Authentic Love in an Artificial World
Margaret Atwood creates a corrupt, futuristic world in Oryx and Crake that places all emphasis on technology and science, therefore devaluing the role of emotion and connection in society. Those who work in the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs are considered to be the elite, whereas others who are better suited to work in arts and have a talent with words are less valued. These two different types of people are demonstrated by the characters of Jimmy and Crake: Crake being the representation of the ideal scientific prodigy, whereas Jimmy symbolizing someone who is more emotional and artistic. They have drastically opposing views on the value of emotion and approach relationships in different ways, but despite these differences, both characters eventually experience love. Despite the lack of emphasis on emotional connection in the technologically based society of Oryx and Crake, love proves to be an essential and irreplaceable aspect of the human experience for the characters in the novel.
Throughout Oryx and Crake, characters demonstrate an inherent longing to feel emotion. As teenagers, Jimmy and Crake used to spend their time watching graphic videos on the internet, such as child pornography and people getting tortured. Looking back on this, Snowman says, “Shortcircuit.com, brainfrizz.com, and deathrowlive.com were the best; they showed electrocutions and lethal injections. Once they’d made real-time coverage legal, the guys being executed had started hamming it up for the cameras” (Atwood, 83). This passage shows how desensitized the boys are to gruesome content. They view these morbid videos as entertaining or average, whereas in our society, they would be considered difficult to watch. The fact that this content has been legalized in their society reveals that desensitization isn’t just happening to Jimmy and Crake specifically, but that it has happened to everyone. This is because creative expression and emotion are deemed useless in the compounds where the scientific elite reside, so these people do not have an outlet to express their feelings. Essentially, they are becoming robots who are forced to pour all their energy into scientific pursuit and mathematical calculations. This lack of emotional stimulation causes them to search for an alternative way to feel something powerfully. Thus, they turn to graphic content. Even if these videos evoke feelings of disgust, fear, or sadness, they still evoke some sort of emotion, which is better than feeling nothing at all. The more gruesome, the more emotional, and therefore, Jimmy and Crake turn to extremely violent videos to feel. This demonstrates that people living in the compounds will not willingly succumb to a flattening of affect, and will fight to experience emotion. Even if feeling emotion is devalued in their society, these people are unable to simply turn off the aspect of themselves that have a longing to feel. Therefore, it is clear that the experience of powerful emotion is what makes us human, and what keeps people in the compounds, specifically Jimmy and Crake, from losing their humanity.
Since love is a powerful emotional experience, it proves to be an inherent human desire in the novel. This is most effectively demonstrated throughout Crake’s character, because he is most scientifically driven and adamantly against emotion in the novel. He considers humans to be ‘faulty hormone robots,’ and doesn’t see the value of anything unless it serves a distinct evolutionary advantage. However, even he is not immune to love. When Crake is introducing Jimmy to Oryx for the first time, Jimmy notes, “Crake was in love, for the first time ever. It wasn’t just the praise, rare enough. It was the tone of voice” (309). Jimmy’s ability to recognize Crake’s feelings without Crake having to directly express himself shows that love is extremely powerful, as usually Crake is impossible to read or analyze. Furthermore, the legitimacy of Crake’s feelings are strengthened by the story as to how he met Oryx. As children, Jimmy and Crake had been watching child pornography when Oryx’s young face appeared in the screen. Crake took a screenshot, and that image of Oryx stayed with him throughout his entire life. Later on, a service at Crake’s school provided him with any sexual partner he would like, and he specifically showed them that image of Oryx. It is clear that Crake’s love for her was immediate and unwavering. Even though he wasn’t actively searching for or wanting to fall in love, he did. Through Crake’s experience, it is clear that love does not have to be taught or created, but that it is natural. It occurred out of his control, therefore demonstrating that humans can not choose who they fall in love with or when, regardless of the society in which they live in. Love occurs naturally, and therefore it is an essential part of what preserves people’s humanity in Oryx and Crake’s society.
The failure of loveless relationships in Oryx and Crake shows that the essential quality of love can not be replaced by anything else. These unemotional relationships are all ultimately unsatisfying and do not survive, such as Jimmy’s parents who break apart dramatically and Crake’s lack of love towards his parents which allows him to murder them as part of his experiments with the plague. Jimmy is involved in several passionless affairs before he meets Oryx, all of which fall apart. Speaking about how he had told all these women he loved them, Snowman thinks, “he shouldn’t have used it up so much earlier in his life, he shouldn’t have treated it like a tool, a wedge, a key to open women. By the time he got around to meaning it, the words had sounded fraudulent to him and he’d been ashamed to pronounce them” (114). Through this passage, it is clear that Jimmy understands the difference between artificial and real love. He had said “I love you” so many times, but none of these had been real or truthful. The fact that he can not conjure up the experience of love by simply speaking it into reality shows that love goes beyond our control. A deep and authentic emotional connection is necessary in the experience of love, one that does not exist for Jimmy until he meets Oryx. Therefore, nothing else can satisfy the inherent longing we have towards feeling love towards another. Marriage itself is not strong enough to bind two people together, as evidenced by Jimmy’s parents. Sex alone is not satisfying enough for Jimmy, and even using love as a ‘tool’ to keep women with him is not enough. The emotional experience of love alone holds that power, and nothing can replace or duplicate that feeling, even though almost everything else can be manipulated and recreated with the scientific advancements in Oryx and Crake.
Despite society’s lack of emphasis on emotion and love in Oryx and Crake, it is clear that these feelings remain irreplaceable. Jimmy and Crake’s use of graphic content to evoke emotional reactions shows that humans will fight against desensitization and a flattening of affect. Crake’s uncontrollable love towards Oryx shows that love can not be forced or taught, but rather that it occurs naturally. Finally, Jimmy’s distinction between fake and real love reveals that love can not be replicated or replaced. All of this demonstrates that love is an essential part of the human experience for the characters in the novel. Even in conditions where love is not encouraged, and even seen as a sign of weakness, it still remains. Therefore, Oryx and Crake demonstrates that regardless of the structures and values of society, humans long to feel and create a powerful emotional connection with others, as this ability to feel and create love is an essential part of the human experience.
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