Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake: The Confusion With Evolution
Throughout the novel Oryx and Crake, Atwood accentuates how individuals’ humanistic thinking will mitigate by scientific progress that is caused by perverse uses of scientific power and knowledge. Many scientists today rely on advanced biological science and genetic experiments, which allows them to exercise their abuse of nature. They try to find new technological innovations and biological solutions that can either award them with materialistic gains or fame. However, they are not able to understand the immoral conduct of their actions and experiments that can put life in danger. Therefore, Atwood suggests her novel is a speculative fiction that demonstrates how the future will be if scientists don’t understand the costs of biological science’s effect on the world. Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake conveys the cultural ascension of science that disputes the moral and ethical responsibilities of evolution manipulating nature through experiments. Additionally, Lake examines Atwood’s novel and suggests that cultural change caused by science will change society by allowing an individual to create solutions to many problems.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood describes a future Earth where a deadly plague has killed the human population except for Snowman/Jimmy. Jimmy is the only human throughout most of the book that survives and adopts the persona of Snowman who lives with the green-eyed Children of Crake. Jimmy also experiences many flashbacks throughout the novel that describes his life before the plague with his friend Crake and lover Oryx. Jimmy’s childhood was spent inside the Compound that houses scientists’ families. His parents were reputable scientists who worked at different corporations to experiment on animals and different cures. Crake was Jimmy’s childhood friend with who he spent much time with at his house. They performed many activities together such as playing board games and watching videos until they went to separate colleges. Oryx is a female that both Jimmy and Crake love throughout the novel since her childhood who unintentionally performed illicit activities. Oryx and Crake both die before the plague kills the human population, while Jimmy survives by taking an injection. Snowman then survives with Crakers, genetically modified individuals, that were developed by Craker before the plague. Through flashbacks, Jimmy informs the readers that Crake killed Oryx before the plague by slitting her throat and Jimmy shoots Crake in a fit of rage. In the conclusion of the novel, Jimmy is informed by the Crakers that there are other humans who lived through the plague, which allows him to question if he should acknowledge their presence or not.
Interestingly enough, Atwood relies on several animals to demonstrate how individuals will challenge the differences of humans and animals. Scientific progress in Oryx and Crake accentuates how humans are treated differently by animals since they are uncomfortable at the idea of killing and using wolvogs and pigoons for their benefit. For example, scientists and individuals in the novel refuse to kill pigoons for food because of human organs inside them. However, Jimmy compares himself to an animal on numerous occasions to describe how he feels sympathy for them since they are victims of evolution: “He thought of pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on.” In the previous sentence from Chapter 2, Jimmy is eating in the OrganInc Corporation’s cafeteria that serves food mostly made out of pork, ham, and bacon, which refers to pigoons. Jimmy understands that animals and humans are distinct because he despises eating food created from pigoons that contains human organs that represents cannibalism. Though Jimmy believes that there is a distinction between animals and humans, the novel accentuates that humans are similar to nature because they all use their intelligence to find unpleasant solutions to many life problems such as Crake. Crake creates a deadly plague that will help solve individuals’ problems by killing them that rids them of their purpose in life. Furthermore, Christina Lake’s analysis claims that “when the line between virtual and real is erased, no one need take ethical responsibility for actions performed against people.” Crake creates the plague and conducts his experiments that will be detrimental for humans when he has no sense for immoral conduct because of his need to find solutions.
Additionally, Atwood refers to the differences between insides and outsides and the attempts to keep both separated. The Compound in the novel demonstrates how sanitation and safety is important for the scientists who work for corporations by keeping viruses out of cells and by keeping diseases out of the compound. On the other hand, the Pleeblands are outside of compounds that represents fear, poverty, and desolation. The main difference between the two is order that signifies social and economic hierarchies. The Compound remains closed off and turns a blind eye towards the world by ignoring the effect of their viruses and experiments on the outside world. The differences between insides and outsides exemplifies the effect of corporations and its power that creates commodification for its interests.The world becomes a representation of the outside when the plague kills the human population and eliminates the Compound. Jimmy and the Crakers have to survive in the outside world where they are treated equally by nature unlike his life in the Compound. They all remain in fear and desolate as they search for their meaning in life. By rejecting the traditional ideals of faith, justice, and morality, Jimmy and Crakers have to survive through their spiritual dissolution and aimlessness. Additionally, Lake even accentuates that “the narcissist sees others as a mirror to the self and thus finds it difficult to connect to the outside world” through three different causes: family breakdowns, modern bureaucracy, and proliferation of societal images. These three causes affect both Jimmy and Crake in their life that allows them to connect with the outside world through a different perspective. Jimmy even barely survives in the outside after the plague and compares his life to his childhood spent inside the Compound.
Thus, Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake conveys the cultural ascension of science that disputes the moral and ethical responsibilities of evolution manipulating nature through experiments. The relationship between Jimmy and Crake demonstrates how individuals try to pursue their goals by knowledge that can become detrimental if it cannot be controlled. For example, Crake is a brilliant scientist who possesses knowledge and lives a prosperous life with immoral behaviors, while Jimmy has a better personality and more responsible though he lacks knowledge. This novel foreshadows how technology and science, such as the content on the internet, will commodify individuals by changing their certain way of thinking.
Analysis Of The Main Aspects Of The Society in Oryx And Crake By Margaret Atwood
In Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, a dystopian futuristic society is envisioned and our world as we know it is crumbling into ruin. Oryx and Crake presents a society in which individuals have lost all their sense of social ethics. The main forms of entertainment for these people involve the enjoyment of human suffering in which Crake and Jimmy enjoy in their teen years. This society places all their emphasis on technology and science which ends up completely devaluing the role emotion and connection in their society, but the characters show a longing to feel emotion throughout the novel.
The people of Oryx and Crake care more about their appearances and vanity because they want to reach that peak of physical perfection rather than considering or even caring about the implications of such a practice. Everything they do is for the sole purpose of human greed which appears to be a common theme demonstrated within the novel. There are scientific advancements that have created a world where scientists have become capable of producing new kinds of life and completely manipulating natural processes. There is experimentation done on plants, animals, and humans performed by scientists throughout the novel that are completely immoral. These scientific advancements are driven by the desire for vanity, physical perfection, and immorality. As teenagers, Jimmy and Crake spend their time watching violent and graphic videos on the Internet such as child pornography and people getting tortured. Once they’d made real-time coverage legal, the guys being executed had started hamming it up for the cameras”. This quote shows just how desensitized the boys grew to become to such gruesome content and due to the fact that this content was legalized in their society shows the desensitization of everyone else as well. There seems to be a complete lack of emotion stimulation which is the root of the problem causing them to turn to these graphic and violent videos in order to feel anything rather than feeling nothing at all.
Feeling emotion is devalued in their society and experiencing emotion is what makes us human. Even though Jimmy and Crake turn to watching these videos online to feel even a little bit of something, it is a twisted way of the seeking the human desire of emotion that is looked down upon in their society. The more gruesome the content, the more emotional it becomes which is why they look to extremely violent videos to feel. Individuals in this society have reached such a high level of corruption as this point that acts of violence such as these do not even phase them due to their desensitization.
“The viewers wanted to see the executions, yes, but after a while these could get monotonous..” This is yet another example of how even videos of such violent content got old to viewers due to them getting bored because they have become so used to these acts being normal to them. There is immense pressure on the youth to possess physical perfection placed on them by society. Throughout the novel, the obsession that society has with youth and physical perfection is majorly emphasized. People constantly feel like they need to change and remove all of their flaws in order to be accepted by everyone else. Perfection seems like the ultimate goal to these individuals, but trying to live up to this idealistic concept of complete physical perfections always ends up creating negative effects because true perfection is not attainable. One example of this in the book is the Anooyoo Spa where people go in order to prevent the effects of aging which shows the need society has to try and preserve their beauty and stop death.
“Cosmetic creams, workout equipment, Joltbars to build your muscle-scape into a breathtaking marvel of sculpted granite. Pills to make you fatter, thinner, hairier, balder, whiter, browner, blacker, yellower, sexier, and happier.” This spa is a reflection of society’s desire to remain young and beautiful forever due to the fact that they feel so insecure in their own bodies and faces because of all the pressure society puts on individuals in trying to meet a goal that is unrealistic, but it is like an addiction to them. There are multiple instances in which this is demonstrated throughout the book even at the end where Jimmy is reading a magnet on Crake’s refrigerator that says, “To stay human is to break a limitation” in which this quote is a prime example of how everyone in their society is always seeking more. They are always looking for the next new skin product or the next procedure they can get done in order to look young because they feel as if they cannot live in their own skin. People get so caught up with having to compete with others and try to keep up their lavish lifestyles because to be true to yourself by living in your own skin would break the limitation placed on individuals by society.
The scientific progress is a main theme shows in this novel where science and technology is extremely valued by society and affects many aspects of individuals and their lives. The role of humans change when they decide they want to stay young forever which prevents them from death. In this novel, science is dangerous and can be associated with destruction in which our society is experiencing. There are experiments done to alter plants, humans, animals and so on, the main example being the Crakers in which Crake genetically altered them so that parents could pay more for “perfect” children. The Crakers are perfect in every way; their bodies survive off of pure vegetation, they’re extremely beautiful, and they have flawless skin. “Immortality,” said Crake, “is a concept. If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality’ is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear, and you’ll be . . .”. The Crakers were designed to not feel any human emotion, one of these emotions being the fear of death in which Crake created them immortal by his own definition of the term. He designed them in his own likeness by removing the unknown aspect of death and having them die at age thirty without any knowledge or awareness that it will happen. Crake is like the Crakers’ God in which he created them and the plan for their lives by preventing them from never needing more than what they already have because they were created as a means to an end. However, the Crakers eventually realize what is happening to them and around them in which Crake’s desire to create an immortal world fails when they become aware. This instance is extremely ironic due to the fact they were specifically created to avoid the desire for immortality, yet inevitably gain understanding of it.
“Sex is no longer a mysterious rite, viewed with ambivalence or downright loathing, conducted in the dark and inspiring suicides and murders. Now it’s more like an athletic demonstration, a free-spirited romp.” This quote is Snowman describing how the Crakers have sex in which it means nothing to them except a means to an end when it used to be a very special and intimate act among people who love each other. “Do they make jokes?” “Not as such,” said Crake. “For jokes you need a certain edge, a little malice. It took a lot of trial and error and we’re still testing, but I think we’ve managed to do away with jokes.” This is yet another quote describing how the Crakers are much like robots that were programmed a certain way in which Crake did not want them to even laugh due to the fact it involves a sense of malice. Crake created the Crakers to have no sense of human emotion in which they do not laugh, they see sex as a means to reproduce but nothing more, they cannot feel love and so on.
In conclusion, the aspects of this dystopian futuristic society given to us through Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake parallels to many aspects of our society today which is quite terrifying. People are fascinated with violence as entertainment, people get dangerous and expensive procedures to look a certain way in order to feel better about themselves or be accepted in society, and our scientific advancements are being more and more immoral. Human life has began to become less valuable in this novel as well as in our own society. We do everything out of human greed much like the individuals in this book because life has become a competition of who can be the prettiest or the richest or the skinniest and so on. Each of the aspects mentioned shows a distinct view of the distorted relationship between society and the individual.
Oryx and Crake: Jimmy’s Issues with Women
Perception of Sexual Behavior in Society
Sex, it’s something many people don’t exactly feel comfortable taking about yet it’s seen everywhere in advertisement, from todays most popular music to magazines with sexy pictures and sex advice, in our society, “sex sells”. Yet sex isn’t openly talked about when it should be, and has a negative stigma linked with it. Sex can be just sex or a meaningful bond, but it seems casual sexual relationships are common forms of sexual encounters, among young adults”(Wentland 167). Jimmy’s mother, in Oryx and Crake, left him at a young age, which may explain why Jimmy has issues with women throughout his life and many times looks for women who will take pity on him, have sex with him as well as searching the web for pornography, to cope with the loss of his mother.
Jimmy seemed to be confused as to how to feel about his mother as “love jolted thought him abruptly and painfully followed by anger” at the sight of his mother on the news, giving insight on Jimmy’s conflicting feelings (Atwood 181). These feelings are also shown towards other women that Jimmy meets in his life, “He really did love these women, sort of”, the same conflicting feelings portrayed onto almost any woman in his life (Atwood 191). His treatment of women isn’t the same as he treats men and sees women as disposable, using them for his own happiness rather than building a relationship with them. Within the society of Oryx and Crake, casual sex is considered a normal occurrence, yet sometimes there are still different opinions on the matter, “It wasn’t real sex, was it?” Jimmy asked Oryx, “But Jimmy you should know (Atwood 144). All sex is real”, showing yet again Jimmy’s disconnect with sexual relations and women”(Atwood 144).
There are many different types of casual sexual relationships but two in particular include “Fuck Buddy and “Friends with Benefits.” A fuck buddy is “ sex between people who know each other, they engage in sexual activity, when they hang out with each other, they are usually not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, these two engage in sex with each other regularly”(Wentland 171). Whereas friends with benefits is “sex between two people who have an existing friendship, these two may or may not engage in sexual activity when they hang out with each other, they are usually not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, these two engage in sex with each other regularly”(Wentland 171). There isn’t much of a difference between the two but I believe Jimmy had more of a friends with benefits relations with the women as he becomes friends with them and is able to pull them in using manipulation, usually these women will feel pity for him and eventually some have sex with him.
In Jimmy’s situation, coping with the loss of his mother also seems like an endeavor, growing up without her and the fact that she took his pet for unknown reasons, can create a whirlwind of grieving emotions people feel at the loss of loved ones. Research actually shows that there is a link between losing a parent in adolescence and psychological clinical disorders including “adult depression, sociopathic personality, schizophrenia, hysterical personality and unspecified psychoneurosis”(Dietrich 901). When looking at zero hour, you can tell Snowman has had a lot of trauma in his life by the way he acts and having so much loss in his life had caused almost irreversible damage to his own mind. His coping mechanism for the loss of his mother may be to seek pity and receive sex in order to cope and may also be wanting sexual relations during the time of snowman to cope with the loss of his best friend, Crake, as well as the loss of the love of his life, Oryx. Since Jimmy’s perspective on women is skewed, he thinks of women as sexual objects that are willing to take pity on him from his past. Jimmy’s sexual behavior may be linked to the mental damage he has had throughout his life losing loved ones and big changes throughout his life can be a huge stressor.
In Oryx and Crake they show how women are seen as objects with student services at Crakes school “ you can get any colour, any age-well almost. Any body type”(Atwood). Though it is fair to say women can also request men the same way men request women, but this is still showing the way that this society views humans as objects, just using them for pleasure and in a way, moving on with your life without the distraction of a relationship or bond. In this way, these types of casual sexual relations are more like one-night stands. Though the people offered through student services aren’t exactly doing it because they want to, it runs more like prostitution in exchange for services rendered. Since Jimmy’s perspective on women is skewed, he thinks of women as sexual objects that are willing to take pity on him from his past. Jimmy’s sexual behavior may be linked to the mental damage he has had throughout his life losing loved ones and big changes throughout his life can be a huge stressor.
Margaret Atwood, the author of Oryx and Crake, was trying to show sexual behavior within the story in a bold and ridiculous manner, making it obvious that this sort of student services system is not ok, yet it’s made ok in the society she has built. Similar to the way that our society runs, prostitution, child pornography and sex tourism are all looked down upon and even illegal in some countries, yet it still happens. Though Crake and Jimmy are probably not suppose to be on porn sites, they are able to gain access and doesn’t get caught by Crake’s uncle, or the authorities. They are even able to print a picture of Oryx off, even though Jimmy is nervous about leaving a paper trail. So even though some things on the Internet are illegal, it still happens everyday.
Internet has also opened up a whole new world of possibilities our society didn’t have before. In the conclusion to a study done with adolescence, “the results of the present study showed that addiction to Internet was able to significantly predict sexual behavior, tendency toward opposite sex, aggression, chatting and hacking”(Mawlaie). In Jimmy’s world the Internet is widely used and he tends to watch a good amount of pornography with Crake throughout the book, making it seem like a normal occurrence. Yet this research would suggest that this may be causing showing a “significantly positive correlation between addiction to the internet and sexual behavior, tendency toward opposite sex, aggression, chatting and hacking”, though we are more concerned about the link of internet and sexual behavior, Jimmy sometimes will show signs of aggression as well (Mawlaie).
Observing Jimmy throughout his life you can tell his mental state started declining around the time of his mothers disappearance, he no longer had a mother figure to help him make realizations that women are just as human as men. When watching pornography with Crake, it may become hard to see these women on the Internet as people, rather than just used for sexual pleasure as porn portrays women to be. Social networking sites used by “adolescents may be exposed to sex-related messages by peers, engage in sexual communication with other users or create and distribute sexual content themselves”(Doornwaard). In the case of Jimmy, he does seem to use his mothers loss in order to gain attention from other women as they try to help him any way they can. He uses them as if they were disposable, just like the girls seen in the pornography on the Internet. When you think about it, he may not know of any other way to interact with women than what he has been shown.
In conclusion, since Jimmy didn’t have much of an example s to how to act and behave around women, he may have trouble communication and making connections with women throughout his life. Especially with the loss of his mother, it can cause psychological issues and since he wasn’t above to interact with his mom as an example, his understanding of women and treatment of women was distorted from watching pornography and seeing women as disposable rather than human. The internet can be a helpful place for an unlimited amount of information, but can also be a dangerous place filled with lies since anyone can post anything on the internet, weather it is truthful or not. I feel that our society today is becoming too dependent on technology, we use the Internet for so much that if it goes out one day, people won’t know how to function properly without it or maybe even start perceiving people differently like Jimmy.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: Literary Analysis
As society and science progresses, many ethical issues continue to arise. Some may think that certain ways of gaining knowledge may be unethical, or even cruel, while others may think that any way of obtaining knowledge is acceptable in the name of science and progress. The novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is a work of speculative fiction that immerses its readers into a world where a lot of immoral and cruel actions are considered the norm: all in the name of science or of the betterment of society. Throughout the entirety of the novel, cruelty is a reoccurring aspect of not only society as a whole, but also as a part of individual character’s lives. Atwood uses Crake to embody the perpetrator of cruelty and Oryx as the victim of it to provide criticism of unethical scientific actions and immoral aspects of society to illustrate what could potentially happen if today’s society continues along the path on which it is currently traveling.
Crake is a character that embodies all of the societal norms that exist in the post-apocalyptic world of Oryx and Crake. The time that Jimmy and Crake spend together in Crake’s room introduces many of the issues of the cruel society that the two boys live in. More specifically, as the two of them smoke weed and casually flip through channels of television that show live footage of executions, assisted suicides, and child pornography, the extreme cruelty of the society that is depicted in the novel is revealed. Crake’s view of man and what is to come is foreshadowed early in the novel, “Men can imagine their own deaths…human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else…and live on forever” (Atwood 120). From the first revelation of the cruelty that exists in this world, it is always associated with Crake: he controls what is on the television and he determines what the two boys will watch at any given time, just as he will later control the genetics of the Crakers he creates and just as he will determine the fate of the entire human race.
As Crake grows up and begins his scientific work, more of the cruelty of society is revealed. When he informs Jimmy that all of the companies inside of the compounds are creating diseases and infecting the population just so that they can then turn around and make the cure to that disease in order to make money, the full cruelness of the society inside of the compounds is illuminated. Crake himself embodies this cruelty, as he later not just creates a disease in order to make money, but makes a disease that would destroy the entire human race so that his creation of an immortal, perfect, fearless beings could take over the world. Crake had a view of immortality that differed from the norm, “If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality’ is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear and you’ll be…” (Atwood 303). This differed opinion leads Crake to be willing to go to any measure of cruelty to extend his cause. Specifically, his use of Oryx, someone that he is supposed to love, to spread his deadly disease unknowingly, tricking her into becoming an example of his extreme cruelty. Later on when he slits her throat, the extent of Crake’s cruelty is fully revealed. Crake also used Jimmy to complete his cause, and this is revealed through Jimmy’s thoughts of Crake: “He’s [Snowman’s] served his evolutionary purpose, as fucking Crake knew he would. He’s saved the children” (Atwood 107). This reveals another aspect of Crake’s cruelty, because he knew, even as Jimmy killed him, that he would in turn have his project completed- Jimmy would fulfill his plans to create an immortal race, despite Jimmy’s unwillingness. All of the cruelty that Crake portrays in the novel ties back into the criticism of the idea that anything is acceptable for societal and scientific progress, but, as the novel indicates, there are more consequences of this than benefits.
Unlike Crake, Oryx is a character that seems to embody the victim of cruelty from the first moment she enters the plot of the novel. When she appears on the screen of the television, a young girl sold off by her mother, traded amongst pimps, and forced to act in pornography broadcasted for anyone to see, she becomes a character that is to be pitied. The inclusion of this type of sexual encounter has a much deeper meaning: “…when they write about sex, they really mean something else. If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that. Pornography” (Foster 152). In Oryx and Crake, although child pornography is included as part of the story, Atwood is not writing any kind of pornography herself. The presence of this type of sexual encounter is merely to portray Oryx as a victim in order to criticize the corruptness of pornography and to attempt to depict what could potentially happen if society continues to accept this as acceptable. Atwood offers criticism through her choice of adjectives such as when she says, “To access the more disgusting and forbidden sites- those for which you had to be over eighteen, and for which you needed a special password” (Atwood 153). This quote is ironic in that although these sites are in fact disgusting and forbidden, it doesn’t actually mean anything- simply turning eighteen and getting a password makes these sites ‘acceptable’ to visit. More criticism of this issue is offered as the story progresses- when Oryx says, “You can’t buy it, but it has a price… Everything has a price,” there is a much deeper meaning to this: her childhood had a price, she and her family made virtually no money off of what was done to her, but the price was immense (Atwood 139). As the story unfolds, the price of this type of experience is clearly portrayed. When Snowman says, “I am not my childhood,” this serves an ironic purpose as well because as much as he tries to separate himself from that time, he, and especially Oryx, are greatly influenced by their childhoods (Atwood 68). As Jimmy grows up and begins to have meaningless sexual relations with many women, it is clear that his attitudes can be partially attributed to his childhood, but the affects of childhood experiences are manifested even more so in Oryx’s character. Despite the fact that Crake and Jimmy both love Oryx, it seems as if Oryx is incapable of such feelings: to her it’s all just sex; she does not truly know how to love. Oryx embodies the victim of cruelty: society’s cruelty in her childhood and Crake’s cruelty later on in life, and this cruelty has a toll not only on Oryx specifically, but on the entire human race, as it is almost completely extinct.
As society and science both continue to progress, more and more issues are going to arise. As the novel Oryx and Crake illustrates, the consequences of actions that are justified in the name of progress are often immense. Atwood uses the cruelty of Crake and the victimhood of Oryx to demonstrate the effects of many issues including pornography and the justification of one’s actions in the name of progress. Atwood clearly reveals that everything does indeed have a price, especially the cruelty of mankind.
Control and Power in Margaret Atwood’s Novels (Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake)
At the heart of Atwood’s dystopian novels lies the concept of control and power. How far would you agree with this reading of the novels?
In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones (Sufi proverb: Epigraph to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’)
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian literature, described by herself as ‘speculative fiction’ , provides insight into the concept of power and control found within totalitarian regimes, where those in authority attempt to govern the natural rhythms of life through exploitation of religion and society. Atwood’s novels, Oryx and Crake (OC) and The Handmaid’s Tale (HT), both portray the systematic destruction of society in which the protagonists exist in an environment where independence is lost. This is seen in HT through Gilead, a theocracy, whose party slogan is ‘Freedom, like everything else, is relative’. This leads to the impression, that power and control are the fundamental themes within Atwood’s writing. However, it could be suggested that freedom and rebellion is more important and is the principal subject; evidenced by the eventual demise of the structures of governance and the survival of the protagonist within both narratives. It can be argued that the issue of control and power is less significant and instead used as a method to highlight the self-autonomy of the two protagonists, whom are able to escape a system of totalitarian rule. Therefore, to understand which themes are more central to Atwood’s writing it is important to explore the relationship between religion, society and the ‘self’. The ‘self’ being the power that an individual is able to exert over himself and the influence they have upon society, expressed through freedom. Furthermore, we have to look at how these governments attempt to exercise their supremacy over the protagonists and in turn the protagonists’ subsequent efforts to undermine the government.
In both novels, we see that Atwood examines the theme of control and power by exploring the relationship between religion, politics and the effect that it has upon the characters. The exploitation of dogma by the leading figures, in an effort to assert control over the rest of society, is evidenced by Jimmy’s use of religion to control the Crakers, and Gilead to repress women’s sexuality and identity. In HT, Atwood presents religion as a tool used to legitimize political values in an attempt to further the State’s ideological control over society. This reoccurring motif is exampled by scripture such as, ‘Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived were in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved by childbearing’. Such use of language is used to endorse the subjugation of women through Gileadean social principals, loosely stemming from the Old Testament. This leads to the situation where females are treated as subhuman, just a ‘two legged womb’ , further reinforced by the titles given to women by society that serve to repress their identities. These titles, based upon the role they perform in society, assign females to ‘classes’, often with biblical reference. One of these ‘classes’, the ‘Marthas’, consists of older infertile women who concentrate on housework and are made to dress in green. This reference to a domestic character from the Bible , serves as a constant reminder to society that the regime is built upon religious justification in which ‘God is a National Resource’. In this way the Gileadean regime uses misogynist biblical quotes, for example, ‘Give me children or else I die’ , thus permitting the authoritarian government to send infertile women to the colonies to die. Further, the fact that only men are permitted to read the Bible suggests that Gilead maintains its control over women’s bodies not only through its Scripture, but also those who are permitted to access it. The red garments worn by the Handmaids symbolize that they belong to a separate class. Atwood uses red as a symbol for passion and danger, describing it as ‘the colour of blood’ , an emotive metaphor that encourages the resemblance to a warning signal, thus showing the sinfulness of the Handmaids. We are invited to see that the garments are used to repress harmful female sexuality, further intending to marginalize women and eradicate as much of their independence as possible. This enables a patriarchal society to install dominance. Atwood also uses the idea of religion in OC, for example where Jimmy, the reluctant prophet ‘Snowman’, uses ‘creation stories’ to control and inhibit the Crakers. In response to their insistent questioning, ‘Snowman, tell us please about the deeds of Crake’ , Jimmy endeavours to satisfy the Crakers through his myths, inadvertently creating a pseudo religion.
As OC progresses, the ‘creation stories’ that are used by Jimmy to control the Crakers become more convoluted through his mistakes. This encourages the inquisitive nature of the Crakers, evinced by such questions as ‘please, oh Snowman, what is toast?’ This suggests that the sway religion holds over humanity is not indefinite and leads us to an alternative interpretation. As a relatively weak method of control, we see Jimmy’s influence wane as his use of religion fails and ultimately leads to the Crakers forming their own theories in an attempt to explain their beginning. When people start to question their religion all legitimacy that it gives is lost, as the Crakers do not need to rely upon Jimmy for guidance. Crake’s insistence that the Crakers were not programed to be religious is proved wrong as they still have the capacity to form a religion. Their prayers to the effigy of Snowman show that the natural world and human instincts cannot be controlled by society. We can see that at a superficial level, power and control is the key concept within the novels. However, it can be suggested that the short-lived notion of control and the importance of freedom, demonstrated by the eventual collapse of both systems of governance, are central towards Atwood’s writing.
The concept of control is further explored within Atwood’s novels through the use of names. Names are significant in both novels as a way of determining someone’s fate and their role in society, as acknowledged in HT: ‘My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter; your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others’. Offred, derived from the name of her Commander, is an attempt to remove her individual identity and decide how she is seen within the patriarchal society. By eradicating her identity she has been objectified and all sense of her past identity is removed, so creating her role in society as a possession of Fred, her Commander. Names are also important in OC. The only person working at the Paradise complex that doesn’t use a nickname from the game ‘Extinctathon’ is the only person to survive the virus. This shows that Crake had decided who would live and die and that their fate had been predetermined through his God-like power. We can therefore assume that in Atwood’s novels, control is a vital theme, explored by the suppression of our focalizers, Jimmy and Offred. However, at the end of OC, we can see that there are three other survivors, raising the question of whether Atwood is looking at the resilience of human beings more generally when resisting control.
Another way in which the totalitarian regimes assert their power is through use of fear. In HT and OC death or banishment are used as a way of imposing power. In OC, social separation is used to exert control over the population and therefore the threat of extradition to the Pleebands terrified the social elite who lived in the Compounds. Crake describes a visit to the Pleebands, without the protection of vaccination, as ‘like having a big sign on your forehead that said, Eat Me’ . Thus, the government was able to exert control through fear. Also, execution was another way in which the Corpsecors could exercise their control over society resulting in the opinion that any opposition to the state could lead to death. However, Offred shows that you can get used to these totalitarian regimes in her statement: ‘It is truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations’ . This is seen by Offred’s disgust at the clothes that the tourists wear, even though she acknowledges that she would once have worn them herself. This is also shown by Jimmy’s viewing of live execution on the internet; he doesn’t care about the executions as he exists in a society where he can get access to what he wants, when he wants, as long as he has the money.
Language is used in both novels as a chance for the protagonists to gain power over their ‘self’ and to rebel against the system trying to control them, but also, the perversion of language by governments to exert control. Jimmy depicts the importance of language through his attempt to remember lists of forgotten words used to rebel against the control of nature and the Corpsecorps. As he becomes unable to remember the definitions or importance of words in his lists, he still endeavours to retain as many as possible, believing that he is the only surviving human. If true, it means that once he forgets a word, it’s gone forever. Therefore, every word he remembers can be seen as an act of rebellion against the circumstances that he is in and further, an attempt to retain authority over himself and the world around him. Moreover, keeping alive the old, in an attempt to rebel, is mirrored in HT with the women ‘learning to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths, exchanging names’ . This act of defiance against their ‘captors’ is an attempt to assert control over one’s identity. By sharing their names ‘Alma, Janine, Dolores, Moira, June’ we see a potent form of rebellion against the power of the regime by a small act of defiance. This defiance by the women represents Gilead’s inability to exert its power upon people, and equally, their failure to repress someone’s identity. However, we do see that Jimmy uses language to control the consumer market into buying medicines that will ‘make you younger’, becoming a tool of the capitalist markets, an example of perversion of language where it is used to control, not to liberate.
Likewise, language is also used to bring together disenfranchised people and to empower them within the novels. Atwood uses coded phrases that enable rebellion to go undetected. In OC, Maddaddam is an organisation against the control of the large corporate companies, disguised as part of an internet game. Emulated in HT, our focalizer is told ‘it’s a beautiful May day’ by her fellow Handmaid Ofglen. This coded sentence confirms that she is part of the anti-government Mayday Group. Therefore, these groups are able to utilise language in an attempt to remain hidden and to rebel. This use of language is further reinforced in the phrase ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ ; literally meaning, don’t let the bastards grind you down. It symbolises a connection between the old Offred and the new Offred that gives her strength against Gilead. Through the narrative voice we are able to see this strength by Offred’s actions. Outwardly, she is reserved and drained of emotion – what Gilead wants. However, through her language, we can see that inwardly she has energy and is constantly challenging and questioning the world about her. In a world where Gilead is trying to restrict women’s access to language by not allowing them to read, Offred’s fascination with language, especially the meaning of words can be seen as rebellion. Her constant defining and challenging of words can be seen through her various interpretations of the word ‘chair’: ‘the leader of a meeting’ or ‘a mode of execution’ . This is an act of defiance against Gilead which shows the sharpness of Offred and her refusal to be controlled. Therefore, we can see that language can be used to manipulate and to control rebellion, but also to rebel against these attempts to control.
In Conclusion, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian literature focuses on power and control as a fundamental theme to further explore the issue of freedom and rebellion. The relationship between religion, society and the ‘self’ within the novels is evidenced through the protagonists’ attempts to escape the control of the authoritarian governments. Atwood presents religion as a tool to legitimize the implementation of separate classes of women, however, this highlights the failure of the governments to fully supress ‘harmful female sexuality’ proven by the fall of their patriarchal society. This is also supported within the novels through the questioning of religion, leading to the situation where all legitimacy that it gives is lost. This is seen in OC where Jimmy’s mistakes lose him his control of the Crakers; leading to a notion of the superficiality of religion and the control it exerts. This is symbolised by the power that individuals are able to gain over themselves by rebelling against the short-lived idea of control, highlighting the significance of freedom within Atwood’s writing. The use of names and titles within the novels evidence how themes of control are used to show the importance of rebellion. Within both novels names determine a character’s fate and role within society where governments are attempting to eradicate a character’s identity, yet, through small acts of rebellion, we see that the protagonists still hold onto their identity, proving the importance of freedom within the novels. This is further shown by the use of language in which the protagonists retain power over their ‘self’ and to rebel against the system trying to control them, even though they are fighting against the perversion of language by governments in an attempt to further their control. Finally, within Atwood’s writing, we see that language is used to bring together disenfranchised people and to empower them within the novels, thus proving that the key concept within Atwood’s writing is power and control in which the issue of freedom and rebellion is highlighted.
The Influence Of Scientific Advancements On Our World in “Oryx And Crake” By Margaret Atwood
In the new millennium, scientific advancements have increasingly come closer and closer to the reality envisioned in works of science fiction. Margaret Atwood grew up under the influence of the sciences, and her experiences as well as her bleak predictions manifest themselves in her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake. The daughter of an entomologist and a dietician-turned-nutritionist, Atwood grew up as a tomboy in North Quebec, and frequently visited the surrounding woods. While her parents had a strong desire for Atwood to follow their path in science, the author chose a different field to devote her life to: writing. However, she has still managed to weave their legacy into her writing career, not only through the science-based world she creates in Oryx and Crake, but also in her works of poetry, such as Power Politics.
While other successful novels of hers, such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace are built around women’s experiences, Oryx and Crake stands out with its male protagonist and also conveys a strong tone of warning regarding the costs of unsupervised scientific progress. In this novel, Atwood describes a dystopian world through the eyes of “Snowman”, our jaded protagonist, and we become privy to this new Earth which has been ostensibly wiped clean of all humankind by the actions of Snowman’s genius best friend, Crake and to an extent, Snowman himself. The protagonist has the responsibility of ensuring the safety and longevity of Crake’s replacement species for humans – genetically altered beings who bear similarities to actual humans in physique and speech alone – and we accompany him on his journey to maintain his sanity after the metaphorical “Waterless Flood.” Curiously, Atwood prefers to call this novel of hers “speculative fiction”, as opposed to “science fiction”, which some critics view as a way for her to separate herself from what she may not consider a legitimate genre of fiction.
Throughout the novel, Margaret Atwood makes extensive use of varied forms of symbolism, but no other symbols come quite as close to capturing her intended message as the color green does. By subtly implementing the use of this color, Atwood depicts a world ravaged by the effects of the conflict between hyper-intelligence and naive innocence; arrogance and humility; and complexity and simplicity. What makes green worthy of study in context of the novel is the varied manner that Atwood endeavors to use it, whether in describing the surroundings or as a reference to the actions of the main characters. Her message is one of caution towards ignoring the implications of scientific progress, and green is one of the effective tools with which she conveys this. Within the novel, green represents man’s brutish attempts at reinventing natural processes and the way the earth is shaped after one man is successful at bending nature’s laws to his whim.
Differences in Perspectives: an Analysis of Oryx and Crake and Maddaddam
If one were under a small tree and were hit by an apple that dropped off a branch, the main conclusion one would reach might be that the event was slightly annoying and random. One would then stop thinking about it and go back to doing whatever one had been doing. However, for Isaac Newton, an apple falling from a tree inspired some of the important laws of modern physics. After all, an event that does not seem significant to one person can be the inspiration for others; it largely depends on the perspective of the individual. In line with this example, many aspects of life and literature can also be interpreted in completely different ways. The worlds constructed in Oryx and Crake and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood demonstrate this, since the worlds according to Jimmy and the Crakers are completely different.
For Jimmy, the world has become vastly different from the one he has known. In the previous world, there was structure via social institutions, although these structures were rife with corruption. Corporations such as the Corpsecorps and Happicuppa ran amok, leading readers to view Atwood’s created world as dystopian. Science has no boundaries, as demonstrated by the Pigoons, pigs created by fusing human and pig DNA. Jimmy is often disgusted by what he sees, as when he sees how the meat people consume is grown: “‘That’s the head in the middle…No eyes or beaks or anything, they don’t need those…The thing was a nightmare” (Oryx 202). However, even though he has disgust for what is happening, his disgust never transforms into active dissent. He is repelled by seeing how things are done, yet does not do anything in an attempt to solve particular social ills. This is why, to Jimmy, the world around him is not a dystopia; he disagrees with certain methodologies within his culture, but does not strive to find ways to reject the system. Thus, he is complicit in it, adopting an approach that is problematic since it allows the existing harms to be perpetuated.
Although he was okay with the world before the apocalypse, Jimmy is extremely dissatisfied with what is left of the world after the Waterless Flood. Everything is problematic for him; he finds that the weather has become too hot and the food harder to find. He refers to himself as “dead meat,” which indicates that he is walking but not living. He physically exists, but his ontology as a social human is dead. His new name also symbolizes the status of his existence in the new world. The name “Snowman” indicates obscurity; “The Abominable Snowman” in human culture has been known as a creature whose existence is ambiguous (and actual snowmen have fleeting existences in any case). To humans, the creature seems to be a primitive monster who wanders the margins of society, appearing at times and disappearing at others. This background is relevant to the status the new world has bestowed upon Jimmy: he could be the last human whose relevance in the new world is questionable. Unable to deal with a world not meant for him, Jimmy becomes sick and, as his condition worsens, begins to hallucinate. Indeed, this sickness symbolizes the fact that he does not belong in the post-human world; the conditions of his existence do not match up with the conditions that the post-Flood world offers.
The perspective of the Crakers is different from the perspective dictated by Jimmy’s human approach. The Crakers have been created for the new world: they have UV-resistant skin, live in harmony with their surroundings, naturally ward off mosquitoes, and have short lives that would solve population problems. They are described as creatures built to live in harmony with their surroundings. They even have extra thick skin on their feet so that they can avoid wearing shoes. All the tools they would need are built into their biological makeups, in sharp contrast to how humans must burn through the environment to create the tools they need. What makes the Crakers symbolically unique is that they represent the perfect combination of technology and man. Whereas humanity coincides with technology, the Crakers have become the ultimate post-human being by living within a landscape that blurs the lines between nature and culture. Jimmy’s dystopia is their personal utopia, as the world has been created for them. The difference between Jimmy and the Crakers can be contextualized through their interactions with the Pigoons. When Jimmy first sees the Pigoons at his dad’s lab, he feels disgusted about how they are being treated: “He didn’t want to eat a pigoon, because he thought of the pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on” (Oryx 24). He empathizes with these creatures, but he does not take any sort of action to prevent the pain that is inflicted upon the animals. He takes the role of a bystander, watching the events that are happening but not attempting to stop them. However, the Crakers completely outdo Jimmy’s weak connection to the creatures; whereas the humans cannot talk with the Pigoons, the Crakers are able to communicate with them. This is shown through Blackbeard’s interaction with the Pigoons: “The Pigoons…trot over to Blackbeard. ‘They say the three men have been there. But they are not there now,’ he says” (MaddAddam 279). This quotation demonstrates a stronger connection with nature than Jimmy is able to have. This is why the characters’ perspectives on the world are so different, since the Crakers have a connection with the earth that Jimmy lacks altogether.
In pessimistic interpretations of the status quo, society has become too infatuated with its productive modes to be able to separate itself from the larger structural problems that plague human culture; greed and selfishness drive the economy and shortsighted desire motivates people at large. However, contrary to popular belief, Atwood’s trilogy may not be predicting the end of human society. Rather, it explains how society can escape that fate through the Crakers. The Crakers are representative of mankind’s ability to embrace technology along with nature to create the balance that would allow Earth to sustain itself. As Jimmy, representative of humans, becomes more obsolete, the Crakers are able to re-conceptualize what it means to be human.
Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam. New York: Anchor Books, 2014. Print. Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. Print.
MaddAddam as a Biblical Allegory
The MaddAddam series by Margaret Atwood can best be described as a commentary on every aspect of society. One of the most prevalent themes in Atwood’s series is religion, which is apparent in the names she assigns to different aspects of her society(God’s Gardeners), and in the many biblical references and symbols such as the snakes used at Scales and Tails, tempting their morally corrupt customers. Throughout each one of the individual novels, many blatantly religious aspects are integrated, but upon reflecting on the series as a whole, the obvious biblical plot becomes clear. Atwood uses symbolism, character development, and tone to develop the MaddAddam series as a biblical allegory.
Beginning in Oryx and Crake, the plot and symbolism serve to set up the proceeding events. The novel starts with the idea that everyone in the futuristic society is trying to play God, through gene experimentation and excessive scientific “progress”. Already, we begin to see how this society mimics that of the Old Testament, in the fact that people have begun to think themselves invincible; acting selfishly and without morality. Then the flood is introduced. The idea of the flood is derived from the flood in which God allowed Noah to survive along with the animals destined to repopulate the earth. In Atwood’s flood, Jimmy is designated to survive by Crake and is meant to take care of the Crakers, who are to repopulate the world.
In the novels, Crake obviously fulfills the role of God, taking matters of life and death of the human race into his own hands. He creates a new race of humanoid Crakers, and seems almost all-knowing when he allows Jimmy to kill him and rear this new race of creatures. He is also worshipped as a God in the post-flood world. “Yes. Good, kind, Crake. Please stop singing or I can’t go on with the story,” the Crakers are permitted to think lovingly of their creator while Jimmy knows the true nature of Crake; he allows them to see their creator as a merciful, kind one, rather than a vengeful god (Oryx and Crake 64). In this way he acts much like Jesus in the New Testament. It also becomes clear through Jimmy’s backstory that he is a flawed individual, who does not act as everyone else expects him to behave. Atwood paints him as a portrayal of Jesus Christ, who comes to save humanity, not as a god, but as a flawed hero. After the flood, Jimmy acts as a spiritual guide and teacher to the Crakers, teaching them about their history and encouraging them to ritualize and worship Crake and Oryx. But the culmination of Jimmy’s symbolism as Jesus Christ appears in MaddAddam, when he sacrifices his own life for the betterment of society through saving Toby, who goes on to teach the Crakers to write.
Atwood also develops the biblical mood of the series through her use of tone. The atmosphere and mindset of the God’s Gardeners create an extremely religious tone for the entirety of The Year of the Flood. “The task of saving the chosen species was given to Noah,” Atwood alludes to the Bible, “keeping God’s beloved species safe until the waters of the Flood had receded,” ( The Year of the Flood 90). Lines like these help to reinforce not only the Biblical references in Atwood’s novels, but the story of Jimmy acting as Jesus Christ. Atwood also perpetuates the tone in Oryx and Crake, before integrating the teachings of God’s Gardeners, with concepts such as Jimmy’s idolization of a woman who is not morally upright. His adoration of Oryx despite her morally skewed background creates a tone which correlates with the mindset that Christians are implored to uphold.
At first glance, many of Atwood’s biblical references seem like satirical quips, made in an attempt to poke fun at religious institutions and their followers. Upon reading the entire MaddAddam series, however, the reader understands that each religious allusion is in fact part of a series-wide portrayal of events written in the Bible. In this way, Atwood satirizes writing itself, and her own series, as well as the compelling need of humanity to depend on a set of beliefs, as we see through the upbringing of the Crakers. Margaret Atwood crafts this elaborate satire through her use of symbolism, character development, and tone, to prove that our human tendencies truly cannot be changed or wiped out. Even in a world that seems so far gone from what the reader knows, the same human desires are what drive the cyclical, inevitable downfall of mankind.
Childhood Trauma in the MaddAddam Trilogy
Margaret Atwood, renowned author of many novels, crafts the beautiful Maddaddam trilogy, consisting of Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam. The series is portrayed as a work of feminism, environmental activism, and even anti-commercialism, set in a post-apocalyptic world. Although it is set in the future, it involves many timeless issues that are important in the present day, such as the consequences of sex work, the growing presence of corruption in the corporate sphere, and, interestingly, the importance of a parental bond during a child’s development. Throughout the Maddaddam trilogy, Atwood explicitly demonstrates how childhood trauma, especially involving a parent, leads to irrevocable mental damage that drastically affects the events of a child’s entire life.
The implications of a less-than-loving parental relationship are shown primarily through Jimmy, as he is unable to form a deep connection with either one of his parents. He feels alienated from his father, a “numbers person,” because Jimmy himself is a “words person;” his father values numbers and science, making Jimmy feel ill-equipped and broadening the gap between them. This is reinforced throughout his childhood, shown when Jimmy says that he feels sorry for the pigoons trapped in their cages, just as he had felt sorry when watching the pile of dead animals being burned. In both of these instances, his father had been on the other side, convincing him that the animals felt nothing — however, this only strengthens Jimmy’s opposition to him. On the other hand, his mother, who is firmly against the lack of ethics that the Corps hold, quits her job. This, unfortunately, does not allow for an increase of bonding between mother and son. She is withdrawn from Jimmy, sometimes not speaking to him, sometimes yelling, sometimes crying. Jimmy doubts her love for him, feeling the iciness of her emotional stoicism and even going so far as to make her cry. She ends up leaving the house, smashing their computer and taking Killer, Jimmy’s only friend, with her. Because of these traumatic events, Jimmy remembers his upbringing as a dark time, reminding himself that he is not defined by those times: “‘I am not my childhood,’ Snowman says out loud” (Oryx 68). His mind is forever haunted by his inability to perform to his father’s standards, and his physical insatiability in adulthood is perhaps brought about by the lack of affection he received from his mother. His time in college, later while working, and even after the Flood, he is unable to detach himself from his notions of not-good-enough, instilled forever by his parents.
A slightly different chain of events occurs with Ren, one of Jimmy’s brief love interests. During Ren’s life in the Compound, she lives with her unemotional father Frank and her mother Lucerne. Lucerne is high-maintenance and never shows extreme care for Ren’s feelings. However, the lack of adoration is not what scars Ren; that is accomplished by Lucerne’s leaving of Frank, running off with Zeb to the God’s Gardeners. Not only does Ren get wrenched from her home, losing her father, but she also is forced to start a new life in the pleeblands, a place that she had only heard of previously. Her mother’s selfishness does not stop there, however. After uprooting her daughter from her home to live in a completely new world, she offers no solace. She instead shows her overt desire for Zeb in front of Ren repeatedly, almost rubbing the change of pace in Ren’s face. Of course, when Lucerne is done with Zeb, she takes Ren right back to the Compound, to Frank and yet another new house. Ren is unable to settle down, unsure of what to think or do. She never has a true father figure, as Zeb comes and goes, and Frank offers no emotional support. She is unable to feel her worth in her family; Lucerne drags her around at whim, and this feeling of worthlessness follows Ren into adulthood. She goes into the sex industry, working for Scales and Tails as “talent.” She repeatedly assures herself and others that she works as an important person at Scales: “I wasn’t only a disposable. I was talent” (282). This need to reaffirm her worth, and the choice of work in general for her, is derived from her childhood experiences with her mother; because she did not feel an emotional connection with either one of her parents, she seeks solace in physical connection at Scales.
Unlike the previous two characters, Crake, although also suffering from a lack of emotional connection as a child, does not seek a connection elsewhere — at least, not to humans. While Crake is still young, hids father is pushed from an overpass because of his resistance of the Corps. It is deemed a suicide, and Crake is left to figure out the true reason by himself. His mother moves in with Uncle Pete, a friend of Crake’s father, after the death, and although Uncle Pete has good intentions, Crake never warms to him. Crake, a “numbers person” through and through, is crafting chemicals during his childhood, possible drafts of his plague, and his chosen subjects are his mother and Uncle Pete. While their deaths are deemed accidents from an unknown bioform, Jimmy infers that Crake has tested his creations on them; Crake almost giddily describes how his mother “frothed” at her death, turning to foam because of some hot bioform. This early indication of his lack of connection to his mother and father figure manifests later in life as well, when he engineers the BlyssPluss pill to wipe out the human race. His emotional detachment is also shown in his manipulation of Jimmy and murder of Oryx, showing that he is incapable of forming a truly strong bond with anyone.
Ironically, the one person with the arguably most traumatizing childhood is an emblem for the rest. Oryx, sold by her mother at a young age, forced into child labor, and eventually ending up as a sex worker, is a symbol of hope throughout each novel. Both human and Craker alike regard Oryx as a goddess after her death. Her rough childhood has no visible impact on her adult life, as she is extremely mysterious about her past life. However, she is the lover of both Jimmy and Crake, seemingly ethereal and beautiful even in the most chaotic of times. She is immortalized as a deity of nature after her death, the only company for Jimmy after the plague. However, if her childhood was the most detrimental, how then can she be remembered so fondly? Perhaps Atwood is showing the audience something. Perhaps she is demonstrating that while the individual characters, each of whom have suffered in their childhoods, bear their scars for their lifetime, they are able to find solace in one another. The reader never sees into Oryx’s mind; she never shares her own thoughts, but from the outside, the reader can only see the comfort she provides for others. This is her source of real immortality; while Crake is also remembered, he is remembered angrily; but calm, loving Oryx, who also suffered, acted as solace for those around her, and she will forever be known as a true god.
Approaching Oryx & Crake: The Name Game
To narrow the scope of literature, the science fiction genre is a type of storytelling contains different messages from novel to novel. Scholars and literary critics have the right to label a novel in any way they prefer, yet readers have the right to disagree and call the novel something else. To narrow the focus of this journal article farther, I will examine a recently published novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The 2003 dystopian novel Oryx and Crake (Book one of the MaddAdam Trilogy) is highly noted and recognized for its discussion of biogenetics and genetic modification. Yet there is not much published about the stylistic approach that Atwood infuses into her novel. This journal article will describe how Oryx and Crake seamlessly incorporates elements of Realism and Naturalism into the four main topics of the novel which include narration, science, social conflict, and environment struggles. It is imperative to acknowledge that these two forms of literature are not one hundred percent representative in Oryx and Crake, yet there is more evidence supporting this notion than contradicting it. While these two literary genres hold distinct characteristics, they also contain some slight overlap. The history and definitions of Realism and Naturalism will both be introduced into the article as a literary technique. Along with this information, there will be scholarly material and textual support from Oryx and Crake that reveal the concept of the novel’s Realistic and Naturalistic ways. The purpose of these stylistic tendencies is to provide a better understanding for the novel’s messages directed towards audiences.
To get an understanding of the Realism present in the novel, it is important to have background knowledge on the genre. Realism began as a literary art form during the 19th Century. What made this type of writing different from other genres was portraying scenes in a realistic world. The point was to capture characters and environments in their most raw and unfiltered form. Novels of this genre typically contained characters of upper and middle class statues. Authors of this time period wanted books to deglamorize human nature and social situations. By exposing the most realistic depiction of human life, Realism’s goal was to interpret real life to the best of fiction’s ability. Human struggle and inevitability were main topics disused in this genre. Dr. Ashley Reed notes that authors of this movement wanted their writings to prompt some type of social change. To write in this genre, human behavior was given vivid descriptions and details to reveal just how people thought. Yet, the tone towards the human existence in these novels contained optimistic undertones (Reed). In most cases, the writing style contained very blunt and clear diction. One interesting quality about realistic literature is the idea that the settings always occur in unidentifiable locations. Narrators of novels from this period were supposed to be emotionally unattached from the story to give exceptional details (Reed). Dr. Carol Scheidenhelm adds that the stories of Realism can occur in any location. She also informs readers that this 19th century literature period accentuated the ideas of morality and society in its stories, while emphasizing how humans are reliant on their future (Scheidenhelm). The impact of this genre helped storytellers to create a fictional world where readers could relate and sympathize with a character’s social struggles.
In contrast to Realism, Naturalism is a literary genre that began in the late 19th century spilling over into the early 20th century. This genre is very similar to Realism’s stylistic approach, yet contained different principles. Naturalism is a genre with a focus more geared towards science. University of Chicago professor, Donna Campbell, defines Naturalism as: “a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Unlike Realism, which focuses on literary technique, Naturalism implies a philosophical position” (Campbell). A Naturalism novel is related to the scientific method’s process of making observations and conducting experiments. Dr. Ashley Reed states that this literary movement involved characters that had pessimistic views and/that dealt with struggles against the outside world which was nature/wilderness (Reed). However, the setting of these stories could be held in metropolises or rural areas. Emotions played a key role in Naturalism texts. Due to the heredity and the surrounding environment, the individuals in these stories used their emotions to reflect the attitudes towards problems in society. Also, Naturalism made the idea of human autonomy seem like a fantasy. With all of the distinctions regarding Naturalism (and Realism) in order, it is essential to discuss just how the four main topics in novel Oryx and Crake embody the characteristics found in these two literary genres.
One of the major elements of Oryx and Crake is the protagonist, Jimmy/Snowman’s, journey. Throughout the third-person omniscient novel, Jimmy’s persona acts as a catalyst for the story’s conflict. In the story, there are moments where he acts progressive and authoritative towards his ideas of what he thinks is right for society. Yet, at some points in the novel, he has a tendency to be lazy and unmotivated. These tendencies depend on the time of the conflict in the novel’s two time periods of past and present. His personality mimics an ordinary person, he is not perfect and that is what makes him a relatable character to readers. By following a protagonist that is not the typical hero, it creates a dynamic in Snowman that he cannot be defined as one simple thing. Dr. Amanda Cole states that the author of the story is obsessed with the idea of her narrator. This storyteller is important since it is the entity that sends hidden messages to the audience about the end of the human species. Cole also claims that the author creates credibility through moments of nostalgia to issue, “a warning no less dire than that found in George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or in Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night” (Cole). This research proves the idea that one aspect of this story (Jimmy’s character) is not easily describable. Jimmy has the history of being like a Realistic character that is optimistic in spite of challenges to defeat them. Yet at the same time, he has instances where he is pessimistic about overcoming obstacles, making him a Naturalistic character destroyed by his surroundings. What makes Jimmy’s character label difficult, is the fact his story stops mid-conflict and is not finished in the sequel novels.
To further explore the Realistic and Naturalistic ways of Oryx and Crake’s narrator, textual evidence can show the differences explored throughout the novel that prove Jimmy to be a Realistic/Naturalistic character. Jimmy can be seen as the representation of liberal arts in a scientific world (Ingersoll). He declares, “’When any civilization is dust and ashes, art is all that’s left over. Images, words, music. Imaginative structures. Meaning – human meaning, that is – defined by them.’” (Atwood 167). By using this example, it demonstrates a Realistic theme. Jimmy’s declaration establishes the need for behavioral change in society. His straightforward diction and critique on the sciences dominating social norms reveal Realistic principles based on the writing style (Reed). While this example shows how Jimmy can be a protagonist prompting social change amongst upper, middle class characters, it is important to see how his character reacts to conflict. In one part of the novel, Oryx exclaims, “‘You always think the worst of people, Jimmy.’” thus creating the idea that Jimmy is pessimistic about people in general (Atwood 316). Early on in the story, Snowman’s personal views are reflected in a narrative that reveals, “Snowman is sad because the others like him flew away over the sea, and now he is all alone.” (Atwood 9). By having these two examples, they parallel with one another on the grounds of human nature. Jimmy’s pessimistic views of human endeavors were caused by the human forces of a scientific disaster. Therefore, when Atwood seamlessly uses this Naturalistic writing strategy through Jimmy’s narration, she inflicts the horrors of science in Jimmy’s attitudes and emotions. The author wants Jimmy struggles to act as critiques on social conditions (Reed). As it is seen, Atwood builds a strong sense of Realism and Naturalism in Jimmy’s persona. The subliminal messages expressed through his thoughts and actions act as a message to audiences to realize that these writing styles should not be taken lightly, but taken as ways of change.
Oryx and Crake is more than Dystopia; it is pure science-fiction. The emphasis on the novel’s scope of science is largely explored throughout the novel. Oryx and Crake’s use of science in the novel helps to build the arcs of Realism and Naturalism. The science in this novel is focused on inevitability, racism, morality, and Darwinism. While Amanda Cole compared the novel to the Human Genome Project and praised the novel’s consistent pattern of sticking to a dystopian sub-genre, other scholars disagree, claiming that this novel is not consistent. Valeria Mosca provides the idea (along with scholar Shuli Barzilai) that this novel holds too many allegiances to too many genre affiliations. She reasons that Oryx and Crake has characteristics of the following genres: Old English tradition, Bildungsroman, romance, survivor, and science fiction. (Mosca & Barzilai). Also, Mosca claims the story to be a, “large scale extreme vision of recent (Western) scientific & economic trends [and corporate power].” (Mosca). Her argument is constructed around the idea that the stories within the MaddAdam Trilogy are those of a slippery slope. This slippery slope is associated with the extreme extinction of the human race, where Mosca challenges the likeliness of the story’s probability. This viewpoint contradicts Cole’s praiseful perspective, yet relates to the Realism’s belief on USA society. Also, Mosca’s research supports the Naturalist idea of focusing on lower class people. Anthony Griffith’s research leads him to say that: “In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood flexes her literary muscles to take a swing at the science of genetics. Her message is that genetics dabbles in things that are unnatural and creepy and will surely get us into a lot of trouble. In this view she sides with other writers in the popular media.” (Griffith) Griffith’s efforts are exercised in asking how Margaret Atwood thought of a story with such poise and plausibility. He realizes that the type of scientific technology in the novel is not far ahead from the technology used in the present day. Anthony Griffith’s views support Realism in the story because they both exhibit the desire of change for sake of the human existence. As for his work supporting Naturalism, he dislikes the idea of human nature falling to science’s creations (thus siding with Naturalism’s views). The argument he makes challenges Coles research. Yet, Griffith’s work is similar to Mosca’s due to the fact that they recognize the novel’s tendencies to display societal problems.
By examining Oryx and Crake’s text, it will be discovered that the character’s interactions with science (and discovery) act as the catalyst that drives the story’s plot. The Realistic and Naturalistic tendencies found in Margaret Atwood’s writing will be observed. In the first half of the novel, the OrganInc Farms is described in a way that makes the reader feel sympathy for the working class people. The narrator of the passage goes through multiple thoughts as the story says, “A great deal of money had gone into OrganInc Farms…What fathead was in charge of making those decisions? […] Each one of us must tread the path laid out before him, or her” (Atwood 23). This passage reveals many Naturalistic tendencies. On one note, the Farms greed reveals that the working class people are fighting against an impeccable force (OrganInc) and are losing. The presence of inevitability is seen in this passage through the cycle of giving money to a corporation over and over again. The story wants to advocate change in the USA’s society, thus following the Naturalism genre. The morals of the scientific community are discussed in the Wolvogs chapter of Oryx and Crake. Later a dialogue exchange between Jimmy and Crake prompts the following statements, “Nature is a zoo as God is to churches. Why is it he feels some line has been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far? Mankind needs barriers in both cases” (Atwood 206). This subject material dives deep into the pool of Naturalism. Naturalistic ideas such as God and nature are included. Yet, this passage could also be considered Realistic since the social interactions focus on detailed conversation of human behavior/morality. Finally, Realism and (primarily) Naturalism are shown hand-in-hand as Crake discusses racism and Darwinism explaining: “It won’t be long before all the visible traces of human inhabitation will be gone. ‘All it takes,” said Crake, ‘is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.’” (Atwood 222-223). This discussion hinting towards preserving animal’s existence relates to Realism’s ideas about the sanguine view regarding the human existence. On the flipside, this passage shows how Crake’s language is stylized in a Naturalistic manner. His statements are about the character’s lives essentially being governed by the heredity of animals. By having characters submersed in problems regarding the scientific world, Atwood builds her claims through skeptical scientific innovations and stylizing her plot in a Realistic/Naturalistic fashion.
While the post-apocalyptic Oryx and Crake incorporates struggles as a main idea of the novel, this journal article will now explore the ways in which social struggle is portrayed through a Realistic perspective and struggles with the environment through a Naturalistic perspective. In this next section of this journal article, the following content will provide more in-depth discussion and examples of pure Realism and pure Naturalism. The upcoming research provided will provide source material that relates strictly to each literary genre whether it be Realistic or Naturalistic.
The novel’s way of dealing with Realistic drama is done with a purpose: to prompt social change. Katherine Snyder acknowledges how Oryx and Crake’s story could be set in a future closer than expected. On many occasions, her research has her repeatedly saying that the novel is “disturbing.” What Synder noticed in the novel was the presence of two sets of character drama as well as two timelines (also shown in Amanda Cole’s findings as well) occurring throughout the story. While this might sound complicated, it can be simplified. Essentially Synder writes that, “Oryx and Crake… juxtaposes the putative ultimate catastrophe of human extinction in Snowman’s presence with a series of smaller scale traumas that shaped the character’s past.” (Snyder). What makes this article interesting is that it has the same critical tone as Valeria Mosca’s article. They both accept the fact that the writing style of the story is written in a way that sounds like this actually happened. Snyder’s viewpoint reminds audiences that the social interaction and human behavior that takes place in Oryx and Crake serves as warning sign for readers. The writing is used to influence a new change in human behavior. The incorporation of deteriorating human relationships in Oryx and Crake shows audiences that characters can be sympathetic, even if their actions are disturbing for some. To show the social problems in the novel, the text of Oryx and Crake is the best place to see Realism written in between the lines of text. There will be four examples provided with explanations for why the passages are Realistic. These topics cover emotion, diction, problem-solving, and morality. Example one is found in the “Lunch” chapter when, “More than anything, Jimmy had wanted to make her laugh – to make her happy, as he seemed to remember her being once.” (Atwood 31). While Jimmy is in tune with his emotions, he acts unemotional around his parents. Also, his mother is concretely depicted as a woman who has no more emotional investment. These two instances reflect Realistic beliefs of displaying emotion. Example two shows Jimmy’s parents in direct conflict with another character in the “Rakunk” chapter. As Jimmy’s mother exclaims, “You and your smart partners. Your colleagues. It’s wrong, the whole organization is wrong, it’s a moral cesspool and you know it.” which leads Jimmy’s father to fire a response back, “You’re the one with the neurotic guilt. Why don’t you dig a few ditches for yourself, at least it would get you off your butt. Then maybe you’d quit smoking – you’re a one-woman emphysema factory” (Atwood 57-58). This passage gives a detailed argument that gives clear and straightforward insults. By showing humans experiences of verbal struggle, it exposes Realistic practices. Example three looks at the social history through the words of a mogul motivational lecturer. In the “Twister” chapter, this man’s statements are used to serve as Realistic optimism. This man describes working with others as he says, “This is surely the lesson taught to us by history. The higher the hurdle the greater the jump. Having to face a crisis causes you to grow as a person.” (Atwood 237). This excerpt perfectly embodies the Realism genre because the subject matter is about being optimistic and facing challenges to resolve them. The final example, and the heaviest, comes from the “Takeout” chapter where Jimmy and Crake discuss a heavy topic. The question, “Would you kill someone you loved to spare them pain?” comes into the conversation (Atwood 320). This question about an actual real-life human experience is a question that has plagued people for generations. Therefore, by mentioning this in the story, the author wants society to answer this question. With these examples now being covered, it should now be easier to understand how Atwood’s stylistic writing creates a story with many Realistic themes.Moving onto the next literary genre of focus more specifically, Naturalism depicts the lower class people that face conflict with the intentions of upper class reading and changing their problem. That being said, research from Earl Ingersoll finds that the theme of survival is the most prevalent theme found in both
Moving onto the next literary genre of focus more specifically, Naturalism depicts the lower class people that face conflict with the intentions of upper class reading and changing their problem. That being said, research from Earl Ingersoll finds that the theme of survival is the most prevalent theme found in both Oryx and Crake and Naturalism. He asks why the story is set in a vague location and what the purpose of that does for the reader. Geographically-speaking, Ingersoll believes the novel is set in the ruins of somewhere in southern United States of America. Also, Ingersoll adds to his research that “the narrative opens up a discussion of the roles the Arts can play in the future.” (Ingersoll). His research is the least concrete out of the other scholarly articles found. Yet he brings an interesting idea to the table regarding Jimmy being the advocate for the arts in a science/mathematical world. Jimmy had to fight people of authority on issues and they have led him to fighting off the environment. To better understand the specific Naturalistic battles there are in Oryx and Crake, it is important to look at the story up close and personal.
Textually speaking, Naturalism in Oryx and Crake can be easy to identify. In the novel, the Naturalistic struggles are composed of problems relating the body, environment, and ability to think. The next three examples will give some evidence for the novel incorporating Naturalism in its story. Example one finds the story “Voice” chapter. The narrator describes the struggle of the human body by saying, “He used to take good care of himself; he used to run, work out at the gym. Now he can see his own ribs; he’s wasting away.” (Atwood 11). This graphic detailed scene shows how the environment itself can afflict pain on any life it chooses to. It seems that God’s presence is not here in this part of the story. Example two begins in the “Nooners” chapter where the harsh weather is in a location where, “evil rays bounce off the water and get at him even if he’s protected from the sky, and then he reddens and blisters.” (Atwood 37). This section of the story describes how Naturalism is used to not only describe a harsh climate, but the harsh society from which this climate spawned from. Ultimately, this Naturalistic approach of having a helpless person in a tough location triggers readers to feel sympathy for the protagonist. Finally, example three takes place in the “Idol” chapter when Crake warns Jimmy about the Crakers’s personalities. He cautions Jimmy by telling him, “Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any would signal downfall” (Atwood 361). This scene is a representation with Naturalism’s views on human autonomy being an illusion. The idea of free thinking in the story acts as a warning sign. Naturalistic genre literatures take place where characters use free will in a place where it is prohibited. Therefore, the art in the story symbolizes the ability to think and prompts a change in society. That change would have to create a place where being one’s true self is possible in a safe and sound location. Naturalism in Oryx and Crake serves as a beacon of hope to remind readers that the struggles characters go through critique the social conditions of society, which in this case would be the ability to be creative.
Margaret Atwood creates a story that is hard to define with just two literary terms. Her plot, characters, themes, etc. create a story that does more than entertain, it informs. With the contributions from various scholars, they help in the process of understanding just what the exact messages are to take ways from Oryx and Crake. While the distinctions of class are shattered in the novel due to the apocalyptic world, Realism and Naturalism categorize the novel in ways that class would. With differing viewpoints and textual evidence, the distinctions between Realism and Naturalism in Oryx and Crake help the reader to interpret the novel in new ways using the ability to think, an ability our people are still lucky enough to possess.
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