Childhood Trauma in the MaddAddam Trilogy
Childhood Trauma in the MaddAddam Trilogy
Memories of youth and adolescence are an integral aspect of one’s maturation. The consequences of traumatizing childhoods can affect children throughout the remainder of their lives, as those who fail to confront their damages subsequently fail to truly move on. The outcomes of a negative adolescent experience are evident in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy through the many characters who lose their innocence at a young age. As a result of their adolescent experiences, these characters grow up with many defining characteristics that can be traced back to their early years. Through the characters Jimmy, Ren, and Blackbeard, Atwood demonstrates how the quality of one’s childhood ultimately affects his or her mental development into adulthood.
In Atwood’s first novel, Oryx and Crake, the protagonist Jimmy suffers an unhappy childhood of neglect and disregard and consequently finds himself forever discontent in adulthood. While perhaps the clearest moment of abandonment in his childhood is when Jimmy’s mother leaves him, taking with her his best friend Killer, a genetically modified “rakunk,” Jimmy’s life before his mother’s abandonment is still replete with neglect. Growing up, he is unable to garner love from both of his parents – a father unable to connect with his mediocre son and a mother who is constantly withdrawn and emotionally unstable. This neglect becomes most evident on Jimmy’s birthdays when his parents would consistently forget and his father would simply “send him an e-birthday card – the OrganInc standard design” (Oryx 50). Jimmy’s lack of an emotional connection with his parents ultimately damages his ability to form relationships with others in adulthood. While Jimmy seeks physical satisfaction in his many sexual partners, he never feels emotionally invested in his lovers. This inability to form lasting deep relationships with others is ultimately a reflection of his poor relationship with his parents.
While Jimmy’s unhappy childhood results in an inability to forge meaningful relationships, Ren’s unstable childhood in Atwood’s Year of the Flood, results in a lack of self worth and emotional security. Ren’s childhood is replete with instability. As her self-centered mother Lucerne forces them to move on multiple occasions for her own personal pursuits, Ren’s sense of safety and comfort diminish, and any sources of consistency and peace in her life disappear. Furthermore, throughout her childhood, Ren lacks a stable father figure; she is forced away from her biological father Frank, and her relationship with her substitute father figure Zeb is unreliable and ultimately fails when Lucerne decides to uproot their lives once again. This lack of stability during childhood results in a lack of emotional wellbeing later in life. As an adult, Ren is insecure and naïve; she constantly seeks validation of self worth, as evidenced in her role at Scales and Tails, a place in which she feels assured of her value as not “disposable” but instead useful—“talent” (Year 282). This insecurity and desperation for validation stems from her lack of stability as an adolescent and ultimately stunts her emotional maturity as an adult.
Unlike Ren and Jimmy, the character Blackbeard in Atwood’s MaddAddam demonstrates how a happy childhood results in positive psychological development. As a Craker, a genetically modified “ideal” human, Blackbeard’s childhood is positive and constructive; he is nurtured throughout adolescence and surrounded by a strong sense of family and community. This constructive environment for development results in strong psychological maturation, as Blackbeard consistently demonstrates a positive attitude and sense of curiosity. This is perhaps best reflected in his encounters with Toby, specifically when she teaches him to read and write. As she enlightens Blackbeard, the precocious Craker quickly gains interest in the new skill, excitedly telling her, “It did, Oh Toby,… It said my name! I told my name to Ren!” (MaddAddam 203). Blackbeard’s exceptional interest in learning is a result of his positive upbringing. Without the emotional trauma that Jimmy and Ren experience, Blackbeard is able to foster his sense of curiosity and direct his attention toward educational development.
While characters in all three of Atwood’s novels demonstrate the effects of childhood development, the character Oryx is a reflection of the opposite. Despite her many traumatic experiences throughout adolescence, Oryx remains a source of peace and positivity. This drastic difference in the effects of childhood trauma perhaps lies in the characters’ fundamentally different life philosophies. Oryx’s ability to cope with her scarring experiences stems from her ability to accept things as they are; rather than repressing her memories or refusing to confront them, Oryx accepts her fate, and in her acceptance, finds the contentment and reassurance that others lack.
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Childhood Trauma in the MaddAddam Trilogy Memories of youth and adolescence are an integral aspect of one’s maturation. The consequences of traumatizing childhoods can affect children throughout the remainder of […]