -- '' [Dick 1968, p. 170]

Isidore and Rachael are not the only persons displaying more empathy and emotion than we originally think that they would. Phil Resch keeps a pet squirrel (a real one, even -- not an artificial one) and loves it a lot. When he finds out from Deckard that there is evidence that he himself might be an android, he seems to worry as much about the squirrel as about himself. Most of his feelings have to do with how things are going to turn out for the squirrel after he has been retired.

Roy Baty, the leader of the escaped androids, is on record as having tried to achieve something like fusion for himself and the others with various mind-altering drugs. ''A rough, cold android, hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to a deliberately built-in defect, it remained excluded.'' [Dick 1968, p. 162] We never get to know what Baty knew about fusion or what he thought that they were going to get out of it. The whole thing is mentioned in passing by human policemen as being obviously ridiculous. On the other hand, if Baty is supposed to have no feelings, why is he then so interested in trying to achieve fusion? If he had no feelings, the whole exercise of ''merging'' with somebody else to empathize with them seems totally pointless. It seems to me that a person must be in possession of at least a certain amount of emotions to be able to realize that empathy is something to be desired. Another possible interpretation would be that Baty is just trying to learn empathy to be able to get away from bounty hunters. On the other hand, if that were the case he might as well just fake empathetic reactions without actually feeling anything.

As we have just seen, empathy is very important in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The Voigt-Kampff test uses it to separate humans and androids and the humans use empathy boxes to emphasize their humanity. Throughout the novel, we see Deckard display very little empathy: he does not use his empathy box, he becomes more unfeeling toward Iran, and even while he has sex with the android Rachael, he considers killing her. Isidore, who is considered sub-human, fares better: he has regular sessions with his empathy box and he gets very concerned about Pris and her friends when he hears that they are stalked by a bounty hunter. Rachael, finally, is supposed to be incapable of feeling but she claims to love Deckard and is willing to make personal sacrifices to get him to love her back. On the other hand, the sacrifice she offers is to kill one of the other androids so the reversal of our original expectations is not so clear in her case as it is in the others. On the whole, however, we see that Deckard who is considered human by society is very cold and unfeeling while Isidore and Rachael who are considered sub- or non-human display much more emotion.

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? there is one characteristic that can decide whether someone is a human or an android. Androids are sometimes equipped with false memories, memories or recordings of things, events or places that they have not experienced in person but which are either artificially created or taken from the experience of another person. Planting artificial memories in humans have proved to be impossible. The problem is that detecting false memories in someone requires the willing cooperation of the test subject. This, on the other hand, is not very likely since having false memories means that you are an android and will probably be shot.

When Deckard and Phil Resch catch up with the android Luba Luft, she is absorbed in Munch's painting Puberty:

Luba Luft [] stood absorbed in the picture before her: a drawing of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an impression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face.

''Want me to buy it for you?'' Rick said [...]

''It's not for sale.'' [Dick 1968, p. 115]

This episode is quite simple on the surface, but may be interpreted in interesting ways. Luba Luft, opera singer that she is, can of course be excused for having an interest in the fine arts. On the other hand, she might be somehow drawn to this picture because it speaks of the experience of puberty, something that she probably feels, through implanted memories, that she has passed through -- and yet probably has not. Likewise, Deckard's question might refer not only to the painting but to the actual experience. Luba Luft's answer indicates that she knows what she is and has resigned herself to the fact that she can never have this experience by stating that the picture and, more importantly, the experience ''isn't for sale.'' Fittingly, Deckard buys Luba a reproduction of the painting, thus metaphorizing her lack of real memories of puberty.

Not all androids who have been equipped with false memory systems are as aware of them as Luba Luft seems to be. Phil Resch believes himself to be human, even a bounty hunter, and gets his entire world turned upside down when Deckard shows that his memories are false:

''They've been here all the time. Garland has been my superior from the start, throughout my three years.''

''According to it,'' Rick said, ''the bunch of them came to Earth together. And that wasn't as long ago as three years; it's only been a matter of months.''

''Then at one time an authentic Garland existed,'' Phil Resch said. ''And somewhere along the way got replaced.'' His sharklike lean face twisted and he struggled to understand. ''Or -- I've been impregnated with a false memory system. Maybe I only remember Garland over the whole time. But -- '' His face, suffused now with growing torment, continued to twist and work spasmodically. ''Only androids show up with false memory systems; it's been found ineffective in humans.'' [Dick 1968, pp. 111 -- 112]

Just like Frankenstein, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? contains a number of situations where the vital criteria of humanity are tested in both humans and non-humans. The situation here is somewhat more complex since the humans are compared to both androids and specials but a pattern similar to the one found in Frankenstein can be seen to emerge anyway. Almost always, the specials and the androids seem to be more human that the humans. While Deckard shows almost no emotions at all, both Isidore and Rachael prove capable of both empathy and self-sacrifice.

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the presence of artificial memories in a person is presented as a conclusive indication that the person is an android. As we see, however, even this sure-fire indicator does not make everything clear. Not only are the androids unwilling to be detected as such since it will probably lead to their ''retirement.'' It also proves to be difficult -- even with a willing subject -- to distinguish real memories from false ones.

After reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? one is left with a sense that the characteristics that define a human being can be present in both androids and supposedly deteriorated humans. In the same way, humans that are considered ''real humans'' by society may be lacking these characteristics. Just as in Frankenstein, the boundary between human and non-human seems to be very vague.


In this section, I will summarize my findings concerning the treatment of artificial men by the societies of Frankenstein and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I will also examine the evidence in the texts that the artificial men of these two novels are actually more ''human'' than real human beings in terms of a number of characteristics that are commonly held to define a human being. It seems that both texts claim that humanity is a trait that can be both acquired and lost and really has nothing to do with the actual mode of one's creation. Being an artificially created man might not exclude one from being human and vice versa.

The societies of the novels are very similar in their treatments of artificial men -- both the texts show how they are persecuted and hunted down. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? there is mention of the androids being an appreciated part of society in the space colonies but we never see anything of this. In this novel we also see how society looks down on the specials who are originally human but who are considered to have lost their humanity because of their decayed genes.

The desire for friendship is examined in both novels. In Frankenstein, we see how the monster makes elaborate preparations to try to increase his possibilities of making friends with the people in the cottage. Frankenstein, on the other hand, totally ignores his friends and family for a long time while he is absorbed in the creation of the monster. Similarly, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Deckard is not very friendly toward his neighbor while Isidore extends his full hospitality to the androids that have moved into his building. It seems that the humans are not very concerned with making and keeping friends while those not considered human try as hard as they can to make friends.

Another characteristic that is used in both novels to show that human and humane do not necessarily go together is empathy. In Frankenstein the monster throws himself into a river to save a drowning girl with no second thoughts about his own personal safety. His creator does not even speak up on Justine's trial, thus condemning her to die, even though the only thing that is at stake for him is other people's opinion of his sanity. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the importance of empathy as something that separates humans from androids is proved by the fact that the Voigt-Kampff test that Deckard uses is an empathy test. We see Isidore worry about Pris and how she and her friends are going to avoid the ominous bounty hunter that is stalking them. Phil Resch is more concerned for his squirrel than for himself when he finds out that he is an android and probably will get shot. The android leader, Roy Baty, has been trying to achieve fusion for both himself and some other androids. Rachael is willing to commit herself to killing Pris to make Deckard love her even though she fears her own reactions. Deckard on the other hand doesn't use his empathy box at all and shows almost no feelings at all. It is clear that the artificial men of these two novels are much more likely to empathize with others than are the humans, thus making themselves more human than the real humans.

The pursuit of knowledge is also something that defines a human. In Frankenstein everyone -- Frankenstein, the monster, and Walton -- constantly seek to know more. A difference between them is that the monster is calm and reasoning while Frankenstein is passionate and sometimes behaves irrationally. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the seeking of knowledge is done by the Rosen Corporation. The human builders of androids desire further information to be able to make their artificial men even more human.

As I have shown above, a number of different characteristics that can be said to define humanity are examined in both novels. There is one, however -- artificial memories -- that is only present in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. In my opinion, this is clearly a consequence of the fact that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was written 150 years later than Frankenstein. In Mary Shelley's day, memories were simply something that you accumulated over the years. The very idea of considering memory as something that can be modified or recorded must have seemed totally alien to her had she come across it. Hence, the monster comes into being with no memories at all. In today's society, on the other hand, reproductions and recordings are commonplace and dealing in information is widespread. In fact, one of the most commonly cited components of the postmodern condition is the tendency of our culture towards

the ''commodification and literalization of memory, or the more general transformation of what used to be 'internal,' evanescent 'feelings' and sensations'' into externalized images. [Tatsumi/McCaffery, p. 47]

Basically, our memories of many of the key events of our past are now recollections not of ''actual'' past events, but of the photographs or videos we have taken of them. In a sense, people now often use the ''real experience'' -- a trip to the Grand Canyon, our daughter's wedding -- primarily as a ''pretext'' for the more ''substantial'' later experience of ''reliving'' these experiences through reproduced sounds and images that magically conjure up for us our past, a conjuration that seems more ''substantial'' precisely because it can be endlessly reproduced. [McCaffery, p. 7]

Given this change in society, it is only natural that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? uses artificial memories as a defining characteristic for an android.

In the novel we see how finding out or even suspecting false memories in oneself is a very traumatic experience. Not only is it difficult to ascertain the validity of a memory, it is also a difficult emotional experience to discover that one's memories, something that is very intimate and personal, are in fact just recordings planted there by someone else.

Implanted memories have two major implications for the individual. The first is that it overturns the individual's picture of itself; as soon as one memory has been proven false or even been doubted, how can one be sure that others are not false as well? It raises questions about who one really is and might make a person feel that he has been living a ''false'' life. The second is that if artificially created memories are found, then this also means that the bearer of the artificial memories is an android. We are told that planting artificial memories in human beings has proved to be impossible.

The whole concept of false memories implanted in androids by their creators to make them less likely to detect the difference between themselves and human beings can also be looked upon from the exact opposite direction. It can also be seen as a parallel in androids to the archetypes that C. G. Jung found in the human psyche. Just as the false memories of the androids have not been lived by them, the archetypes are not things that everyone has seen.

In both Frankenstein and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? we have seen how a number of comparisons have been made between the humans of the book and various non- or subhumans. One after the other, characteristics that might be said to define a human being have been shown to be present in the artificial men and less so in the humans. This could be read to mean that both Shelley and Dick argue that the artificial men are in fact more human than the ''real'' humans or at least that the boundaries between them are far from definite.

Another interesting thing is the way that these novels use ambiguity to relate their messages. Already in the title of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? we get a clue that everything might not be what it at first seems to be. Right from the start of the book, we see the protagonist Rick Deckard taking care of his electric sheep and ruminating about how much nicer it would be if he were able to afford to have, as he once did, a real sheep. No other character in the novel (not even his wife) has a more than cursory interest in this sheep, but it takes up much space in his thoughts. Even here, we might -- given the question in the title -- start to suspect that he is not what he seems. Further along, when he is about to test Luba Luft to see if she is an android or not, she counters by accusing him of being one.

''An android,'' he said, ''doesn't care what happens to another android. That's one of the indications we look for.''

''Then,'' Miss Luft said, ''you must be an android.''

That stopped him; he stared at her.

''Because,'' she continues, ''your job is to kill them, isn't it? You're what they call -- '' She tried to remember.

''A bounty hunter,'' Rick said. ''But I'm not an android.''

''This test you want to give me.'' Her voice, now, had begun to return. ''Have you taken it?''

''Yes.'' He nodded. ''A long, long time ago; when I first started with the department.''

''Maybe that's a false memory. Don't androids sometimes go around with false memories?'' [Dick 1968, p. 89]

Just after Luba Luft has accused Deckard of being an android, she summons a guard who arrests him. He is then taken to a police station similar to the one he works at. When he gets there, he realizes that he has never even seen it before and it is supposed to cover the same areas as the one he works for does. He begins to think that this whole police station might be a front for some androids. These suspicions are confirmed in a way when he talks to Inspector Garland who discovers himself on Deckard's list of androids to retire. As Garland explains it to Phil Resch:

''This man -- or android -- Rick Deckard comes to us from a phantom, hallucinatory, nonexistent police agency allegedly operating out of the old departmental headquarters on Lombard. He's never heard of us and we've never heard of him -- yet ostensibly we're both working the same side of the street. He employs a test we've never heard of. The list he carries around isn't of androids; it's a list of human beings. He's already killed once -- at least once. And if Miss Luba Luft hadn't gotten to a phone he probably would have killed her and then eventually he would have come sniffing around after me.'' [Dick 1968, p. 104]

At this point, we have no way of telling who is the real bounty hunter and who is the android. We feel further disconnected from reality when Deckard phones first his wife and gets someone else and then his department where they claim to have never heard of him.

This kind of uncertainty, not being able to trust the appearance of things or even know what is real and what is artificial is a theme that runs through the entire novel and in fact many of Dick's other novels as well. We realize that Deckard might be an android but we are never finally told for sure.

It is up to the reader to make up his mind whether Deckard is the human that we originally think or if he is an android with false memories. As a matter of fact, a third alternative might also be possible: that Deckard originally was a ''real'' human being, but because of his lack of empathy and persistent hunting down and retiring of androids, he has become like an android. As we have seen from the various comparisons between the behavior of men and androids, there does not seem to be a clear-cut boundary between what is a man and what is an android. This even seems to be the way Dick intended it to be interpreted:

A human being without the proper empathy or feeling is the same as an android built so as to lack it, either by design or mistake. We mean, basically, someone who does not care about the fate which his fellow living creatures fall victim to; he stands detached, a spectator, acting out by his indifference John Donne's theorem that ''No man is an island,'' but giving that theorem a twist: that which is a mental and a moral island is not a man. [Dick 1976, pp. 201 -- 202]

In Frankenstein, the uncertainty is on another level. As readers, we have to begin our interpretation of certain situations in the text by determining which of the main characters' version of events we choose to consider the true account. Brian Aldiss writes in Trillion Year Spree that

One enduring attraction of the book is its series of ambiguities, not all of which can have been the intention of an inexperienced novelist [] In particular, the language of the novel invites us to confuse the main roles. Perhaps we are meant to believe that the creature is Frankenstein's doppelganger, pursuing him to death. []

There is a reason for the way the world has confused which is Frankenstein, which is the monster; the confusion seems to have been part of Mary's intention. [Aldiss/Wingrove, p. 42]

This intentional confusion between Victor Frankenstein and the monster that he has created is taken one step further by Rick Hautala:

Confusing the creator with the creation, although technically inaccurate, may not be very far from the core truth of this novel [] The monster is the dark half, the Jungian ''shadow'' of Victor Frankenstein. [Wolf, p. 36]

The entire text of Frankenstein is written by Robert Walton, a polar explorer who rescues Frankenstein. The fact that Walton is a scientist and thus assumed to be objective adds an air of scientific impartialilty to the story. Frankenstein tells his story to Walton who in turn relates it to us. Now and then he comments on Frankenstein's honor and intelligence which makes us more willing to accept Frankenstein's account of what has happened. As if this wasn't enough, there are also parts of the novel where Frankenstein retells what the monster has in its turn told him. These parts of the novel have three narrators, each of whom retells what the previous one has told him. The parts of the text that are told by the monster are quite moving. We empathize with the monster and thus his story seems more credible. All this of course raises a number of questions about whom one can trust and what is the truth. Frankenstein even brings this out in the open when he says that the monster is ''eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not.'' [Shelley, p. 230] There are also scenes that work the other way. When Frankenstein and the monster meet on Mont Blanc (see quote on page 'montblanc'), it is the monster who is calm and reasoning and who tries to adhere to the facts.

Everything I have said above about the monster displaying emotion and other traits that are supposed to be reserved for humans is dependent on the events that the monster tells Frankenstein about. To be able to make the analysis above, I must start with the assumption that the monster is telling the truth. Similarly, the parts which describe what Frankenstein does are to a large extent told by himself and are subject to doubts about their adherence to the truth in the same way.

As we can see, Frankenstein first builds up the impression that the monster is really more human than any of the humans that we get to know. When we pause to reflect on what we really know and what we have to take someone's word for, we find that this might not be so at all. It seems that Shelley is consciously undercutting the apparent message of the text by having the method of narration speak against it.

Something similar seems to be happening in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where we have Deckard who starts out being the model of humanity and then deteriorates to more or less become like an android. In the conclusion of the novel, however, he merges with Mercer much more totally than people normally do when using their empathy boxes -- and he isn't even using a box. Most people have the feeling that they are there with Mercer; Deckard gets the feeling that he actually is Mercer. The police receptionist even mentions that he looks just like Mercer.

Even though Deckard has been slipping downward for a long time becoming constantly more machine-like, in the end we have him identifying himself with Wilbur Mercer, the very symbol of humanity's capacity for empathy as opposed to the androids' inability. This conclusion to the novel can be interpreted in two different ways.

We can see Deckard's strong identification with Mercer as a re-affirmation of his humanity. If we choose this alternative, all the evidence that we have been given throughout the novel that Deckard might be an android is discarded.

The other possible interpretation is that Deckard in some way has become Mercer. If this is the case, there is no empathy involved and he might still be an android. It might even be that his memories of being a bounty hunter -- of being Deckard -- are false, implanted memories. If this is the case, all the people who are re-affirming their difference from androids by using their empathy boxes to merge with Mercer/Deckard would actually be empathizing with an android to prove their humanity. Toward the end of the novel, the TV talk show host Buster Friendly claims that Mercer is a fake. ''It has often been said by adherents of the experience of Mercerism that Wilbur Mercer is not a human being, that he is in fact an archetypal superior entity.'' [Dick 1968, p. 184] Buster Friendly then goes on to show that he has discovered that the images one sees when using an empathy box are in fact just old recordings of an elderly bit player named Al Jarry. If this interpretation is correct, then Deckard's transformation into Mercer means that through him, Mercerism has transcended its faked origin and become the reality it originally just imitated, a kind of literal deus ex machina -- the ''god'' Mercer replaces the empathy box.

As I have shown above, both Frankenstein and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? leave many questions open for the reader. There are many situations in both novels where we see the defining characteristics of humanity being examined. It is clear that the non-humans are shown to be at least as human as are the ''real'' humans.

Another recurring feature is that both texts in one way or the other point out the difficulty in knowing even what is ''reality,'' what is ''truth.'' Sometimes we have to decide which of two conflicting versions of things we believe to be true before we can even begin to interpret what is going on.


Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). New York: Del Rey (Ballantine) Books 24th printing. Filmed as Blade Runner 1982. The book reissued under the title Blade Runner at the release of the film.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). New York: Modern Library (Random House) 1984. This is the text of the third edition, revised and corrected by the author; originally published 1831. Filmed a number of times, often without much adherence to the novel.

Aldiss, Brian. The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 1995.

Aldiss, Brian W. & Wingrove, David. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Gollancz 1986. This is an expanded version of Brian Aldiss' Billion Year Spree (1973).

Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-century Writing. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1987.

Chapple, J. A. V. Science and Literature in the Nineteenth Century. London: Macmillan 1986.

Dick, Philip K. ''Man, Android and Machine'' in The Dark-Haired Girl Willimantic: Mark V. Zeising 1988, pp. 201 -- 231. Originally published 1976.

McCaffery, Larry, ed. Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction. Durham: Duke University Press 1991.

Tatsumi, Takayuki & McCaffery, Larry. ''Graffiti's Rainbow: Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of Fiction: From Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop'' in Science Fiction Eye Issue 12 Summer 1993, pp. 43 -- 49.

Wolf, Leonard, ed. The Essential Frankenstein. New York: Plume (Penguin) 1993. This is an annotated edition of the first edition text of Frankenstein.

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