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A Comparison of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Man in the High Castle

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Philip K. Dick, a prominent science fiction author of the 20th century, was only trying to make ends meet through his accomplished writing skills. However, he did much more than simply entertain; he incorporated complex philosophical and moral issues into his often seemingly ludicrous stories. These philosophical questions in his stories almost always related to the, “intellectual (conceptual) mazes” that he felt he lived his life in. (“Philip K”). Having a number of psychological problems proved to be a, “precious fuel for his vivid literary imagination”. “Philip K(indred)”) The books Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle are examples of how he incorporated a recurring question in his life into his works.

They both contain the enigmatic theme of Dick’s life, which is the question of, “What is real? ” Both books have the same paranoid general idea which is reality is something that is not concrete; it is something that cannot be proven. Beyond that, each of the books has parallel themes of changing or lost identities, religion, moral issues and illusions. Much of Philip K. Dick’s reason for such paranoid themes in a majority of his writings can be traced back to the psychological problems that began in his childhood.

When he was born in Chicago in December of 1928, he was one of two twins. He and his twin sister Jane were born six weeks prematurely and were both in poor health several weeks after their births. Only 5 weeks after their birth, Jane died of malnourishment, and for the rest of Dick’s life, he seemed to blame himself for the death of his sister, which affected his relationships and every other aspect of his life.

Dick went to school in Berkeley, California, where ironically his lowest grade was in composition. In spite of the low grade, his teacher at the time said that he “shows interest and ability in story telling” (Bleiler). Dick began writing short stories in the early 1950’s beginning with the short story, “Beyond lies the Wub”. Later in his career he slowly shifted from writing short stories to writing novels, until almost completely in favor of the latter. In many of his later novels in addition to a number of essays, Dick’s recreational drug use became especially noticeable.

In one interview he stated that he had, “written every one of his books prior to 1970 high on amphetamines” (Dick). Philip K. Dick was becoming more and more eccentric with each passing year, later claiming that he was having week long visions, which were the basis of his later novels from the VALIS series, and claiming that the FBI, CIA and KGB were after him. None of this paranoia was helped by the 1971 break-in into his apartment where nearly everything from cancelled checks to unpublished manuscripts was stolen.

However, this incident was not the cause of Dick’s paranoia; it was a mere confirmation of it. Dick had been subconsciously and consciously using his paranoia as main themes in his books for years. Paranoia played a very strong role in both the novels Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle. From this state of mind of Dick’s, a common theme of not knowing what is or was real is created in both books. Reality is a very fluid thing in both books; it seemingly changes throughout the book. Things previously thought to be real are later proved to be counterfeits or fakes.

A character in The Man in the High Castle named Robert Childan exclaims to his supplier, “they’re lousy fakes” after the discovery that his stock of Civil War era Colt . 44 handguns are all counterfeits of the real things. (Dick 60-1) However this is just a small example of the theme of counterfeiting comes into play in many of his novels. The central plot of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? centers on the detection and “retiring”, which actually means killing, of androids masquerading as humans by the protagonist John Deckard.

In this book it is discovered in a bizarre twist that one of the police officers supposedly helping to track down the androids, Rachael Rosen is actually one of the Nexus-6 Androids that Deckard is chasing around the :Los Angeles area. In these two works, Philip K. Dick poses the same question “what is real? “, and, “what is true? ” in slightly different ways. In The Man in the High Castle, Dick has a philosophical debate with himself over things of this nature in the form of a mental soliloquy from the character Mr. Baynes. Mr. Baynes wonders, Perhaps if you know that you are insane, then you are not insane.

You are becoming sane, finally. Waking up… But… what does it mean, insane? A legal definition. What do I mean? I feel it, see it, but what is it? ” (Dick 41) However, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick uses the entire storyline to ask his question. The world described in this novel is a future Earth on which few people and few animals live after a worldwide war has left it uninhabitable. What few people are left keep animals as a symbol of social status.

However, animals are extremely expensive and rare. Fake animals have been created, as well as human-like machines called Androids. The protagonist spends the entire story trying to find the imposters that are the Androids, who are dangerous to society due to their lack of compassion and empathy. This ties into the common Dickian idea of questioning reality when the main character, John Deckard begins to wonder if he, himself is an android as well. Another common Dickian theme is the theme of injustice and moral issues.

These issues are often closely tied to strong human emotions, where the characters are torn between what they believe to be right and wrong, which could be completely opposite to what is right and wrong in our world. One critic describes this style of Dick’s and shows how it differs from typical Science Fiction: “His works are written in a clear language with a beguiling sense of honesty, and yet beneath their direct style and standard sci-fi trappings lies a deeper world of intense emotions, metaphysical speculation and frequently shocking ideas. ” (Bleiler).

Not only was writing with this style and including moral and philosophical issues different from the norm in sci-fi, but it was groundbreaking in all writing. Dick was not afraid to include any idea in his novels; “He often step(ped) over the line into absurdity” (Behrens). An apparent cross over this imaginary line would be his outrageous idea of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Mercerism is a bizarre religious movement on Earth after the war that destroyed most of humanity. It is based off of an old fable written by a man named Mercer.

Also part of this religion is one who holds something called an empathy box, is “Transported” to the world of Mercer. The population in the story, particularly the protagonist Deckard’s wife, spends much of her time under the influence of this empathy box to deal with her strong emotions about the apocalyptic ending to the earth. With this apocalyptic mood brings a number of moral issues rarely explored by other authors. An example of this would be whether or not non-human copies of humans could be considered human and therefore have the same rights, especially the right to life.

The Nexus-6 androids in the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are nearly identical to humans in almost every way. These androids eat, sleep and act in almost every way identically to humans. This raises the question of, “at what point is something considered human? ” This particular topic is similar to the argument Philip K Dick used in defending his anti-abortion beliefs. The main character of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , John Deckard, after becoming aware that his partner Rachael Rosen is probably an android asks this in response.

He had always assumed that she was a human just like him. However, after learning her secret he asked what was really so different about her from him. She acted so much the same as any other human that Deckard was not the only one fooled. Even later in the book, Deckard does not believe it when he is implicated in being an android. Deckard was having a conversation about androids’ empathy with Miss Luba when she tells him the differences and tells him, “you must be an android” (Dick).

This situation is similar to that in the book The Man in the High Castle, when the fake pieces of Americana manufactured by “Ed-Frank Custom Jewelers” were taken for the real thing even by people who were, supposedly, experts in the business such as the strange, usually quiet but occasionally confrontational shopkeeper, Robert Childan (Dick). Childan only realizes that much of his “original” inventory of Americana is fake when he investigates his supplier after a customer recognizes a civil war period hand gun to be mock-up version of the real one.

More often than not, and not just in Dick’s novels, counterfeit objects are used to create an illusion. This atmosphere full of illusion was another very common Dickian theme, which was included, not only in the two novels The Man in the High Castle and Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , but also in many of Dick’s later novels such as Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said. Many sci-fi enthusiasts in addition to critics often attribute this theme of illusion to Dick’s constant paranoia in his final years.

He even once admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital, “because he wanted protection from the FBI agents who were tapping his phone and going through his papers” (Behrens). Dick’s recurring common themes in his books, though seemingly reflecting his life and his more important philosophical beliefs may not have been recurring on purpose at all. “Dick wrote quickly, often repeating himself in both theme and character, never pausing to explain some of the more outrageous futuristic features … and themes… of his imaginary worlds” (Behrens). Philip K.

Dick, though a brilliant and somewhat prolific science fiction writer, spent most of his time dealing with poverty in addition to his mental difficulties. Dick was often just trying to finish his latest story to pay the bills. Philip K Dick was an ingenious yet arguably tortured writer of science fiction. Throughout his life he struggled with guilt over his twin sister, relationship problems and drug addictions. He took refuge in his writing of far-out stories, and conveyed his feelings and troubles in his novels and essays (Umland 96).

In his two novels The Man in the High Castle and Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? e includes ideas that he had been struggling with, including illusions, philosophy and counterfeiting and most importantly the question of reality. Dick himself says in one of his essays that it’s is the true science fiction writer’s ability to incorporate philosophical beliefs in stories while taking the absolute quality out of everything. (Dick). Dick, “cuts us loose enough to put us in a third space (where it is) neither concrete nor abstract” (Behrens). This ability of his and his ultimate question of reality is quite possibly what makes Dick such an outstanding science fiction writer.

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