Dreams of lost humanity? A Marxist analysis of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick

Term Paper, 2016

26 Pages, Grade: A+


Table of Contents:


Thesis Statement

Theoretic Framework

Analysis and Discussion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


Works Cited


Published in 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future America, which is falling apart, after a nuclear war called World War Terminus. Radioactive fallout has ruined and destroyed most of the earth making it uninhabitable. Faced with extinction, the U.N. encourages emigration to colonies in space, primarily Mars. To encourage emigration each emigrant is offered free labour in the form of an android servant.[1]

Made of biological materials, the androids are extremely sophisticated sharing human qualities such as; anger, self-pity, loneliness, sadness, jealousy, fear, curiosity, anxiety, hope, anguish and even love, are nearly indistinguishable from humans but nonetheless they are only considered to be technologically advanced machinery. The androids are only used in the colonies but the conditions there are harsh and brutal, so many androids seek to escape to Earth where they are illegal. The novel's protagonist Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, hunt and kill androids who have escaped to Earth. Deckard, like the rest of the populace, live in ruined, dilapidated cities depopulated of all "successful" humans; the only remaining inhabitants are those with no prospects off-world, who are slowly being poisoned by radiation.[2]

Animals are almost extinct and keeping and owning animals have become an obsession for the remaining society. The worst thing a human can do is to harm an animal or to feel nothing at the idea of harming an animal. Thus caring for an animal has become symbol of one's humanity. However, because genuine animals are extremely expensive very few people can afford them and so most people are forced towards the much cheaper electric animals to keep up the pretence. To own a real animal is a sign of distinction and prestige.

The human to animal relationship is particularly relevant in that it is the empathy or lack off for animal life that distinguish humans from androids. As the androids become increasingly sophisticated, they become harder to detect. Deckard must administer an empathy-test, the so-called Voigt-Kampff test, before he can kill, or retire as it is called, a suspected android. The test works by measuring empathic responses to descriptions of animal cruelty or death. If little or no empathy is measured the subject are identified as an Android and summarily "retired".[3]

Before the story's beginning Deckard owned a genuine sheep, but it died, and Deckard had to replace it with an electric one. Deckard's electric sheep leaves him discontent as he yearns for the prestige that would come with the ownership of a real animal.

The novel is arguably as influential and relevant today as when it came out. Its social commentary and critique of a twenty-first century America in the grip of soul-crushing hyper-capitalism can be said to be poignant still. The works of Philip K. Dick and, in particular, Do Androids Dream has attracted a small army of scholars and theorist who have applied everything from psychoanalytical criticism to postmodernism.[4]

However, a Marxist criticism has not been applied to Do Androids Dream so far. Such a reading is the focus of this paper, as I find that there are several reference to Marxist theory. Throughout the novel, Dick provides a profound social commentary through the vision of a near-future dystopian society. Dick vividly demonstrates how consumerism and capitalism can create a society loaded with socialist elements, even in a world that has suffered nuclear war. Through Deckard who contemplates his place in society via his disdain of his electric sheep, Dick forces the reader to consider the importance of material possessions and how they can affect social status. One would assume that material things would have less significance in a world that has suffered a nuclear holocaust, however, Do Androids Dream shows the opposite; namely, a scenario where one's possessions in society are of the utmost importance. To illustrate how a dystopian society would still hold material possessions in such high regard, Dick embeds numerous Marxist elements into his work as he portrays a world consumed by capitalism.

Thesis Statement

This paper will show how Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? may be classified as a Marxist novel because of its rejection of commodity aesthetics and commodification/reification through the focusing on the concept of hegemony and societal structures as outlined in Raymond Williams cultural theory.

Theoretic Framework

The theoretical basis for this project is Raymond Williams' Marxist cultural theory, specifically his understanding of hegemony as a concept. The following section introduces the central parts of Williams understanding of hegemony.

According to Williams in Marxism and Literature (1977), "the traditional definition of hegemony as a concept is political rule or domination, especially in relations between states." Marxism, he writes, extended the definition of rule or domination to include relations between social classes and especially to definitions of a ruling class.[5]

Williams also draws on Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony and his distinction between rule and hegemony. According to Gramsci rule is expressed in "direct political control, which uses force when necessary" though the most typical situation is a complex interweaving of cultural, social and political forces. Whereas hegemony, as defined by Williams, is "the whole lived social process as practically organized by specific and dominant meanings, values and beliefs of a kind that can be abstracted as a "world-view" or "class-outlook".[6]

For Williams, hegemony is a concept that simultaneously includes and goes beyond the notions of "culture" and "ideology". Culture, defined as a social process in which man both define and shape his life and ideology, in the Marxist sense is a system of meanings and values that is a expression or projection of a particular class interest. As such, it is an active process continuously adjusted and redefined by men. However, at the same time "to say that men define and shape their whole lives is true only in abstraction."[7]

Williams' understanding of hegemony is thus closely connected to his understanding of determination, which he explains as "pressures" and "limits" and a saturating domination. Williams illustrates it like this "(Hegemony) sees the relations of domination and subordination (...) as in effect a saturation of the whole process of living (...) to such a depth that the pressures and limits of what can ultimately be seen as a specific economic, political, and cultural system seem to most of us the pressures and limits of simple experience and common sense."[8] In this definition, hegemony is the determination of everyday life and experience. It is an internalised form of social control that makes particular views seem "natural" or so commonplace that it is not noted, and it reinforces and maintains the class system as a dominating presence. Viewing hegemony in this way, with domination and subordination, corresponds "much more closely to the normal processes of social organization and control in developed societies," according to Williams.[9] Williams notes further that, "cultural tradition and practice are seen as much more than super structural expressions (...) of a formed social and economic structure."[10]

For Williams then, based on the above quotes, hegemony is the existence of something that is truly total, something that is lived at such a depth, which permeates society to such a degree that it constitutes the limit of common sense for most people under its influence. It is a lived system of meanings and values that is mutually confirmed.

Williams, moreover, connects hegemony to domination and culture by saying that it "is in the strongest sense a culture, but a culture that also has to be seen as the lived dominance and subordination of particular classes."[11] Furthermore, Williams notes how "hegemony can never be singular. Its internal structures are highly complex, as can readily be seen in any concrete analysis. (...) It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, and challenged by pressures not at all its own. We have then to add to the concept of hegemony the notions of counter-hegemony and alternative hegemony, which are real and persistent elements of practice."[12] In this understanding, hegemony maintains the division of culture into dominant, alternative and oppositional subcultures, which can be said to enable the limits and pressures of society to be channelled to the benefit of the dominant culture. The implication here is that particular meanings and practices are emphasised while other meanings and practices are neglected and even excluded. It also implies that some of the meanings and practices are reinterpreted, diluted or put into new forms that support the dominant culture.

Analysis and Discussion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

As previously outlined, Williams' definition of the concept of hegemony presumes the existence of something that is truly total, something that is so deeply ingrained in society that it is almost invisible or at the most viewed as "just the way things are".[13] In the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? capitalism has become hegemonic in that it underlines how everything is perceived and constructed within that fictional society. It also determines the relationship between the different social classes of that society. This is particularly relevant in terms of viewing the novel as a Marxist critique of capitalism, because, through Deckard, Philip K. Dick shows what happens to people who are subjected to a society, where capitalism is hegemonic. The reader also see how this influences and distorts Deckard's attitude towards his wife, his neighbour, to strangers but also towards androids and animals.

Following on from this, this section will focus on an aspect of Do Androids Dream that I feel have been overlooked in other analyses, namely the importance of animals, both electric and real.

Do Androids Dream explores the question of what it means to be human through two comparisons: androids versus animals. Thus, the representation of animals can be argued to be essential to the novel's critique of capitalism and the commodity fetishism.[14] By focusing on the centrality of animals in the story, we can fully observe the ramifications of Deckard's change. Deckard and other humans do not run the risk of becoming as android-like as the androids because they are already android-like, emotionally detached and drained of all natural feelings. A state they will remain in as long as they continue to objectify the world around them.[15]

From the onset of the novel Philip K. Dick establishes the animal to man relationship. Deckard's wife Iran accuses Deckard of being a murderer hired by the cops who kill "those poor andy's".[16] Disconnected, Deckard goes to the top of his apartment building to see his electric sheep, a black-faced Suffolk ewe. This is fairly popular, though undignified, alternative to owning a genuine animal. Deckard reflects on his cybernetic animal, pondering its mundane existence as it chomps away in simulated contentment and speculates on how many of his neighbours also have fake animals. This is a simple question, but one that Deckard can never ask. The author explains that such a query would be unheard of. "To say, "Is your sheep genuine?" would be a worse breach of manners than to inquire whether a citizen's teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic."[17]

From this, we can gather that it is rude and distasteful to enquire about the authenticity of animals. The social norms of the society dictate that such questions are offensive. People are not expected to divulge the details of their animals origin, and they are certainly not expected to go looking for them from others. This may seem trivial, but it shows how capitalism and the commodity fetishism have influenced society and how it affects the relationship between people. It can be seen as an example of what Williams calls an internalised form of social control that makes particular views so commonplace so they are not questioned, just is. Artificial animals are also seen as worth less than genuine animals, this thought process maintains the idea of the class system as a dominating presence, something which Williams also emphasises in his theory.

It also fits well with the thoughts of sociologist Christopher Dobb who states that norms are "a standard of required or expected behaviour"[18] and that they serve as principles and guidelines that both dictate behaviour and help people in estimating how their behaviours will be responded to.

Deckard's subsequent conversion with his neighbour Bill Barbour is a good example of this taboo and the social norms. Although he is exceedingly jealous of Barbour's horse, Deckard never breaches the society norm and enquire about the authenticity of the horse. Instead, Deckard immediately checks his bible; a creased, much-studied copy of Sidney's Animal & Fowl catalogue to check the price of a horse because "he wished to god he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one."[19] Deckard's pathological urge to own a real animal has nothing to do with a genuine desire to get close to an animal, to feel for it, to care for it. It is solely a desire implanted in him by society. A craving to possess the same objects as his neighbour, Barbour, who in turn dreams of owning a Muscovy Duck like the owner of the algae-processing plant, where his brother works. Barbour's eyes glaze over "imagining such possessions; he drifted by degree into a trance."[20] Deckard and Barbour's conversation are a horror to read; it is stunted and artificial, it never focuses on the true values of pet ownership but only on acquiring, possessing, showing off or envying other people's animals. This shows how the consumer culture both exploits and victimizes. It creates a society that promulgates the idea that "no one should be without a whatnot for their thingamajig".[21] This is exemplified when Barbour immediately asks Deckard what he thinks of Barbour owning two horses? Deckard responds by asking if he can buy one of the horses. When Barbour declines his offer, Deckard states that it is immoral according to Mercerism for him to own two horses while he has none.[22] This is a perfect example of commodity aesthetics, the acquisition of the horse is in reality just the purchase of a status symbol in that the form is valued over the content. Thus, neither Barbour nor Deckard has any relationship with their animals; visiting them on the roof before going to work has become a routine, a ritual as empty as drinking a cup of coffee with one's newspaper. They are not there to spend time with their pet but to check on a valuable object, a possession.

The dialogue between Deckard and Barbour also brings out another interesting fact about the society in the novel, namely the fact that material possessions are directly tied religion. This fact speaks volumes about the consumerist state in which these people live. This is because consumerism at its core "thrives on flattering the consumer's judgement" in regards to their purchases.[23] Thus, Mercerism not only encourages a consumerist society, in fact, it demands it. Deckard certainly feels entitled to owning a grand animal and is gravely insulted by Barbour that he should settle for anything less.


[1] Dick, P.K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Gollancz Fiction, London 2007), pp.6.

[2] Ibid , p.6.

[3] Toth, J. "Do Androids Eat Electric Sheep?: Egotism, Empathy, and the Ethics of Eating in the Work of Philip K. Dick" in Literature Interpretation Theory, No.24, (2013), p.65.

[4] Star, A "The God in the trash: the fantastic life and oracular work of Philip K. Dick" in The New Republic, Dec.6, (1993), p.22.

[5] Williams, R. Marxism and Literature (Oxford University Press, 1977), p.108.

[6] Barry, P. Beginning Theory; An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory (Manchester University Press, 3rd. Ed. 2009), p.161.

[7] Williams, Marxism and Literature, p.108.

[8] Ibid, p.110.

[9] Ibid, p.110.

[10] Ibid, p.111.

[11] Ibid, p.110.

[12] Ibid, pp.112.

[13] Barry, Beginning Theory, p.161.

[14] Regarding the Marxist concept of "Commodity Fetishism" see Fine, B. & Saad-Filho, A. Marx's Capital (Pluto Press, 5. Ed. 2010), pp. 25.

[15] Dick, Do Androids p.122-124 and Palumbo, D. "Faith and Bad Faith in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" in The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol.46, No.6, (2013), p. 1278.

[16] Dick, Do Androids p. 1.

[17] Ibid, p. 5.

[18] Dobb, C. Sociology: An Introduction (Harcourt Brace & Company, 2000), p. 75.

[19] Dick, Do Androids, p. 7.

[20] Ibid, p.7.

[21] Hogan, H. "English Studies and the Dialectics of Consumerism" in College English, Vol.32, No.3, (1970), p. 266.

[22] Ibid, p.8.

[23] Hogan, Dialectics of Consumerism, p.266.

Excerpt out of 26 pages


Dreams of lost humanity? A Marxist analysis of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick
Literary History and Theory
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
460 KB
Philip K. Dick, Marxism, Marx, Commodity Fetishism, Commodity Aesthetics, Hegemony, Society Structures, Raymond Williams, Commodification, Marxist Cultural Theory, Androids, Marxism and Literature
Quote paper
Martin Lausten (Author), 2016, Dreams of lost humanity? A Marxist analysis of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/324270


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Dreams of lost humanity? A Marxist analysis of  "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free