The Important Messages in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
The science fiction novel, Oryx and Crake written by Margaret Atwood is set in a post- apocalyptic future where only one known human is left to roam the earth. That one lonely soul, Snowman, also known as Jimmy, is the last survivor due to a vaccine that was given to him without his awareness. Throughout the novel, Jimmy is frequently reminded of the past through visual flashbacks. The story of how the human race disappeared from existence is told through Snowman’s flashbacks. As Atwood carries her audience along Jimmy’s journey throughout the novel, the author establishes various messages about immortality, perfection, corruption, betrayal and human hubris. However, Atwood focuses on two particular messages in her novel, genetic engineering without ethics is catastrophic; also, human relationships and feelings can be affected by the cultural, and scientific changes in the society.
The first noteworthy message that Atwood delivers in her novel is that genetic engineering without ethics would result in collapsing the humanity. She exposes the potential consequences to some of the modification or “improvements” in science with violation of ethics. Through Jimmy’s childhood friend, Crake and his obsession with science in the absence of ethics, Atwood explores the dangers of trying to push the limits of humanity; she makes her novel into a cautionary tale of future. In the novel, the genetic modification starts out being strictly for the improvement of life, as an example the Pigoons, a genetically modified pig whose sole purpose 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,”(22). However, blurring the lines of morals and ethics led others to eventually cross them. Later on, in Oryx and Crake, biotechnology companies resorted to alter other species in order to supplement their own trans humanistic needs. These companies were essentially trying to change or mess with nature, as if they were playing the role of god. Specifically, when Jimmy’s mother disputed the actions of her husband, a scientist that was heavily involved in the Pigoon project, over genetically modifying animals and treating them poorly. “You’re interfering with the building blocks of life.” as Jimmy’s mother said to her husband, “It’s immoral. It’s … sacrilegious” (57). Nevertheless, Crake’s isolation from emotions and things that make people really “human” had made him into a cold-hearted and logical man who is obsessed with idea of science without ethics. This is shown in the novel when Jimmy suspects that Crake’s efforts to test his experimental microbes led to the death of his own mother. Crake was very insensitive to humanity and God’s creations. He wanted to create a perfect world in which the Crakers would live. Crakers were humanoid creatures that possessed the best genes materials, and in the eyes of Crake they were ideal, immortal, and predecessors to humans. Crake created BlyssPluss pills which contained deadly virus, to shut down human body completely. These pills were distributed around the world in the name of “prolong youth” and protection from other diseases. This resulted in a successful massacre of almost all of humanity, except Jimmy and possibly others. As if this was not enough, the last chapters of the novel reveals that Crake also slit the throat of his lover, Oryx. Through the actions of Crake, Margaret Atwood makes it very clear that having the ability to genetically modify any species, with the violation of ethics, would result in the destruction and extinction of that species. Overall, Oryx and Crake, Atwood’s novel illustrates the potential dilemmas and unintended consequences of genetic engineering when it gets out of hand.
The second essential message that Atwood conveys in Oryx and Crake, is that abundant kinds of relationships can be affected by the changes in the society. In the novel, despite the lack of emphasis on emotional connection in the technology-based society, the relationships of the characters with each other proves that emotions are an essential and irreplaceable aspect of human traits. The characters in the novel indicate an inherent longing to feel emotions. To illustrate, love is a powerful emotion throughout the novel. This is most effectively demonstrated through Crake’s character, since he is very scientifically driven and adamantly against emotions. Crake considers humans as malfunctioned robots, and he doesn’t see the value of anything unless it serves a distinct evolutionary advantage. However, even he is not immune to the emotion, love. As Crake is introducing Jimmy to Oryx for the very first time, Jimmy notes that “Crake was in love … 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 expressing himself directly shows that emotions are extremely powerful provided that Crake is impossible to analyze. This marks that regardless of the conditions in the society, humans cannot choose their feelings, rather it comes in naturally, therefore it is an essential part of what preserves humanity. The failure of emotionless relationships in Oryx and Crake shows that the essential quality of feelings cannot be replaced with anything else. In the novel, all these unemotional relationships are ultimately unsatisfying and do not survive for very long. Namely, Jimmy’s parents’ relationship, as it broke apart dramatically. Similarly, Jimmy is involved in several passionless affairs before he meets oryx, all of which didn’t go well. As Jimmy described his relationships before ending up as Snowman, “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). The fact that Snowman cannot recall the experience of love by simply speaking into reality shows that feelings goes beyond our control. A deep and authentic emotional relationship is necessary to experience love or other feelings, where it doesn’t exist for Jimmy until he meets Oryx. Even though almost everything can be modified and created with the technological advancement in the novel, the experience of feeling emotions cannot be duplicated or replaced.
Ultimately, through the novel Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood conveys compelling messages about the not so distant future, where techno-centric world awaits us. If humans continue to genetically modify species and try to bring change in nature for their own benefit, then it outcomes will be relatively close to the novel’s. Oryx and Crake leaves readers with a cautionary tale the future when humans act as god, and when science is stripped from ethics. The author also demonstrates the importance of relationships without feelings, as if you can have any without it. Despite society’s lack of emphasis on emotion and love in the novel, it is clear that these feelings remain irreplaceable. As a whole, the novel shows that emotions are what make us humans special and different compared to other species, and that they are an essential part of humanity. Though Atwood warns us about what’s next to come, she closes her novel without telling her audience how to prevent our full of technology world from going towards the world that she created in Oryx and Crake.
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