Margaret Atwood World Literature Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5205

Although she has written poetry, short stories, screenplays, and novels, Atwood’s work is remarkably consistent in content and theme. In spite of her international reputation, she remains resolutely Canadian in residence and in temperament. She has become more political and certainly is a writer of ideas, but, with the notable exceptions of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, she is not propagandistic and heavy-handed. Regardless of the genres in which she writes, Atwood is analytical, almost anatomical, in her dissection of characters and relationships. For the most part, hers is a landscape of the mind, although her writing is also rooted in geography, whether it be Toronto, the Canadian wilderness, or futuristic settings. In many ways, Survival, her literary criticism of Canadian literature, is a key not only to Canadian writers but also to Atwood herself. Much of her work is related to survival in an environment or relationship at once native and alien because, while ostensibly familiar, such contexts are also foreign to a character’s sense of wholeness. For the most part, her characters live defensively, creating superficial, ordered lives that enable them to live in modern urban settings, but there is another, darker side that they repress. That darker, irrational self is associated with the wilderness, with nature, in an almost Emersonian sense.

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In her novels, Atwood’s protagonists are usually young women who have roots in the wilderness but who currently live in an arid urban (or suburban) environment characterized by materialism, consumerism, exploitation, and male chauvinism, all of which are seen as products of the United States. The landscapes, both literal and symbolic, of her novels shape the lives of her female characters, who are both women and products, objects in a society where everything is for sale. Ill at ease, uncomfortable, half-aware of their problems, they leave a society that ironically seems safe, despite the psychological and spiritual threats that it poses, for another environment, a more primitive and dangerous one; it is, nevertheless, a healing environment, because the journey, in Atwood’s novels, is mythical, psychological, and literal. In Surfacing, the protagonist travels to a wilderness island; in Bodily Harm, she goes to the Caribbean. In both cases, the new environment seems alien or foreign, but in the new environments the characters confront the realities that they had repressed and emerge or “surface” as re-created people. The healing process is spiritual, usually related to a culture seen as more primitive. In Surfacing, the Native American culture aids the heroine.

Part of the healing process concerns regaining control of one’s body and one’s language. In Edible Woman, the protagonist sends her lover a woman-shaped cake as a substitute for herself; in Surfacing, the narrator uses her lover to replace the baby she had aborted; and in The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred flees her role as breeder. In the novels, Atwood equates language with power, and the protagonist must articulate her feelings in gender-bound language. For example, in Surfacing, language erodes as the narrator returns to the primitive, irrational side of her nature. By “reporting” their experiences, her protagonists gain power and expose the ruling culture.

In her fiction, Atwood uses language as a poet would; she uses puns (“Offred” is “of Fred,” but also “off red” with many meanings in The Handmaid’s Tale), images (particularly water), and recurrent motifs. Moreover, she is aware, and hence suspicious, of the limits of language, of the problem of narration and voice. Her Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems (1983) explores the issue of writing and the relationship between writer and reader (in 2002 she addressed the nature of writing in her Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing), but it also reflects the ease with which she moves from poetry to short fiction and blurs the distinction between the two genres. In fact, her short stories, as a group, are poetic in the way that she uses images and experiments with form to explore human relationships.

Atwood’s poetry also concerns human relationships that are played out against geographical and psychological landscapes. Her early poetry volume The Circle Game establishes the garrison mentality of adults under emotional siege; they construct abstract patterns or maps that appropriate reality and keep others at a safe distance. The volume also develops the images of water and drowning suggestive of the descent into one’s repressed self, of mirrors that entrap those more concerned with image than reality, and of violence that characterizes human relationships. In Power Politics (1971) she makes explicit the themes developed in The Circle Game; the myth of romantic love is exposed as a sham. Love is a power struggle in which partners victimize, exploit, and consume (as in The Edible Woman) each other. The “Circe/Mud” poems of You Are Happy (1974) reinforce the idea of exploited women, who are shaped, like clay, to suit their lovers.

The feminist politics of Power Politics and You Are Happy become more global in Two-Headed Poems (1978) and in True Stories (1981). In “Two-Headed Poems,” Atwood uses two speakers to explore Canadian complicity in the “Americanization” process, and in True Stories, she attacks national “circle games” that enable Canadians to shield themselves from the harsh realities of international famine, violence, and terrorism. Atwood’s poetry, like her fiction, has become increasingly political, but in neither form has she abandoned literature for propaganda. She remains committed to form and to experiments with narrative and language; she also has the ability, despite the seriousness of content, to use humor, ranging from puns to irony, to convey her vision of human relationships.

Surfacing

First published: 1972

Type of work: Novel

In her search for her missing father, the narrator retreats to the literal and psychological wilderness of northern Quebec, where she reexamines her life and symbolically re-creates herself.

Surfacing, Atwood’s second novel, recapitulates many of the themes and images from both her poems and The Edible Woman (1969), her first novel. In both novels, for example, a young woman finally rebels against a technological society that would mold and shape her life and then experiences a psychological breakdown before emerging as a survivor with an integrated or whole personality. Surfacing, however, is a richer, denser novel because the journey that the unnamed narrator undertakes is literal, psychological, and mythical; the novel is further complicated by the unreliable narrator, who not only acknowledges fictionalizing her story but also must use the very rational language that she comes to distrust because it is the language of the Americanized culture that she rejects.

In the first part of the novel, the unnamed narrator (her lack of a name suggests a lack of real identity and implies that she does not belong in her culture) leaves the city and travels to the Canadian wilderness to find her missing father, who is perhaps dead. Her companions are David, a would-be cinematographer; Anna, his passive doll/girlfriend; and Joe, the narrator’s shaggy lover and a frustrated potter. As they travel north, the narrator suggests that “either the three of them are in the wrong place or I am” and calls her “home ground” a “foreign country.” When she later adds, “I don’t know the way any more,” it seems clear that she has become alienated from her parents (she also did not attend her mother’s funeral) and from her past. She also is alienated from “them,” the companions whom she comes to see as exploitive “Americans” with the technology, pollution, and violence that slowly creep northward. As she narrates the story, she mentions her husband and a child, as well as a drowned brother. The brother, however, is not dead; he “surfaced,” foreshadowing her own surfacing. The husband and child are also part of her fiction; she aborted the baby she conceived with her married lover, and that abortion, cutting her off from nature, still haunts her. She is an incomplete person, a point that Atwood makes by having her mention that Anna thought she was a twin; later, the narrator states, “I must have been all right then; but after that I’d allowed myself to be cut in two,” obliquely referring to the abortion.

The narrator returns to the divided self at the beginning of part 2 and maintains that the language that divided the body and the head is “wrong,” that she is “translating badly, a dialect problem.” Atwood’s concern with the limitations of language continues throughout the novel and reflects the growing distrust of the rational and the embracing of less conscious, more instructive modes of knowing. What the narrator comes to know is that David and Anna are in a mutually destructive relationship, which David attempts to capture on film, thereby defining Anna as object rather than person. The narrator, who had believed that she and David were similar in their lack of love, comes to understand that he is incapable of surfacing or becoming real: “He was infested, garbled, and I couldn’t help him; it would take such time to heal, unearth him, scrape him down to where he was true.” (This understanding occurs in part 3.) David is an exploiter, like the “Americans,”—ironically, real Canadians, who shot a heron “to prove they could do it,” who wish to develop her father’s island property, and who want to flood the area. In fact, part of David’s problem is that, despite his clichéd attacks on the Americans, he has himself become “Americanized.”

As time passes, the narrator discovers her father’s drawings and her mother’s scrapbook, two guides that lead her to the cliff where she hopes to find the Native American paintings and clues about her father’s fate. When she dives, she finds instead “a dark oval trailing limbs,” a vision that makes her confront the truth about her abortion. Since she describes the vision as a “chalice, an evil grail,” the narrator’s vision or epiphany becomes the answer, the end of the mythical quest or journey, although she cannot yet interpret it correctly. The vision, however, does radically alter her, setting her apart from her companions, who have “turned against the gods” and yet would persecute her for “heresy.” “It was time for me to choose sides,” she writes, but her choice is seen ironically as “inhuman.” Part 2 concludes with her decision to immerse herself “in the other language,” the language not associated with the dominant culture.

Part 3 of the novel begins with the narrator being impregnated by Joe, who has already been described as more “animal” than David or Anna and hence is the appropriate father foreshadowed in her childish picture of the moon-mother and horned man. While their union might reinforce the stereotypical gender roles that she has rejected, the narrator’s description of their coupling is devoid of feeling; he is only a means of restoring the “two halves” separated by her complicity in the abortion: “I can feel my lost child surfacing within me, forgiving me.” She then unwinds the film, symbolically denying David and Joe the power to capture their vision of reality and freeing Anna from her passive celluloid image, though Anna remains trapped in her compact, which shapes her appearance and life to the masculine will. The narrator hides when the others leave, turns the entrapping mirror to the wall, discards her wedding ring and clothes, leaves the cabin, and enters her parents’ world. Language breaks down as she breaks “down” and then “through”; she sees both parents, who then return to nature, one as a jay, the other as a fish. When she wakes the next morning, the ghosts have been exorcised and she is free. At the end of the novel, she states that the most important thing is “to refuse to be a victim,” but she must decide whether or not to go back with Joe. If she does, her description of him as “half-formed” implies that she, not he, will be the creator and shaper.

The Handmaid’s Tale

First published: 1985

Type of work: Novel

In a postnuclear war society governed by repressive, puritanical men, a young woman recounts on tape her survival and escape.

Set in the near future, a time just prior to the year 2000, The Handmaid’s Tale is science fiction but also an indictment of the present, since Atwood’s future is the reader’s present. It is an atypical Atwood novel, her only novel not rooted in Canada and the only one to be so blatantly propagandistic. In it, she fulfills the promise of her narrator protagonist in Lady Oracle (1976): “I won’t write any more Costume Gothics. . . . But maybe I’ll try some science fiction.” Atwood prefers the term “speculative fiction” because of the blending of future and present and maintains that all the events in the novel have a “corresponding reality, either in contemporary conditions or historical fact.” Since the novel is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Atwood also indicts the American culture, which contains the “corresponding reality.”

The novel begins with a quotation from the book of Genesis about a barren Rachel encouraging her husband Jacob to have children by her maid, Bilhah. In the aftermath of nuclear war, a new North American republic called Gilead (another biblical reference to fertility) attempts to correct a declining birthrate, caused by nuclear radiation and pollutants, by relegating fertile women to the role of Bilhah-like Handmaids, the breeders of society. (In fact, all Gilead women are assigned to one of eight roles, each distinguished by its own uniform.) In such a patriarchal society where religion, state, and military are combined, women’s identities are controlled by men. Offred, the narrator, has lost her real name; she is “of Fred,” in reference to the commander whom she services in a perverse, impersonal sexual coupling with his wife, Serena Joy, at the head of the bed. At the beginning of the novel, Offred recounts her training under the aunts—also a perverse parody of the training that nuns and sisters undergo; Offred’s uniform, though red, resembles a nun’s habit.

Despite her indoctrination, Offred chafes under the repressive regime, and, when her commander gives her access to his library, a male preserve—reading is dangerous for women—she becomes even more rebellious. She meets Moira, an old friend, at a brothel where the males circumvent their own repressive sexual roles and discovers that there is a revolutionary organization named Mayday, which suggests fertility and anarchy. Her rebellion is fueled by her illegal affair with Nick, the chauffeur, who restores her identity (she tells him her real name), liberates her sexually, and ultimately aids in her escape via the Underground Femaleroad, reflecting, through its parody of the slave underground railroad, the slavish position of women in Gilead.

Offred survives to tell her tale, not in traditional epistolary form but in tapes that have been edited by scholars in the year 2195. Atwood’s account of the tapes, similar to traditional accounts about finding ancient manuscripts, is appended as “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale” to the text of the novel, but, in suggesting that two centuries have not altered female/male relationships, the notes continue the novel’s indictment of current culture. In keeping with utopian tradition, Atwood’s site for the scholarly proceedings is the University of Denay, Nunavit (or the university of deny, none of it). Atwood’s wry denial of the validity of the proceedings calls into question the male editing of female discourse; Professors Pieixoto and Wade have arranged “the blocks of speech in the order in which they appeared to go.” Since Offred frequently alludes to the problem of articulating her feelings and experiences, the professors’ presumptuous efforts are open to question.

While the proceedings are chaired by a woman, Professor Maryann Crescent Moon (perhaps a criticism of academic tokenism), the keynote speaker is a man, Professor Pieixoto, whose comments hardly represent an improvement over current male chauvinism. In his opening remarks, he alludes to “enjoying” Crescent Moon, “the Arctic Chair.” His further comments about the title of the book (the “tale”/“tail” being a deliberate pun by his male colleague) and his joke about the “Underground Frail-road” reveal the same chauvinistic condescension that characterizes current academic discourse. His unwillingness to pass moral judgments on the Gileadean society, because such judgments would be “culture-specific,” reflects not scientific objectivity, which he already has violated by his editing, but his moral bankruptcy.

The Handmaid’s Tale does survive, however, despite the male editing, as a “report” on the present/future; similarly, in Bodily Harm, the radicalized protagonist becomes a “subversive,” who vows to “report” on the repressive society. The novel, like Brave New World (1932) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), serves as an anatomy, an indictment, and a warning about current society. Among Atwood’s targets are religious fanaticism, nuclear energy, environmental waste, and antifeminist practices. Like other utopian novels, however, The Handmaid’s Tale is weakened by its political agenda, which creates one-dimensional characters and somewhat implausible events; the propaganda, however, also gives the novel its power, relevance, and appeal. Because of its popularity, it was adapted to film in 1990.

“The Circle Game”

First published: 1964 (collected in The Circle Game, 1966)

Type of work: Poem

The speaker explores the emotional barriers that children and adults erect to remain separate and alienated.

The title poem of Atwood’s The Circle Game (1966) develops the circle motif that pervades her poetry and represents the patterned, structured world that both controls and shelters individuals who seek and fear freedom from conformity. The seven-part poem juxtaposes the children’s world and the adult world but suggests that childhood circle games, ostensibly so innocent, provide a training ground for the adult circle games that promote estrangement and emotional isolation. In the first part of the poem, the children play ring-around-a-rosy; but despite the surface appearance of unity, each child is separate, “singing, but not to each other,” without joy in an unconscious “tranced moving.” As they continue going in circles, their eyes are so “fixed on the empty moving spaces just in front of them” that they ignore nature with its grass, trees, and lake. For them, the “whole point” is simply “going round and round,” a process without purpose or “point.” In the second part, the couple plays its own circle games as the lover remains apart, emotionally isolated despite sharing a room and a bed with the speaker. Like the children, his attention is focused elsewhere, not on the immediate and the real, but on the people behind the walls. The bed is “losing its focus,” as he is concerned with other “empty/ moving spaces” at a distance or with himself, “his own reflection.” The speaker concludes that there is always “someone in the next room” that will enable him to erect barriers between them.

Part 3 moves from the isolation of part 1 to an abstract defensiveness that unconsciously enforces that isolation. The innocent sand castles on the beach are comprised of “trenches,” “sand moats,” and “a lake-enclosed island/ with no bridges,” which the speaker sees as a “last attempt” to establish a “refuge human/ and secure from the reach/ of whatever walks along/ (sword hearted)/ these night beaches.” Since the speaker has earlier equated “sword hearted” with the adult world, she implies that the adult world poses the real or imagined threat. Protection from “the reach” becomes the metaphor for the lover’s unwillingness to have her “reach him” in part 4 (part 2 described her as “groping” for him). The lover’s fortifications are more subtle verbal and nonverbal games (“the witticisms/ of touch”) that enable him to keep her at a “certain distance” through the intellect that abstracts and depersonalizes reality. As the lover has been a “tracer of maps,” which are themselves the abstraction of physical reality, he is now “tracing” her “like a country’s boundary” in a perverse parody of John Donne’s map imagery in his Metaphysical love poetry. For the lover, she becomes part of the map of the room, which is thus not real but abstract, and she is “here and yet not here,” here only in the abstract as she is “transfixed/ by your eyes’! cold blue thumbtacks,” an image that suggests distance, control, and violence.

The last three parts of the poem draw together the children’s world and that of the adults. In part 5, the speaker observes the contrast between the children’s imaginative perception of violence (the guns and cannons of the fort/museum) and the adult perception of the domestication of that violence as the “elaborate defences” are shifted first to the glass cases of the museum and then, metaphorically, to their own relationship. The defenses become the “orphan game” of part 6, in which the lover prefers to be “alone” but is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the family games in which parents “play” their roles. Metaphorically, he is on the outside looking in, observing but separated by the window barrier. In the last part of the poem, it is “summer again,” itself a circle of the seasons, and the children’s outside circle games are again mirrored by the adult’s inside circle games. The earlier images—the “observations,” the noises in the next room, the maps, the “obsolete fort”—resurface as the couple are neither “joined nor separate.” The speaker, “a spineless woman in/ a cage of bones” (another image of entrapment), wants to break the circle, to erase the maps, to break the glass cases, to free herself from his “prisoning rhythms.” The speaker recognizes and articulates the problem, but she cannot free herself of the circles.

“Two-Headed Poems”

First published: 1978 (collected in Two-Headed Poems, 1978)

Type of work: Poem

Two speakers conduct a “duet” about the complex love-hate relationship between Canada and the United States.

The title poem of Two-Headed Poems is, according to the speaker, “not a debate/ but a duet/ with two deaf singers.” In fact, the poem concerns the problems of being a Canadian neighbor to a world power whose corrupt values are expressed in the “duet.” Like the Siamese twins, described as “joined head to head, and still alive,” the United States and Canada are awkwardly joined: “The heads speak sometimes singly, sometimes/ together, sometimes alternately within a poem.” At times, it is clear which country speaks, but not always, for the two countries do share, however reluctantly, some characteristics. The leaders of both countries are criticized, though the leader who “is a monster/ sewn from dead soldiers” is an American president of the Vietnam era, a recurrent motif in the poem. Yet Atwood is as concerned about language as she is with actions, the nonverbal gestures. One “head” asks, “Whose language/ is this anyway?” The corruption of Canadian English, itself a political act, stems from the passive nature of a people content to be Americanized, to shut down “the family business” that was “too small anyway/ to be, as they say, viable.” The Canadians whose identity comes from “down there” in the United States are associated with “nouns,” but they are also hostile (the candy hearts become “snipers”) and impatient to act on their own:

Our dreams thoughare of freedom, a hungerfor verbs, a songwhich rises double, gliding beside usover all these rivers, borders,over ice and clouds.

The Canadian head calls for action to complete the sentence by combining with nouns, and the resultant language should not be a political statement, but a celebratory song, a “double” that transcends borders. The dreams of freedom are, however, only futile dreams, and the closing images are of being “mute” and of “two deaf singers.” Communication between the two “heads” is, by definition, impossible, and Atwood clearly implies that the American/Canadian coupling that impedes both countries is an aberration of nature.

Alias Grace

First published: 1996

Type of work: Novel

Atwood creates a fictionalized account of the life of Grace Marks, a nineteenth century Canadian woman who was convicted of killing her employer and his mistress.

Atwood read about Grace Marks, the convicted murderess of her employer Thomas Kinnear and his mistress, Nancy Montgomery, in Susanna Moodie’s Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush (1853), but she soon realized that Moodie’s account was fictionalized. Grace added to the confusion by offering three different versions of the murder; James McDermott, who was hanged for his role in the murders, provided two more versions. Atwood had all this information, plus numerous newspaper accounts, when she wrote Alias Grace, to which she added prefatory materials and an “Author’s Afterword.” Despite the wealth of information, Grace’s role in the murders remains, as Atwood put it, “an enigma.”

Grace, the first-person narrator, tells two stories in the novel, one a stream-of-consciousness rendering of her thoughts and the other the story she tells Dr. Simon Jordan, a well-meaning psychologist who interviews Grace in prison. Aware of her situation, Grace tells Jordan what she thinks he wants to hear. Jordan, who dreams of establishing his own clinic, is bent on unlocking the “box” (the truth) but admits he does not have the key. He and Grace play a cat-and-mouse game, which she wins. A series of events leads Jordan into an affair with his landlady, who attempts to persuade him to help her murder her husband, who returns unexpectedly; this plot provides an ironic counterpart to the Kinnear and Montgomery murders. Jordan’s reminiscences about the servant girls in his parents’ home, and his fantasies about prostitutes indicate that he, not Grace, is obsessed with sex. After he rejects his landlady’s plan, Jordan flees Canada, returns to his home in the United States, enlists in the Civil War, and then receives a head wound, which conveniently provides him with the amnesia that makes him forget his Canadian experiences.

In addition to the murders and the planned murder, the novel also recounts the sexual exploitation of a woman by a man. Mary Whitney, a friend and confidant of Grace’s. Mary is seduced by a wealthy young man, whose parents are Mary’s employers. He later rejects the pregnant Mary, whose subsequent death from a botched abortion is hushed up by her employers. Atwood’s novel also includes marriages in addition to the one between Jordan and Faith Cartwright, a young woman chosen by Jordan’s mother. Lydia, the prison governor’s daughter, who has designs on Jordan, is married off to Reverend Verringer after Jordan’s flight in order to preserve her reputation. Whether it is the exploitation of servant girls by their masters or the conventions of society that dictate the behavior of upper-class young women, women in this novel are not in charge of their lives.

In addition to the unreliable narrator, a staple of Atwood’s fiction, Alias Grace contains other familiar elements, many of them gothic: murder, demonic possession, madness, secrets, supernatural elements (including hypnosis), and a fear of women and their power. Atwood uses the epistolary form (letters between Jordan and his dominating mother) and includes a ballad she wrote in a nineteenth century style. All of these elements are used to question not only the nature of truth but also the notion of colonial innocence in English Canada.

Oryx and Crake

First published: 2003

Type of work: Novel

In a dystopian future of unlimited biotechnological progress, a young man and a laboratory-created “people” survive a global disease.

Oryx and Crake also uses an unreliable narrator, the Snowman (his real name was Jimmy), an outcast and survivor of a global disease created by his friend Crake. In this dystopian novel, Snowman recounts what led to the disaster and what is happening in the present. When the novel begins, Snowman is in the present, foraging for food and instructing the Crakers, “people” created by Crake. Crake and Jimmy were childhood friends with different interests: Jimmy was a “word person”; Crake was a “numbers person.” Both lived with their parents in the Compound, a gated community of people who work for biotech corporations. After graduation, the friends drifted apart, Crake to the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute and Jimmy to the run-down Martha Graham Academy. The schools reflect the relative importance of the sciences (numbers) and the arts (words).

When they enter the job market, Crake works as a scientist for the biotech companies, and Jimmy becomes not a “wordsmith” but a “wordserf” in advertising. Eventually, Crake lures Jimmy to Watson-Crick, where Crake shows Jimmy the hybrid animals that the scientists are creating. Jimmy also learns that the scientists, who have cures for the known diseases, are creating new diseases and their cures to continue to make money. Crake’s own department is ironically named Paradice, and its work involves creating populations with “ideal” characteristics, such as beauty and docility, because “several world leaders had expressed interest in that.” The Crakers, as they come to be called, were programmed not to be racist, aggressive, sexually charged, or religious. Like other animals, they came into heat at regular intervals and urinated to mark their territory, but unlike other animals, they recycled their own excrement. Such “people” would therefore not experience the modern problems of “real” people.

Despite his aversion to modern problems, Crake falls in love, an emotion that leads to possessiveness and violence. Unfortunately, Jimmy is also in love with Oryx, a sexual waif he had seen on television when he was a child. She reappears as Crake’s lover, after having been the victim of white slavery and pimps. Jimmy exhibits all the symptoms of romantic love: sleeplessness, jealousy (demanding information about Oryx’s sexual past), and possessiveness. Oryx, however, is rooted in the present as the instructor of the Crakers. She also acts as a salesperson for the drugs that Crake’s company is manufacturing. The drugs are programmed to cause instantaneous suffering and death, which occurs on a global scale. At Crake’s instructions, Jimmy clears Paradice of all other personnel, which leaves him alone as an insulated, protected being. When Crake and Oryx appear at Paradice’s door, Jimmy kills them.

Jimmy/Snowman, who believes that he is the sole “human” survivor of the disease Crake has unleashed (Crake had thoughtfully provided him with the antidote), carries on the instruction Oryx had begun. Because of his love/hate relationship with Crake, he provides the Crakers with a mythology that includes Crake as the Creator/God and Oryx as the Earth Mother. He pretends to correspond with Crake through a wristwatch with a blank face, suggesting that he and the Crakers are suspended in time. Eventually, he has to travel from the “pleeblands” back to Paradice to get supplies, but in the course of his journey he recalls past events and keeps uttering random words, almost as if his existence depended upon language. In the present, however, his journey is threatened by the hybrid animals that Crake created. When he returns from Paradice to the Crakers, he discovers that despite Crake’s efforts, the Crakers are beginning to gain notions of ambition and hierarchy, notions that will lead to the problems Crake sought to prevent. Snowman also discovers that there are three other human survivors. Armed with a weapon, he tracks them down, but cannot decide what action to take, and the novel ends at “zero hour.”

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