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.
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