Oryx and Crake
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 She is withdrawn from Jimmy, sometimes not speaking to him, sometimes yelling, sometimes crying.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.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2003. Print. MaddAdam Trilogy. Cole, Amanda. “In Retrospect: Writing and Reading Oryx and Crake.” SYDNEY RICKETS (2005): 1-11. Web. Campbell, Donna M. “Naturalism in American Literature. ” Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. (2013). Web. Carol Scheidenhelm. “Realism: American Literary History: Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism.” Dept. of English, Loyola University Chicago. (2007). Web Griffiths, A. “Genetics According to Oryx and Crake.” CANADIAN LITERATURE 181.181 (2004): 192-5. Web. Ingersoll, EG. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel ‘Oryx and Crake’.” EXTRAPOLATION 45.2 (2004): 162-75. Web. Mosca, Valeria. “Crossing Human Boundaries: Apocalypse and Posthumanism in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.” Altre Modernità (2013): 38-52. Web. Reed, Ashley. “Realism & Naturalism.” Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. 2016. Lecture. Snyder, Katherine V. “Time to Go”: The Post-Apocalyptic and the Post-Traumatic in Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake.” Studies in the Novel 43.4 (2011): 470-89. Web.
Differences in Perspectives: An Analysis of Oryx and Crake and MaddAdam
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.
Views on the Relationship of the Individual and Society in Oryx and Crake, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Woman in the Dunes
The relationship between society and the individual is presented in powerfully differing ways in the novels Oryx and Crake, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Woman in the Dunes. While Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake shows how the individual views society as a source of sadistic entertainment or wealth, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao shows a relationship in which society rejects the individual. In turn, Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes shows a relationship in which society forces the individual into servitude.Oryx and Crake presents a society in which individuals living in the time before “the flood” (this story’s apocalypse) have lost all sense of social ethics. The prevailing theme in this society seems to be sadism (in a non-sexual way); the major forms of entertainment for people involve the enjoyment of human suffering. The best examples of this are the two primary forms of entertainment that Crake and Jimmy enjoy in their youth: Internet games and Internet shows. Games such as “Barbarian Stomp,” “Blood and Roses,” and “Extinctathon” all pit society on one side and utter destruction on the other, with the side of utter destruction usually winning (77-81). Their enjoyment of such games shows the appeal that death and destruction have to individuals in this society. The example of their Internet shows, however, is even more disturbing. Whereas the games Crake and Jimmy play are fantasy, the shows they watch are not. Shows such as “Felicia’s Frog Squash,” “hedsoff.com,” and “deathrowlive.com” all display acts of violence inflicted on real people for the entertainment of the viewer (82-83). And there is such a high demand for these shows that Crake suspects that some of the executions are staged; he says that “the viewers wanted to see the executions, yes, but after a while these could get monotonous” (83). Individuals in this society have reached such a high level of corruption that acts of real violence have to be manufactured in order to meet demand.Aside from the enjoyment of violence, these individuals have also reached a new level of sexual depravity. Even a simple thing such as viewing the news has to have some level of sexual stimulation to keep people entertained; for this, there is the “Noodie News,” a news show in which all of the anchors are completely naked (81). The worst example of sexual depravity comes in the form of a website called “HottTots,” where tourists are filmed “doing things they’d be put in jail for back in their home countries” (89). The videos involve children as young as eight performing sexual acts for the entertainment of the viewer; one only has to be 18 to legally view these websites, though Jimmy and Crake are able to get around this speed bump to view the content at an even younger age.Another major theme in Oryx and Crake is elitism. Just as the individual in Jimmy and Crake’s society has lost all appreciation for the value of human life, so too has the upper class lost all empathy for the lower class. Society is now divided into two classes: the elites, who live in the protective paradise of the compounds, and the plebands, who live in crowded, diseased, and dirty cities. The elites of this society view the lower class as a way to make money, no matter the cost to human life. The most disgusting example of this is the corporation “HelthWyzer.” This company develops cures for diseases, but at some point in history, they ran into a problem: they figured out that if they cured all of the diseases, they would no longer generate any profit. In order to remedy this problem, they began hiding new, man-made diseases in the vitamins they sold to the pleband population; once the virus exploded into the population, they released an antidote onto the market — but in limited quantities “so they’re guaranteed high profits” (211).What is most terrifying about the sadistic and morally corrupt individuals of Oryx and Crake is that their unethical characteristics can be found in real-life society today. People are already enthralled by violence in entertainment and games, and there are plenty of real websites where one can go to see horrible violence, physical and sexual, inflicted on real human beings. And that is the ultimate claim of Oryx and Crake: that human beings do not value the lives of other human beings. The texts poses the questions: is the society shown in Oryx and Crake the inevitable endpoint for our own society? And is humanity sadistic by nature? The text believes so, and its answer to this problem is the ultimate example of the devaluation of human life: Crake’s decision that mankind is too imperfect and cruel to continue, and must be wiped out and replaced.Another book rife with different human relationships is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The most interesting relationship in the book is that between Oscar Wao and society. One of many questions that this text asks us is, can an individual who is unable to form a positive relationship with society survive? The text shows us that a person who does not fit into society’s standards is not valued by society. Oscar is the quintessential nerd, growing up in a time when there was nothing cool about being a nerd; he loves to watch anime (Robotech and Akira); he loves to play role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons; he is overweight, unathletic, and unattractive. He is unable to understand and follow social rules. He speaks in a way that is unacceptable to society, using words found only in dictionaries or comic books. Worst of all, because of his social awkwardness, he is never able to interact with woman, a problem that constantly weighs on his soul. In addition to being ostracized by society as nerd and a gamer, Oscar is also an outcast because of his race. Because he is of a mixed ethnicity, “The white kids… treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color… shook their heads. You’re not Dominican” (49). Unfortunately for Oscar, he is unable to fit into the standards of society in any way.It seems that the text is trying to show us that society itself is unethical in its harsh treatment of those who do not fit its mold. This rejection by society so upsets Oscar that he feels forced to take drastic measures to eliminate the pain. He becomes so depressed and downtrodden by his status as an outsider that he tries to take his own life. This becomes somewhat paradoxical in trying to find an answer to our original question; had Oscar succeeded in taking his own life, then society would have won, and the answer would be that rejection by society is an individual’s death sentence. Fortunately, at least in this story, the individual is not killed by his rejection and is able to live on.Unfortunately, Oscar does end up losing his life by the end of the story. Instead of losing his life out of depression, however, Oscar is able to find his own strength and stand up for what he believes in. In the end, Oscar is able to transcend his rejection by society and accept himself for who he is. However, he does have a little bit of help in doing this by finally having a relationship with a woman. It seems, then, that an individual can survive without a positive relationship with society in general, but not if he or she is entirely alone; people must have some sort of positive human relationship to help them. Oscar’s final letter, which is delivered to Yunior after his death, ends with a reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But instead of quoting the famous words of Kurtz, Oscar proclaims, “The beauty! The beauty!” (355). By the end of the story, Oscar is able to get out of the wilderness of the society that has rejected him and find the beauty in the wild of his own individuality.The primary human relationship in The Woman in the Dunes is presented through the story’s use of utilitarianism. The story of Niki Jumpei is the story of what happens to an individual when he is forced by society into a life he does not want. At the beginning of the story, Niki has unknowingly been trapped in a society that places no value on the individual. The village does what is best for most of its inhabitants at the cost of a small minority group, who are forced to live in holes and keep the village from being overrun by the ever-encroaching dunes of sand. Niki realizes this but does not agree with it; his mentality is that an individual’s ultimate responsibility is to himself, whereas the villagers see the plight of the individual as unimportant when compared to the plight of the group.Niki continues to resist the whims of the villagers, but after they withhold water from him, he concedes to the labor he has been forced into. This is the beginning of his descent into acceptance of his new life. He begins to rationalize his new existence by thinking that “work seemed something fundamental for man, something which enabled him to endure the aimless flight of time” (158). This is the message that the text is trying to convey: man, when forced into an existence he does not originally want, will eventually accept that existence.Though Niki begins to lose his rebellious spirit, he still seeks to return to his old life outside of the hole. This culminates in one ultimate jailbreak, though it is an unsuccessful one that ends with his capture and return to the hole. But even after this failure, he still desires some semblance of his old life and requests of his captors that he be able to leave the hole once in a while to see the world outside. They agree to allow certain concessions if Niki will have sex with the woman he is stuck with while they watch. This is another main point of the text: when there is one group that is subjugated by another as harshly as Niki and the woman are in this utilitarian system, the elite group’s own authority causes them to see the subjugated group as subhuman, and the subjugated group loses its humanity; therefore, this type of human relationship is an unethical one. This is exemplified by page 230 of the text, in which Niki attempts to rape the woman at the whims of those above just so he will be able to leave the hole once in awhile. After this final failure of attempted escape, more time passes, but without any attempts by Niki to get out of the hole. He still thinks of escaping, but these desires have become a sort of intangible dream; he has lost the fervor for freedom that he once possessed. At the end of the book, Niki is briefly allowed to leave the hole, but he is so used to his life in the dunes that the air above stings his throat, and the ocean appears unappealing to him (238-239). Despite this glance of freedom, all he can think about is returning back to his life in the hole. This is the final message of the text: when groups of humans are valued so little by another, they will eventually become complaisant and compliant and accept their lot in life as slaves.Each of these three stories presents a different view of the relationship between society and the individual. Unfortunately, all of these relationships seem to present a clash between the two. One is left wondering if this theme, so prevalent in contemporary literature, is a sign of the times: is society today as immoral, destructive, and cruel to the individual as these texts make it seem?
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.
Plato’s Ideal Society in Oryx and Crake
Stories are an important part of society, an element that provides humanity with a way to connect, separate, cry, laugh, be happy or be sad. In fact, life is nothing but a story. Human history is a story. The universe is just a massive collection of stories that make up one big dissertation that put you into the current position of reading this compilation of ideas on this paper. The stories that create human history are not only influenced by events, but also by myths. Myths are sacred stories that are not to be taken literally and influence individual everyday decisions that people make. They convey an idea that an author or storyteller considers important, an explanation of why something is the way it is, or how people should act. These myths attempt to show how people should go about certain situations. Plato realized the importance of these myths and made sure the population in his ideal society is given a mythology to protect them, which is exemplified in the novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
We know that Plato considers the relationship between people and the myths they are taught important because, in The Republic, it is written “‘About gods, then,’ I said ‘such, it seems, are the things that should and should not be heard, from childhood on, by men who would honor gods and ancestors and not take lightly their friendship with each other,'”(386a). This means that people know the power of the relationship between gods and mythology and the decisions they make. The heroes of mythology show how to obtain glory, popularity, and fame. Plato knows that people want these things, so he does not trust them to interpret the myths correctly, for instead, they will interpret them in a way that makes them feel good, which might not be the way the myth was supposed to be depicted. There could be an overarching theme in a story of a good thing, such as forgiveness, but if the hero seeks revenge on someone in the story on their way to learning forgiveness, people could misunderstand the purpose of the story and act vengefully.
A considerable reason that people won’t understand stories is symbolism. Plato does not think that people will understand symbolism in stories, due to the fact that symbolism, while usually having a specific meaning, has room for interpretation, for different symbolic ideas may mean different things to different people due to differences in experience and perspective. In the novel, Jimmy recalls “Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble.” (361). Art, a form of symbolism, would lead to everything Crake had done to destroy. Art, which is considered by many a means of expression, is a form of worship in Crake’s mind. Making something more beautiful than it really is, or causing it to represent an idea would flirt with the creation of gods, idols, new mythology other than what Snowman has taught them, afterlife, war, and so on. Symbolism is especially troubling due to the idea that people have difficulty realizing what symbolism truly represents. In the novel, it says “They’s struggled with pictures at first – flowers on beach-trash lotion bottles, fruits on juice cans. Is it real? No, it is not real. What is this not real? Not real can tell us about real,” (102). The Crakers do not understand the connections between what’s real, and what represents real, which leads to misinterpretation of just about anything symbolic, which would be bad for the Crakers in the eyes of Crake.
Plato also explains that stories must be carefully told, for he says “”And we must, further, also throw out all those terrible and fearful names applied to this domain: Cocytus, Styx, ‘those below,’ ‘the withered dead,’ and all the other names that are part of this model and which make all those who hear them shiver, as is thought,” (387b). This suggests that the quintessential society must be fed their stories with care, and one reason for this is that the heroes of these stories that the people look up to must do heroic things, such as be kind, protect, and forgive. If the heroes are doing these actions, it encourages the population to do such actions. Bad actions, such as seeking revenge, retaliation, and hate will encourage behavior that is not beneficial for society. This leads to an important concept in Plato’s myth making, which is trust. Plato does not trust myth makers to create myths that portray heroes in an entirely positive light. The myths must also be easy to comprehend and be told with precision and consistency, which is shown after Snowman explains how the Crakers came to be. The novel says “Snowman learned [internal consistency is best] earlier in his life when lying had posed more of a challenge for him. Now even when he’s caught in a minor contradiction he can make it stick,” (96). This shows the difficulty in creating these stories, and how Snowman has to remember every little detail he includes in every one of his stories. When he messes up, like when he tells the Crakers to “piss off”, or when he mentions toast, he gets upset because he knows that they do not know of these phrases, and has to scramble to explain things in a way that would make sense to the Crakers. The difficulty of making these stories is no small task and requires great trust. Crake trusts Snowman to take care of the Crakers and follow his rules about speaking to the Crakers. Plato’s lack of trust seems justified in the novel because Snowman thinks “These people were like blank pages, he could write whatever he wanted on them,” (Atwood 349). This represents the fact that people are gullible and will believe just about anything someone tells them and giving someone such power begins to make them myth maker seem more like a god than the gods in their stories.
Plato also discusses the importance of guardians not fearing death. He says “Do you suppose anyone who believes Hades’ domain exists and is full of terror will be fearless in the face of death and choose death in battles above defeat and slavery?,” (386b). If guardians fear death, they will not be brave or bold, and the people will not either, for they will mimic their leaders. Those who go into battle will not win due to fear of death, and a potential enemy could overcome them and potentially take over the city. The kind of protection that is driving civilization away from fear is explored in the novel. When the Crakers ask about the deeds of Crake, Snowman explains that “In the chaos, everything was mixed together. There were too many people, and the people were all mixed up with the dirt… The people in the chaos were full of chaos themselves, and the chaos made them do bad things. They were killing other people all the time… They ate [the Children of Oryx] even when they weren’t hungry,” (103). Snowman does not want to lie, so he tells a kind of twisted truth. The Crakers are asking for the events that Crake decreed, but instead, he gives is a symbolic truth about values, about how Crake felt, and the truth about why Crake did what he did. Snowman has to do this because he does not want to plant seeds of fear in the minds of the Crakers. This is interesting because Snowman creates a loophole in Plato’s logic of guardians. Plato’s believes that if a leader is fearful, then the people will also be fearful.
However, if the people are not aware that their leader is fearful, they will not be afraid. This is exactly what Snowman does. He knows that if the Crakers are aware of his fear, they will be afraid also, so to keep the Crakers from being afraid, he masks his fear and puts up a wall of false confidence that convinces the Crakers to not be afraid. He understands that he can’t both be fearful and lead the Crakers well, so not being afraid will allow the Crakers to retain confidence in their leader. When the Crakers ask what the dead bodies are when they revisit the compound, Snowman shields the Crakers from his fear again, saying “[the bodies are] part of the chaos. Crake and Oryx are clearing away the chaos, for you, – because they love you – but they haven’t quite finished yet,” (352). Snowman fears the unknown, which is represented by the bodies of Oryx and Crake, so in order to keep the Crakers from feeling the same way, he tells them another twisted truth. They are asking about what the physical bodies are, but he instead gives them an answer that tells them what the bodies represent, which the Crakers take literally. Had he told the truth, it would hurt the dynamic between the Crakers and Snowman, which would hurt the society of the Crakers tremendously, for they would have no structure or explanations without a leader to provide them. It is also important to note that an ideal society is entirely dependant on perspective. Plato’s ideal society is perfect for just one person: Plato. He took what he found best in society and removed what he thought was bad. Crake did the same thing. He was clearly the only one who thought his society was ideal because every person that survived to see the Crakers found them far from ideal.
Stories will always be an important part of society, and their significance can’t be ignored. The stories are extra important in Plato’s vision of an ideal society because he does not believe that people will comprehend them correctly and must ensure that the messages the stories have been straightforward and timeless. The difficulties of this are demonstrated throughout the novel Oryx and Crake, implying that while the theory of Plato’s society is sound, in practice, all societies are flawed, and when you try to fix those flaws, more flaws emerge. The guardians of the people must also not be fearful of death, for it will create problems between the relationship between the guardians and the people. Mythology plays a big part in the ideal societies of both Plato and Crake.
The Issue of Science Without Ethics as Shown Through Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
In the emerging technical age the idea of science without ethics has turned into a center stage issue. Throughout Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake, science without ethics is explored through two dystopian worlds engineered by Atwood all from the eyes of the protagonist Jimmy, or Snowman—as he is known after humanity was demolished by a devastating plague. The world Jimmy has constant flashbacks to throughout the novel depicts a time in the arguably not so near future where science and technology seem to develop faster than ethics and human responsibility. The second world Atwood manufactures is a post-human world where “Crakers,” creatures similar to humans but without human flaws are among the last living things on the planet, in addition to overrun genetically engineered animals such as rakhunks, wolvogs, and pigoons. Jimmy’s twisted and morally questionable childhood friend Crake is behind the collapse of humanity and overall is a symbol of all of the negative possibilities that can result from scientific thinking detached from ethics.
Throughout the novel, Atwood toys with the idea of anthropocentricism, the idea that in the world humans are the dominant and the most morally significant animals. Through Crake and his obsession with science without ethics, Atwood explores the dangers of trying to push the limits of humanity and anthropocentricism; she turns Oryx and Crake into a cautionary tale of the future. Throughout Oryx and Crake, Atwood contrasts Crake’s science obsessed character with Jimmy who broadly embodies the humanities. With all of the cold and detached futuristic madness that takes place within the novel, Jimmy acts as a voice of reason, a voice of the humanities. In order to create the character of the almighty Crake, Atwood begins his interactions with Jimmy as a teenager. High on marijuana, Jimmy and Crake would play computer games centered around creation and destruction, such as “Barbarian Stomp (See if you can change history” or “Blood and Roses.” Jimmy describes Blood and Roses as a trading game similar to Monopoly, except this game’s content is much more vulgar. Jimmy describes the Blood side as playing with, “human atrocities for the counters, atrocities on a large scale: individual rapes and murders didn’t count, there had to have been a large number of people wiped out. Massacres, genocides, that sort of thing. The Roses side played with human achievements,” (Atwood 79). In addition to the vile computer games that the boys played, the pair also watched a fair deal of child pornography. Crake appears to be incredibly intrigued by both activities, Jimmy quietly plays along but he actively knows that these actions and games are morally wrong, at one point he even calls “Blood and Roses” a, “wicked game,” (79). At this point in the novel, the reader begins to understand that Crake is a budding psychopath with an inflated ego and a nasty god-complex, which contrasts with Jimmy. Though Jimmy is flawed, as the narrator of the tale he is the only voice of ethics, or moral reasoning. Overall, Crake is mentally detached from what evil he is doing in the games or what evil it is watching child pornography, and his cold manner is what makes him susceptible to devoting his life to science without ethics, and basically singlehandedly bringing mankind to its terrible and bloody demise.
In the futuristic society Atwood manufactures, science without ethics is predominant and people are incredibly enamored by biotechnology and its potential benefits. Near the beginning of the novel, in one of Jimmy’s many flashbacks to the world before, Jimmy remembers pigoons, which are essentially a genetically modified pig whose sole purpose on the planet was to, “grow an assortment of fool proof human-tissue organs in a trans genetic knockout pig host—organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year,” (22). The anthropocentricism in Jimmy’s society is so dominant that the biotechnology companies have resorted to altering other species in order to supplement their own trans humanistic needs. However, what Jimmy’s society does not realize is that trans humanism comes at a price, what happens when a change in life expectancy occurs for humans? A change in human life expectancy means a severe negative impact on both the environment which humans actively and knowingly trash daily, and a devastating impact on species besides humans. To further the negative effect of anthropocentricism, Crake reveals that most of the “bugs had now been ironed out, said Crake, and new varieties were appearing every month… ‘If you could tell they were fake,’ said Crake, ‘it was a bad job. These butterflies fly, they mate, they lay eggs, caterpillars come out.” (200). Biotechnology companies in this age are essentially play god, and they see no harm in what they are doing when messing around with other species because in their head they believe that they are the center of the universe, they see no negatives to playing god because they trust that technology and science will fix whatever problems arise.
Within the novel, Crake is not alone in exploiting both humans and nature. It is revealed that the biotechnology corporations such as HelthWyzer or RejoovenEssence that dominate the society not only strive to expand human life expectancy, but also manufacture new diseases in order to get people to rely on their products. Science stripped of ethics in these private profit biotechnology companies forces one to question the value of humanity, not only are humans altering other species to benefit themselves, but they are also making their peers and kin ill on purpose to feed their sadistic capitalistic needs. These evil and dehumanizing projects were kept a secret from the general population, obviously to avoid an utter up rise, and once people found out about them, such as Jimmy’s mother or Crake’s father, they were disposed of; their morality and ethics got them killed. Throughout Jay Sanderson’s scholarly article, “Pigoons, Rakhunks, and Crakers: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Genetically Engineered Animals in a (Latourian) Hybrid World,” Sanderson argues that citizens in Jimmy’s society are so infatuated by biotechnology and its potential benefits that they are willing to take Crake’s BlyssPluss pill without knowing or really caring about its side effects because they hoped that it would improve their quality of life and help take away their vulnerability as humans. Little did these people know that the BlyssPluss pill actually contained Crake’s deadly Jetspeed Ultra Virus Extraordinary (JUVE), which causes the human body to completely shut down, resulting in mass human extinction (Sanderson 220). It can be argued that Crake is not completely evil in tricking society into taking a pill that will end its existence, as they know it. In humans, Crake sees a species that is slowly killing itself and they planet that they inhabit. Resources are getting scarcer, pollution created by humans is making the climate harsher, and classes are becoming more prevalent—resulting in wars and turmoil within the species. Crake sees that humanity itself cannot be saved, so he devises to create a “better” species.
Near the end of the novel when the two dystopian worlds collide, Crake introduces Jimmy to his life work, the “Crakers.” Throughout his life, Crake’s isolation from human emotions and things that make people really “human” had made him into a cold-hearted and logical man who is obsessed with the idea of science without ethics. Crake does not value humanity, Crake sees humanity as weak—which truly separates him from the rest of his population who are heavily anthropocentric. Like many other species before humans, Crake foresees the extinction of mankind, but he quickens it with the BlyssPluss pill, which is sent out worldwide and successfully massacres nearly all of humanity, except for Jimmy and possibly a few others, as Atwood leaves readers to believe at the end of the novel. Throughout Crake’s life stages Atwood throws in whimsical quips on his refrigerator magnets, in Crake’s college life they were much more playful, but near the end of Crake’s life they turned into messages about creation, such as “Where God is, Man is not,” (Atwood 301), because here, Crake is disregarding all other life forms and playing God. Crake’s life obsession and work was with his “Crakers” which are simply put, extremely genetically modified humans. By taking positive and advantageous aspects from many different species Crake creates the “perfect” human—or creature.
The Children of Crake are not destructive creatures; Crake had taken all evil “human” tendencies away. Within the Children of Crake there were no notions of racism, and with that there was no presence of the negative repercussions of racism. There was no need for hierarchy, all of the Crakes were equal, and no class system is present. The Children of Crake are not territorial; they share their land equally. For them, food will never be a driving separating factor within the population because the Children of Crake eat roots, berries, and leaves—and there are always plentiful stashes of such. Sexuality will never be a torment to them, because like most mammals the Children of Crake go into heat at regular intervals—so they do not waste their time brooding over lost love or unrequited love. The Children of Crake only live until about thirty, so there is no fear of mortality, or as far as Crake knows seeing that at his demise the “Crakers” were nowhere near their thirty-year mark of self-destruction (305). Most importantly in the Children of Crake, absent is the tendency to make art or to believe in a God or religion. Crake had tried to take away almost everything that makes one human. Whenever Snowman (Jimmy) interacts with the “Crakers” one learns that they are naïve and simple creatures.
However, as the novel progresses what Crake desired out of these efficient beings begins to slip. Near the middle of the novel as Snowman decides to take his adventure he stops at the Children of Crake’s campground to let him know that he is leaving, as he arrives at the camp he is greeted by Abraham Lincoln. Snowman notes that the one called Abraham Lincoln is getting to be, “a bit of a leader, that one. Watch out for the leaders, Crake used to say. First the leaders and the led, then the tyrants and the slaves, then the massacres. That’s how it’s always gone.” (155) so here, one can see that a form of hierarchy is becoming prevalent within the “perfect group.” As a stab at Crake for betraying him and killing off his loved ones and humanity as a whole, Snowman presents Crake to the “Crakers” as a god, essentially going against Crake’s final wishes. Hints of a strong religion developing occur when the “Crakers” begin to actively worship Crake as a God and constantly inquire Snowman about him. In addition when Snowman leaves to set out on his journey to the buildings of the old world in search of booze and supplies, the “Crakers” create an idol of Snowman and begin praying and chanting to it, desperately hoping for Snowman’s safe return. Out of all of the things Crake was able to omit, he was not able to get rid of signing and dreaming, those two random human actions, according to Crake, are two things that are too human to take away from even the most simple of creatures. The fact that Crake was unable to skip certain aspects of humanity when creating the “Crakers” says a lot about base values of humanity, one is never able to fully get rid of traditional humanity as a whole. Atwood leaves readers to question, is this the only way humanity will survive, to kill it off and start again? On the other hand, seeing the “Crakers” go against Crake’s wishes in developing a religion and such, one has to wonder, will the “Crakers” even make it, or will they turn out just like the civilization that proceeded them and have a tragic end just like humanity? Overall, Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake illustrates the potential dilemmas and unintended consequences of biotechnology gone too far.
Through the two dystopian worlds created by Atwood and explored by Jimmy/Snowman, Atwood paints a terrifying picture of a techno-centric world that may not be too far away. If humans continue to be anthropocentric and keep messing with the other species and with the planet all for their own benefit, then this dystopian world really is right around the corner. Anthropocentricism leads to trans humanism, but one-day technology will no longer be able to be a Band-Aid on all human limitations, such as food shortages, climate change, and even mortality. Oryx and Crake leaves readers with a cautionary tale of what happens when humans decide to play God, and what happens when science is stripped from ethics.