Colonial Mimicry in Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Wisam Kh. Abdul Jabbar


“Ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated”

Philip Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 29


In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, author Philip K. Dick blurs the lines between real and artificial humanity, between organic life and the artificial simulation of life. Nigel Wheale contends that Dick’s indistinct representation of what is real and what is artificial asserts the author’s response to “the supposed lack of ‘human interest’ in the [science fiction] genre” (297). Wheale argues that “Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream? is a special case for this kind of objection because it explicitly plays with confusions between human personality and artificial or machine-derived intelligence” (297). However, while Wheale explores this confusion as it relates to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, M. Keith Booker and Anne-Marrie Thomas focus on the philosophical and ethical implications between the natural and the artificial: “The novel anticipates the complete breakdown of the opposition between natural and artificial […] offering a sophisticated exploration of the ethical considerations inherent in the destabilization of the human/android hierarchy” (222). They observe that Dick “calls the definition of ‘human’ into question by blurring the boundaries between human and android, an aspect of its larger blurring of the boundary between reality and simulation” (222). In fact, Dick himself speaks of this blurred distinction between humans and the new automatic creations in his speech “The Android and the Human,” delivered four years after the publication of Do Androids Dream?:

our environment, and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components – all of this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear, the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves. (183)

In light of this description of quasi-reality, I will employ the concept of mimicry to examine the relationship between real humanity and artificial humanity in Do Androids Dream? within a postcolonial framework.


The novel negotiates the spaces between the colonizing human characters (real) and the colonized non-human androids (artificial) as part of the planetary colonization program, with humans regarded by androids as aggressors and androids conversely as objects of slavery. Pris Stratton, a Nexus-6 model android who escapes Mars, imparts to John R. Isidore, one of the novel’s human protagonists, that “pre-colonial fiction” contains stories of space travel and galactic colonization that are sheer exaggeration (151). She elaborates on the financial as part of the colonial enterprise:

there’s a fortune to be made in smuggling pre-colonial fictions, the old magazines and books and films, to Mars. Nothing is as exciting. To read about cities and huge industrial enterprises, and really successful colonization. You can imagine what it might have been like. What Mars ought to be like. (151; emphasis added)

Although most authors romanticize space travel, pre-colonial science fiction is particularly popular because it envisions a far more utopian colonial world than the one that the colonies have actually made. In this sense, the literature of science fiction, to Pris, becomes a literature of violence and colonization. In order to better understand this view, I have chosen mimicry as my primary analytical leans because, according to Homi Bhabha, it is a colonial mode that disrupts the colonizers’ world of authority and, therefore, blurs the distinction between the colonizer and the colonized subject in a similar way that Dick blurs the real-artificial distinction through his characterizations.


For Bhabha, colonial mimicry inculcates a colonial discourse, which seeks to appropriate or civilize the colonized subject. Colonial mimicry, therefore, invokes ambivalence: “[it] is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence” (Bhabha 86). This ambivalence is stricken by indeterminacy, which characterizes the world of the novel in which both androids and electronic animals are made similar to the colonizer – they are as Bhabha has described, “almost the same, but not quite.” Animals are manufactured to mimic living animals, a sameness that implies deception, which inevitably invokes mimicry that soon becomes mockery. However, the androids mimic living humans in a different way, invoking mimicry as a sort of implied resistance to authoritarian violence. I will argue that the ambivalence of mimicry implies to Dick’s use of the artificial animal and android characters because it is respectively stricken by mockery and menace.


The concept of colonial mimicry exposes the stereotypical mind of the colonizer, which necessitates the persistence of a clear-cut distinction – the source of his colonial authority. Through such authority, violence becomes a legitimate act. David Huddart tells of how colonial mimicry, in that it encompasses the stereotypical representations of the colonized subject, betrays a sense of anxiety in “the colonizer’s sense of self-identity” (57). Stereotypical representations demand a fixed understanding based on prior simplistic knowledge and on the assumed inferiority of the colonized. The anxiety opens “a space for the colonized to resist colonial discourse” (Huddart 57). Mimicry, to Bhabha, is neither slavish imitation nor assimilation into a superior culture. It means “an exaggerated copying of language, culture, manners and ideas. This exaggeration means that mimicry is repetition with difference [… and] is also a form of mockery […] because it mocks and undermines the ongoing pretensions of colonialism and empire” (Huddart 57). Considering Dick’s novel as a case in point, the pretentiousness of preserving animals and mimicking real animals by manufacturing exact replicas becomes mockery when we realize that this act of copying is there merely to initiate further material gain.


As it presents a vicious world where man demands complete subordination as the colonizing master/manufacturer of androids and the colonizing consumer/manufacturer of animals, the novel can be seen as negotiating the violence that takes place between the colonizer and the colonized. The colonial discourse is often accentuated in the novel: the narrator describes a nuclear winter with dust and animals dying, followed by the rapid development of a colonization program for other planets. Together with other enslaved machines used to transport humans to other planets, humanoid robots (androids) are built to perform labor and are used as an incentive to get people to emigrate from Earth. Hence the androids themselves are colonized as part of the large-scale plan of colonizing space for the assumingly noble goal of mimicking life on Earth in a Martian colony. This is a world in which violence breeds the lucrative business of colonisation in the name of preserving life.


In the colonial vision, the healthy people of Earth are exported to Mars and given a robot as a slave to work for them. Ironically, robot is etymologically derived from the Czech word robota, which means “forced Labor” and is first introduced in a play about a nobleman, who replaces his serfs with manlike machines. However, in considering the robot characters in Dick’s novel, I use the term colonized (even though the androids are created for labor) because of the artificial sameness factor. Edward Said, in his “Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors,” marks inferiority to be the fixed status of the colonized:

Thus the status of colonized people has been fixed in zones of dependency and peripherality, stigmatized in the designation of underdeveloped, less-developed, developing states, ruled by a superior, developed, or metropolitan colonizer who was theoretically posited as a categorically antithetical overlord [.…] Thus to be one of the colonized is potentially to be a great many different, but inferior, things, in many different places, at many different times. (207)

The idea that the colonists create androids that are very similar to humans corresponds to the colonial desire to anglicize the Other as part of the assumed civilizing mission to appropriate the colonized subject. In effect, the final result is similar, which is that of an android/Other who is “almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabha 86). Also pertinent is the notion that these androids are owned by colonists and are part of a colonial enterprise. However, the implications that these androids have been violated are still present since they are forced into servile conditions, which constitutes their condition as ruled subjects.


Dick speaks of the threat of colonial venture in terms of the invasion of privacy by the state using technology as an instrument: “This growth of state invasion into the privacy of the individual, its knowing too much about him, and then, when it knows, or thinks it knows, something it frowns on, its power and strategy to squash the individual – as we thoroughly comprehend, this evil process utilizes technology as its instrument” (“The Android” 196). Jill Galvan explains that the state, in this sense, is the fierce colonizer invading the individual/colonized subject, creating the rupturing illusion of a human collective: “Technology often acts in Dick’s novel as the long arm of the government, furtively breaching the bounds between public and private. Moreover, in maintaining the illusion of a social network that they in fact forestall, both television and the empathy box covertly disperse individuals, dramatically rupturing the human collective” (118). This is a situation in which being intimate becomes intimidating.


Technology, which, in colonial and general terms, represents the Eurocentric way of life, becomes a Baudrillardian menacing experience. Booker and Thomas contend that, by invoking an understanding of the culture media as an act of replacing the real with another form of reality, Dick’s “critique of the role of mass media in shaping human lives is very much in line with Jean Baudrillard’s analysis of postmodern media culture, which theorizes that simulation in the post-industrial world actually replaces ‘the real,’ with the effect that everyday life is disconnected from reality” (223). The product of this different form of reality is the hyperreal. Baudrillard argues that the hyperreal is the outcome of “the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography” (74). In this sense, Baudrillard remarks that the conversion of reality through media screens entails “the collapse of reality into hyperrealism” (74). He argues that multiple media (i.e., technology), and any reproduction of reality for that matter, complicates the distinction between the real and the artificial. In effect, technology replaces the real with the artificial, the way colonial mimicry aims to turn the colonized into an almost Westernized man, a near substitute for the original that is yet not quite the same. But why does the colonizer insist on having this oppositional binary, the way Dick’s fictional world in the novel insists on maintaining the distinction between humans and androids?


Mimicry is not merely a resemblance that invites mockery, but also a source of menace and violence that invokes resistance (Bhabha 86). The appropriates colonized does not become completely like the colonizer, a failing that is quite menacing to the colonizer: “This ‘inappropriateness’ disturbs the normality of the dominant discourse itself. The threat inherent in mimicry, then, comes not from an overt resistance but from the way in which it continually suggests an identity not quite like the colonizer” (Ashcroft 126). It is actually this point of indeterminacy that causes a great deal of anxiety in the central character, Rick, responsible for retiring (i.e., killing) androids who are disruptive to the social order or deemed as no longer useful. Rick struggles to come to terms with the humanlike qualities of the androids when retiring them. The androids’ near-human character threatens Rick’s quest, demanding his use of force against them. Using violence to accomplish his mission indicates that Rick is reacting to the human side of the androids, which, through their use of mimicry, undermines the authority he needs to retire them for the greater good.


In his description of mimicry as either mockery or menace, Bhabha draws attention to mimicry as a sign of indeterminacy, which renders mimicry as “the sign of a double articulation” (86). The first articulation defines mimicry in colonial terms: “a complex strategy of reform, regulation and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other” (Bhabha 86). Mimicry, however, becomes mockery when the colonizers’ deceptive and so-called noble mission to appropriate the colonized subjects exposes colonial pretensions. Likewise, mimicry in Dick’s novel is not only represented by the humanity infused androids, but also through the humans’ treatment of animals, in which an animal is mimicked and appropriated in the form of an electric animal. This attempt of appropriation becomes a sort of mockery as it invites deception rather than genuine caring from the human consumers. This substitution is made more poignant by Wheale’s assertion that taking care of animals “is also partly a replacement for child-rearing, because the fear of genetic damage has discouraged human reproduction” (298). Mimicry, in the sense of mimicking animals, signifies, in Dick’s shattered world, humankind’s inclination to meet societal expectations because of the ongoing pretension that taking care of animals is a noble mission.


Starting with the first representation of mimicry as mockery, the concept of owning an animal to care for life is subverted to represent the ability to own life itself or any living thing as a mark for high social status. For instance, Rick is more worried about keeping up with appearances. He desires to own a real animal because society expects him to have one. When he tells his neighbour Barbour that “maybe it doesn’t make any difference” to own a real animal, Barbour tells him referring to people in general: “But they’ll look down on you” (13). Assumedly animal ownership signifies certain societal values for all people remaining on Earth, because the ability to care for and sustain life has taken on a new moral dimension after the destruction of so many living things during the war: “Animals become status symbols that Deckard has difficulty affording, however, and although (in order to keep up appearances) he replaces his original sheep with an electric simulation after its death, he finds the effort to maintain a fraudulent relationship with what is a mere copy to be ‘gradually demoralizing’” (Booker 224). However, mimicry as represented by manufactured animals mocks, firstly, humans’ vanity as humans fancy they can care for actual life and, secondly, because the ability or the luxury to own an animal has become a symbol of status and not a sign of animal care. This kind of deception corresponds to the deceptive ways of the colonizers to justify their colonial campaign in the name of reforming the Other.


Another case in point is that mimicry becomes mockery when the act of mimicry becomes deceptively unrecognizable:

The toad may turn out to be electric, and the novel may end on a note of satiric comedy as Iran, herself reinvigorated, orders artificial flies for the electric toad; but the re-engagement with a relative reality, however bogus, while a confession of the failure to achieve absolute reality, is also a lively escape from the black hole of absolute despair. It is an escape made possible, not by psychology, not by philosophy, not even by political insight, but by a mechanical narrative device (Huntington 159).

The technology that produces mimic animals becomes part of the current, disoriented reality in which mimicry is tinged with a touch of comedy. Another instance is the animal catalogue that Rick sees at the Rosen Corporation. It becomes a symbol of greed, as it indicates that, in post-war society, money can buy anything. The owl itself becomes a symbol of all the animals that have become extinct; it is a constant reminder of an increasingly dislocated postwar society.


The fact that Rick wants to own the owl confirms that animals have become the new rare commodity for people with money and power. When Rick learns that the owl is fake, he realizes that he has been deceived by the Rosen Corporation. In this instance, mimicry, as represented by the reality-duplicating owl, becomes mockery when Rick realizes how duplicity becomes deception, and he comes to define all other representations of mimicry to also sheer camouflage, including the duplicity of the Nexus-6 androids. What is being ridiculed here is the dividing line between what is real and what is artificial. In effect, mimicry emerges as mockery because it is innately deceptive either through Rick’s own self-lie of ostensibly caring for animals or through misusing the mimic animals themselves as deceptive agents.


Androids try hard to resemble the lifestyle and the manners of humans by expressing need for other living creatures or by trying to feel needed in turn. Isidore, who is marked as “special” or a “chickenhead” in the novels, having been affected by the radioactive dust and failing the IQ test, confirms that: “You have to be with other people […] In order to live at all” (102). As a human being who is almost severed by his “special” status from Earth’s remaining society, Isidore seeks recognition: “My name’s J. R. Isidore and I work for the well-known animal vet Mr. Hannibal Sloat; you’ve heard of him. I’m reputable; I have a job. I drive Mr. Sloat’s truck” (46). Depending on others is a human attribute that Pris, Roy and Irmgard have accomplished to the extent that they accept Isidore into their group.


Pris, Roy and Irmgard are part of the missing androids who have escaped from Mars and are hiding in the same building where Isidore lives. The Androids accept Isidore because he is not categorized as a human being since he is a chickenhead, so the Androids do not equate him with the human colonizers outside. According to Edward Said, the colonized has

expanded considerably to include women, subjugated and oppressed classes, national minorities, and even marginalized or incorporated academic subspecialties. Around the colonized there has grown a whole vocabulary of phrases, each in its own way reinforcing the dreadful secondariness of people who, in V. S. Naipaul’s derisive characterization, are condemned only to use a telephone, never to invent it (207).

Significantly, Isidore and the androids become an allegorical representation of all those who Said categorizes as forms of the colonized by virtue of their “secondariness.” Isidore in particular represents how the very essence of humanity is being violated as he is reduced to be less than a man once his body is contaminated. Like Androids, Isidore is also outside the hegemonic structure of this post-colonial society.


The second representation of mimicry is that of resemblance with menace to the colonizers. At this point of failure, mimicry as menace is represented by the androids. Bhabha describes mimicry as  “the sign of the inappropriate, however, a difference or recalcitrance” (86). For him, mimicry is a menace because of “its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence in colonial discourse also disrupts its authority” (88). Therefore, the androids become a menace because they are neither machines nor humans and most importantly because they resist being appropriated. In their resistance, the androids sometimes use violence to obtain freedom. By resorting to violence, these human-like, mimic machines resist being trapped in a certain colonial discourse or pattern set upon them by human beings, which then leads to their being punished or retired for displaying such resistance. The more subtle and non-violent resistance of mimicry allows the androids to reject the colonial discourse while simultaneously problematizing the rhetoric upon which it is built.


By adopting the language, lifestyle and manners of their human colonizers, the colonized androids produce a different image, one that opposes the stereotypical view that colonizers hold toward them and unsettles the colonizers’ authority:

[mimicry] has come to describe the ambivalent relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to ‘mimic’ the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values, the result is never a simple reproduction of those traits. Rather, the result is a ‘blurred copy’ of the colonizer that can be quite threatening […] Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty if colonial dominance an uncertainty in its control of the behaviour of the colonized. (Ashcroft 125)

The androids’ kind of mimicry displaces the stereotypical image of the uncivilized colonial subject who (supposedly) needs the civilizing mission. The notion of mimicry can be seen or utilized as a non-violent strategy of resistance that disrupts the certainty of colonial authority to legitimize knowledge.


The problem with the created androids is that they resemble their masters too closely. Dick himself asserts that the resemblance is quite disturbing: “The constructs [androids] do not mimic humans; they are, in many ways, actually human already. They are not trying to fool us, for a purpose of any sort; they merely follow lines we follow” (“The Android” 185). In effect, the issue raised is whether or not violence can be acceptably applied to the retirement of an almost-human machine. It is worth noting that the physical as well as behavioural sameness to humans constantly undermines the artificiality of the androids: “They are artificial people made from organic materials; they have free will and emotions like fear and love. Physically and behaviourally they are indistinguishable from real people. They can even believe themselves to be human because of implanted artificial memory tapes” (Mackey 89). The issue articulated above is now heavily complicated by the added detail that some androids can actually “believe themselves to be human.”


Such qualities are, apparently, attributed to the androids because of the demands of the market, with colonists (consumers) wanting a more sharpened resemblance to humans in their android products regardless of the risks. Leading android manufacturer Eldon Rosen confirms: “We followed the time-honored principle underlying every commercial venture. If our firm hadn’t made these progressively more human types, other firms in the field would have” (Dick 54). Dick’s novel asserts that the android approximation of human qualities negates the imposed cataloguing on androids as non-human. However, in a colonial framework, the question of human versus non-human classification for the androids becomes easy to answer: as non-humans, violence can be legitimized. As the difference between androids and humans is eroded, slavery becomes harder to justifiably impose on the android population. The rhetorical difference between androids and humans must be maintained in order for the propagation of violence against them to be acceptable. The elimination of the human imitators is the elimination of the image of the reformed Other, who completely resembles the colonizer.


The notion that the colonized androids blur the distinction between what is human and what is not human renders them a source of threat to the consumers/colonizers, be they immigrating to Mars or staying on Earth. For this reason, the colonizers agree that they need to be dealt with in order to secure benefits. This aim affirms that the ongoing colonial pretensions must be clearly drawn, and androids must remain viewed as sub-human. Bhabha explains that the colonial discourse represents colonized peoples in various derogatory ways: “The objective of the colonial discourse is to construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction” (70). Androids cannot, even hypothetically, be considered human, for this would challenge the necessarily maintained view that they are “degenerate types.” Yet, no matter the discourse, the androids remain very humanlike. It is this contradiction that fosters the conception of the android as menace to the colonial discourse since their very existence negates the stereotypical frame of mind of the colonizer, as well as the alleged need to retire them because they are both killers and non-human.


The distinguishing line between androids and humans is invoked when Rick wonders if androids have dreams because dreaming is considered to be solely a human activity. The reference to dreams here can be interpreted not only in relation to dreams of sleep, but also to dreams about our lives and future. In Chapter 16, Rick reads the typed carbon sheets of android Roy Baty and learns that he was a pharmacist on Mars who engineered the killing of several humans in order to escape. Ironically, in their mimicking efforts, the androids resort to the very human behaviour of killing those who oppose or obstruct them. Rick finds Baty’s destiny pathetic: “a rough cold android hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to a deliberately built in defect, it remained excluded” (185). He also discovers “something different. Something worse” about Baty’s confession (184). He has found an android with ambition: “Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here. A better life, without servitude. Like [android singer] Luba Luft; singing Don Giovanni and Le Nozze instead of toiling across the face of a barren rock-strewn field. On a fundamentally uninhabitable colony world” (184). Rick concludes that if they can dream, then they can feel the condition similar to what humans experience through Mercerism, a spiritual and emotional experience stimulated by Empathy Boxes in the novel. If they can dream, then they are also fighting for their dreams to come true.


Their resistance – which must be suppressed by the bounty hunters for economic and strategic space colonization benefits – is very much in the human fashion: based on dreams. As Ben Beya elucidates, the use of violence for this purpose is not a criminal act on the part of the androids but is actually a necessary recourse, a means of survival against domination:

[Bhabha] recognizes that colonial power carefully establishes highly sophisticated strategies of control and dominance; that, while it is aware of its ephemerality, it is also anxious to create the means that guarantee its economic, political and cultural endurance, through the conception, in Macaulay’s words in his “Minute on Indian Education” (1835), “of a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern […] a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect [...].” (n.pag.)

A similar intention is pursued in the novel when the androids assume the role of “interpreters” who mimic the colonizers “in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” yet are not considered human. Mimicry is, for Bhabha, a “partial presence” (115). The act of mimicry is incomplete by definition because the colonized subject attempts to emulate the colonizer and yet partially – and permanently – remains different. The differentiation between mimicry as imperfect imitation or partiality is akin to that between “being Anglicized and being English” (Bhabha 125). The act of mimicry, therefore, dissipates into a menacing effect when those “interpreters” start their own resistance.


For the androids, this resistance is strengthened by their ability to mimic the humans so closely. Resembling human life is menacing to the bounty hunters because it makes their job of detecting androids even harder and, as such, can be conceived of as a form of resistance for the androids. Given this revelation, Do Androids Dream? can be seen as a book of resistance. Dick ponders: “How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?” (Qtd in Golumbia 1). In response to this question, one can consult Benita Parry’s Post Colonial Studies: A Materialist Critique, where she offers ways of detecting “abundant evidence of native disaffection and dissent under colonial rule,” which comes in two forms: “Inscription and sign of resistance are discernable in official archives and informal texts,” and “Traces of popular disobedience can also be recuperated from unwritten symbolic and symptomatic practices” (38). I think the androids’ resistance corresponds to the second form proposed in Parry’s book because their methods are based on mimicking practices and lifestyles, while violence is reserved as a last measure.


A good example of android resistance is Rick’s encounter with Luba Luft, a fugitive android posing as a German opera singer. The humorous yet meaningful attempt on Luft’s part to elude Rick’s authoritative questions indicates an implied resistance. Questioning the questions is an assertion of her sovereignty against Rick’s insistence that she should listen and elicit a statement of response:

“Now please listen carefully. These questions will deal with social situations which you might find yourself in; what I want from you is a statement of response, what you’d do ... You’re sitting watching TV and suddenly you discover a wasp crawling on your wrist.” ...

“What’s a wasp?” Luba Luft asked.

“A stinging bug that flies.” “Oh, how strange …”

“They died out because of the dust. Don’t you really know what a wasp is?”

“Tell me the German word” .... “Wespe,” he said, remembering the German word.

“Ach yes; eine Wespe.” She laughed. “And what was the question? I forgot already.” (102-103).

The killing of Luft shakes Rick’s faith in the righteousness of this violent act. He tells himself: “She was really a superb singer … I don’t get it; how can a talent like that be a liability to our society? But it wasn’t the talent, he told himself: it was she herself. As Phil Resch is, he thought. He’s a menace in exactly the same way, for the same reasons” (137). Later on, Rick reasserts Luft’s genuineness: “But Luba Luft had seemed genuinely alive; it had not worn the aspect of a simulation” (141). Rick thinks that it was unfair to kill someone as talented as Luft. He starts to believe that humans are overreacting to the so-called android threat. He learns that society had to sacrifice Luft’s talent because she was merely a potential threat. Here, Rick feels that there is some contradiction in categorizing androids as both inhuman and threatening. He embodies the colonist who doubts the colonizing mission of reducing the colonized/android into a derogatory type that should be civilized/retired based on a logic that visualizes authority.


The existential distinction between human as empathizers and androids as not is inevitably contradictory. In her article “Schizoid Android: Boundary Work in the Mid-Sixties Novels of Philip K. Dick,” Katherine Hayles points out that Rachael Rosen, the android who most pointedly calls Rick to account for his actions, shows real concern for the six escaped androids he has been commissioned to retire (172). Moreover, in both word and deed, Rachael intimates her affection for a human and for Rick himself. Hayles observes a human attribute in Rachael:

After Rick succeeds in killing the last three andys [...] He returns home to discover that Rachael has pushed [his] goat off the roof. Why? Because she is jealous of his love for the goat, or in revenge for his killing her friends...? Whichever interpretation one chooses, the action is not consistent with the official picture of android psychology, which like Dick’s essays insists that androids are incapable of feeling loyalty or indeed feeling anything at all. (173)

These indications of androids’ capacity for empathy imply that the android, like the colonized Other, is not different from the colonizer. More important is to notice that the act of pushing the goat signifies an act of retaliation that is very much expected from the colonized subject as a natural overreactive expression of indignation.


Androids are also considered to be a menace because they potentially threaten the colonization programs for other planets. Galvan aptly points out that “The machine, by declaring its right to live as an autonomous self, challenges the very categories of life and selfhood – and, in turn, the ontological prerogative of its creators” (113). Within the colonies, android fugitives have successfully escaped to Earth only by killing their masters on the colony planets. Paradoxically, android rebellion has lead to more severe treatment of android slaves, making it increasingly more acceptable for their human masters to retire them or to simply imprison them to quell further violent uprisings. Lejla Kucukalic explains that this depiction is a commentary on the capacity of human cruelty: “Human beings are thus directly responsible for android suffering; ironically, eternally in search of absolutes, humans deprive their own creation of the chance to bond religiously and collectively, condemning the androids to cold isolation” (80). Like the colonizer who condemns the colonized to an equally repressive cold isolation, humanity oppresses and punishes androids for possessing human aspirations for freedom. Any attempt on the colonized subject’s part to become like the colonizer is suppressed; otherwise the colonial endeavour of civilizing the Other is no longer legitimate.


Once free, androids live on Earth, mimicking their colonizers’ life and trying to be imperceptible to the bounty hunters’ gaze. The overtly authoritative gaze of the hunters is sardonically returned in an act of defiance, transforming it into a source of menace to the bounty hunters. For instance, Pris contains that threatening element of resemblance, which thwarts the colonizer’s attempt at ideological domination. Her conversations with Isidore often elicits human feelings in her: “She began to cry. Cold tears descended her cheeks, splashed on the bosom of her dress … Her voice shook but she managed to continue; obviously it meant a great deal to her to have someone to talk to” (149). Through her “cold tears,” Pris attempts to convey is that her life as an android in Mars was dreadful. The androids were slaves, forced to perform tasks of manual labor and sex. With this semblance of genuine humanity though the expression of emotion and the desire for freedom, the colonized subject turns out to resemble the colonizer, which then makes the civilizing mission as well as, in the androids’ case, the act of retiring no longer legitimate. Thus, Pris is one of Bhabha’s “figures of a doubling” who alienates “the modality and normality” of dominant colonial discourses, in which she “emerge[s] as ‘inappropriate’ colonial subjects” (88). Pris Stratton appears to be already appropriated and human-like. Her cynical views expose the fallacies under which the humans had set about space exploring before the war.


By showing resemblance to human beings, the androids play this menacing role of reminding humans of their shortcomings. They inadvertently represent a constant reminder of humanity’s main flaw: the lack of empathy. Empathy is the overriding emotion in the post-colonized world because it supposedly separates the human from the non-human. Through administering the Voigt-Kampf Empathy Test, Rick utilizes the complex emotions and drives that accompany human empathy to distinguish between humans and androids; therefore, he attempts to prove that humans are different and that androids are merely an imperfect reflection in order to subordinate the androids and legitimize the use of violence against them. However, he starts feeling different towards androids as he becomes aware of the holes in the colonizers’ discourse. After making love with Rachael, he realizes she is “as human as any girl he had known” (177). Rick’s experience with androids shapes his life and determines his allegiances: “Do Androids Dream thus interrogates a fixed definition of the human subject and at last acknowledges him as only one component of the living scene. In effect, the narrative repudiates the idea of a confined human community and envisions a community of the posthuman, in which human and machine commiserate and comaterialize, vitally shaping one another’s existence” (Galvan 114). The anxiety, therefore, builds up and culminates when Rick thinks to himself, “I’ve been defeated in some obscure way” (234). He cannot tell exactly how because of these ambivalent feelings about androids.


In Do Androids Dream?, Dick attempts to show that the idea of androids as a submissive slave or an extraordinary mistress is not only impossible, but also unrealistic because, like the colonized subject, they cannot be moulded into the colonizer’s own image without incurring ambivalence. In his 1976 essay, “Man, Android and Machine,” Dick finds an air of mockery and absurdity about the attempt to find humanity in a machine, not because it is impossible but because humanity in essence cannot be located:

A scientist tracing the wiring circuits of that machine to locate its humanness, would be like our own earnest scientists who tried in vain to locate the soul in man, and, not being able to find a specific organ located at a specific spot, opted to decline to admit that we have souls. (212)

He even refers to the idea of drawing a distinction between humans and androids in terms of mockery rather than mimicry: “I do not intend to abandon my dichotomy between what I call ‘human’ and what I call ‘android,’ the latter being a cruel and cheap mockery of the former for base ends. But I had been going on surface appearances; to distinguish the categories, more cunning is required” (213). Similarly, the notion that the colonizers can reform the colonized by transforming them, by force, into the reformed, recognizable Other is equally absurd. For Rick, the contradictions inherent in the android-colonizer relationship force him to question his own humanity as he recognizes an organic side hidden inside a machine. By disturbing the colonial discourse of the Other (i.e., the stereotypical image of the android as non-human), the intelligent androids dehumanize Rick as they cause this menacing anxiety that blurs the boundaries between what is human and non-human.


The role of animals in this colonized/colonizer relationship is that of atonement for the violence incurred. Animals take their traditional position in the narrative as sacrificial objects; although, they seem to be a precious commodity. Not only do they help their owners to gain status in society, but they also help people like Rick to atone for his crimes against the androids. The goat, for instance, represents Rick’s act of penitence for his cold-blooded killing job. By buying an expensive real animal, assumingly for the sheer purpose of taking care of it, Rick can redeem himself for retiring androids. Moreover, animal ownership within the consumer-dominated post-war society can make other people feel happy and more integrated in society. In essence, animals are constantly used as a means to an end, evinced by the fact that the questions Rick uses for the Voigt-Kampff test are designed to elicit certain empathetic responses to the treatment of animals. Rick also needs a real animal for a totalitarian purpose: to validate his own existence as well as to demand his subsistence in order to provide care: “The tyranny of an object [as opposed to a living animal] ... [is that] it doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another” (87). It is only towards the end of the novel that Rick manages to appreciate existence without this tyranny. He understands that electronic animals are sheer mockery of humankind’s constant endeavour to colonize his surroundings.


The technology used to create the androids and electric animals, in that it is the endeavour to reproduce the real, displaces the colonial desire to reform the colonized in the colonizer’s image. The implication of using postcolonial theory is not only to address a deficiency of representation in terms of discussing Dick’s novel from a postcolonial perspective, but also to argue that Bhabha’s rupture, the ambivalence of mimicry, can be negotiated in relation to the insidious nature of technology as it turns machines into almost complete humans, thus rupturing reality: “The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction […] The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal [...] which is entirely in simulation” (Baudrillard 73). As a result, the surfacing of an ambivalent reality or hyperreality is perplexing to the mind of the colonizer because it negates the colonial fixed stereotypical understanding of the colonized/individual/android as an inferior being that needs reform and control. In the colonizer’s mind, despite any attempts to civilize the colonized through violence or colonial education, there are still two worlds and they must remain disconnected. In this respect, technology, like mimicry, blurs these two worlds and makes the distinction hardly perceptible.


Works Cited


Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffen. Post-colonial Studies: the Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage, 1993. Print.

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Bhabha, Homi. Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Booker, M. Keith, and Anne-Marrie Thomas. The Science Fiction Handbook. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.

Dick, Philip K. “The Android and the Human.” The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings. Ed. Lawrence Sutin. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 184-210. Print.

---. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House, 1968. Print.

---. “Man, Android and Machine.” Science Fiction at Large: A Collection of Essays, by Various Hands, About the Interface Between Science Fiction and Reality. Ed. Peter Nicholls. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. 210-231. Print.

Galvan, Jill. “Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Science Fiction Studies 24.3 (Nov, 1997): 413-429.

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Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. London: U of Chicago P, 1999. Print.

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Kucukalic, Lejla. Philip K. Dick: Canonical Writer of the Digital Age. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

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Born in Baghdad, Wisam Kh. Abdul Jabbar finished his Bachelor’s and then his first Master’s in English in Iraq in 2001. His second master’s is in Humanities at California State University in 2008, his third master’s is in English at Lakehead University in 2011. Now he is a PhD student in English Education at the University of Alberta. He has taught in Iraq, Libya and Canada.



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