Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Summary and Analysis
Rick Deckard is taken to the Hall of Justice and booked for the crime of murder and for falsely representing himself as a police officer. Another police officer named Garland comes over and curiously looks at Rick. Garland looks in Rick’s briefcase and pulls out the materials for the Voigt-Kampff test and the lists of Nexus-6 androids that Rick is scheduled to retire.
Garland asks if Rick knew of a George Gleason or Phil Resch. Garland tells him that these are the bounty hunters assigned to Northern California. Garland gives Rick one phone call and he attempts to call Iran. A woman picks up the phone, but it is not Rick’s wife, so he gives up trying to make the call.
Garland shows Rick the carbon copies of paper from his briefcase that contain his lists of android targets. Garland points out that the next android to be retired is actually Garland himself. The carbon copies contain precise information on all of his physical and mental characteristics, though it lists his occupation as an insurance underwriter, not a police inspector. Both Rick and Garland are stunned by the realization.
Garland calls in Resch to come and talk to Rick. Resch has never heard of the Voigt-Kampff empathy test and he tells Rick of the test that his department administers. It is a “reflex-arc response” test in which reflexes between the brain and body are measured. Resch tells Garland that he himself had one time suspected Polokov of being an android, though the chance to give him a test never came up. Resch even slyly notes that he wanted to give Garland and the rest of the police station higher ups the test as well, though Garland strongly objects. Resch tells Deckard that “the best place for an android would be with a big police organization....”
A secretary calls with the results of a bone marrow test administered on the dead body of Polokov. The tests show that Polokov was indeed an android. This makes Resch even more suspicious of Garland since he also was on Rick’s retirement list. Resch tells Garland that now he will have to submit himself to a test.
Inspector Garland relents to Resch and lets him leave to get the “Boneli gear” for the “reflex arc” test. When Resch leaves, only Rick and Garland remain in the room. Garland tries to think of a way to escape taking the test and he pulls a laser gun on Rick. Rick tells him that it won’t make any difference, that even by killing him he will still have to take Resch’s test.
Garland lowers the laser beam and tells Rick that both he and Resch are androids and that, in fact, most of the officers in the police agency are androids. They operate in a “close loop, cut off from the rest of San Francisco.” They monitor human activity, but stay hidden from public view. They came to earth on a ship from Mars a few years earlier and have run this agency since then. Garland tells Rick that Resch has no idea, however, that he is an android. He had a synthetic memory system implanted in him before he left which makes him believe he is entirely human.
When Resch returns with the Boneli equipment, Garland pulls a laser gun on him. Resch and Deckard both hit the floor and Resch pulls his own gun, shooting Garland in the head and killing him. Rick tells Resch that the entire building is full of androids and Resch handcuffs Deckard to his own arm as a guise to get him out of the building.
As they walk to the roof, Resch laments that he had worked under an android for three years without ever knowing it. Rick tells him that Garland mentioned coming on a space ship earlier than three years ago and this makes Resch suspect that perhaps he has false memories. This would mean that he himself might be an android. As they take off towards the San Francisco Opera House, Resch tries to make Rick promise to give him a test after they retire Luft so that he will know if he is or is not an android.
Rick and Phil Resch go to the opera house, but Luba Luft has already left. An attendant tells them that she went to the Edvard Munch exhibit at the museum. When they arrive at the museum they begin their search for Luft. Resch is in turmoil over the thought that he might be an andy. He tells Rick that he owns an animal, a squirrel, and that he cares for it regularly and loves it. “Did you ever hear of an andy having a pet of any sort?” he asks Rick. Rick tells him that he knew of a few instances, but not many, because “Animals require an environment of warmth to flourish,” an environment that androids cannot provide. They come to a Munch painting and stop to admire it; it is a painting of “a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream.” Resch tells Rick that he believes “that this is how an andy must feel.”
The two find Luft and quietly aprehend her and begin to take her to the roof of the museum and to their hovercraft. Luft does not fight or try to escape while around other people because androids have “an innate desire to remain inconspicuous,” though Rick prepares for a fight once they reach the hovercraft. Luft stops at one of the museum’s gift shops and asks Rick to buy her a print of one of Munch’s painting, Puberty. Rick walks in the gift store and buys her a book of Munch prints with his own money and gives it to her. Resch can’t understand why Rick would do such a thing but Luft know: “An android never would have done that...It wouldn’t have occurred to him.”
Luft, defeated, now admits that she is an android and she accuses Resch of also being one. This begins to annoy Resch and he soon becomes very agitated. Resch loses his control and pulls out his laser gun, ready to kill Luft. She ducks his first shot, but Resch adjusts and begins shooting her in the stomach, causing her pain. Rick pulls his own gun and shoots Luft in the head, killing her. Rick then uses his laser tube to burn the Munch book that he had just bought for her. The confuses Resch as he doesn’t understand why Rick would not want to keep the book he bought with his own money.
Rick begins to become disgusted with himself and with his job. He tells Resch that once this is over he is going to go into another field of work. He quietly laments having to kill Luft, because she “was really a superb singer” and wonders “how can a talent like that be a liability to our society?” He realizes it wasn’t just her talent, however, that makes him feel this way; it was “she herself” that was valuable. He also realizes that for the same reason, Resch is a menace that will kill if only given the opportunity. He knows that he will have to administer the test to him and retire him as well.
Rick administers the test to Resch and his surprised to find that he passes. He is not an android. Rick then begins to wonder about a specific defect in the test: whether or not the tests should ask questions about a human’s empathy towards androids. Rick suddenly makes Resch give him the Voigt-Kampff test and he asks himself a question about watching someone kills an android. When he qualifies the android as female, the scale rises to show Rick’s empathy. He realizes that he has an empathetic response towards certain female androids.
Resch tells him that he had once felt that way as well, but that is is only sex and he shouldn’t worry. His response is not really empathetic but is only his desire to have sex with a beautiful android. Deckard is not completely convinced, however, and thinks that he might have had this specific response towards Luft because of her talent and the intrinsic worth that he saw in her. Resch tells him that to avoid this empathetic situation in the future that, instead of killing the andy first and then feeling an attraction toward it, he should reverse the procedure and sleep with it first before killing it.
The turning point of the novel occurs in chapters 10-12. After being arrested for attempting to kill Luba Luft and for having a dead body in his hover car, Rick is thrust into a kind of alternate reality; a police force separate from the one that he works for with detectives and bounty hunters attempting to do the same work that he is trying to do. This is a disorienting experience for Rick and, in turn, it becomes a disorienting experience for the reader as all notions of identity and being are cast into doubt for both.
The crux of the novel hangs on the question of Rick’s identity. For a moment, while in the hover car being taken to the police station and while being interrogated by Garland, Rick begins to doubt his own humanness. This is an important moment in the novel because Rick now begins to fully grapple with the question of what it means to be alive and the what are the dividing lines between the real and unreal. If he is an android, Rick knows that his own code of morals requires that he be killed. Yet, if he is an android it feels that it would be quite a shame to waste the appreciation of art, beauty, and empathy that he obviously feels. Perhaps, he thinks, androids share a similar experience to that which they copy.
The character of Phil Resch, on the other hand, has already undergone the complete transformation from empathetic human to cold blooded killer. When Resch hears that Garland accused him of being an android, the idea does not seem to surprise him or Rick. In the novel, Resch plays the part of a foil to Deckard’s character; he is a character that represents the opposite values that Rick suddenly finds that he possesses. Resch understand he has lost all empathy for androids or for any living thing. He kills not because it is his job but because he enjoys it. When he finds out that he is not an android he is, in fact, surprised. Rick can come to no other conclusion except that his job made him lose a critical part of himself that made him human.
The painting that Luba Luft admires while being captured by Deckard and Resch offers important insight into the theme of the novel. The painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, is a surrealistic depiction of a violent landscape with a sexless, deformed person screaming for a reason that is unknown to the viewer. Munch scholars have theorized that the painting is a depiction of Depersonalization, a feeling in which a person is disoriented from or removed from their personhood or environment.
This painting serves as a metaphor for Rick’s experience with Phil Resch. Through his encounter with the android police department and with the cold blooded killer Resch, Rick Deckard begins to become removed from his old self and he finds the world he now inhabits disorienting. On the one hand, he realizes that he must find a way to be truly empathetic, yet he realizes he lives in a world that has been voided of all empathy. Rick decides that true human empathy which makes one truly human must extend to all things, even things that are not alive in the technical sense. He decides then to test for empathy towards androids.
Phil Resch gives Rick one source of empathy and that is towards female androids. Yet Rick discovers that this is not a source of real empathy. Instead, this empathy is again based on a selfish act - that of sexual pleasure. Resch would have sex with a female android for his own pleasure before killing it. Here, Dick uses the convoluted emotions and desires that accompany human empathy to make the point that there is not a clear line between the real and the unreal.
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