Oryx and Crake Summary

Snowman lives in a post-apocalyptic world populated by genetically-modified humanoids called Crakers. His best friend, Crake, engineered the Crakers at RejoovenEsense, a corporate Compound like the ones where their fathers used to work. Back then, Snowman was known as Jimmy and Crake was called Glenn.

  • Early on, it becomes clear that Jimmy is a "word person" and Crake is a "numbers person." Crake enrolls at the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute, and Jimmy attends the rundown Martha Graham Academy. After graduation, Jimmy goes to work at an advertising agency, while Crake becomes a scientist at a corporation that manufacturers diseases and their cures.
  • Jimmy descends into a life of boredom and womanizing. Later, Crake lures Jimmy into working for him at the lab, where Crake reveals that he has been genetically modifying human embryos to remove their faults. His engineered children are called Crakers and have glowing green eyes.
  • Crake has also hired a woman named Oryx, a former child porn star, to act as the Crakers' teacher. Jimmy falls in love with Oryx, but, after Crake releases a deadly contagion, Jimmy kills both Oryx and Crake. Somehow, he survives the plague, becoming the lone human survivor. He spends the rest of his life telling stories to the Crakers in exchange for fish.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood creates a futuristic dystopia in which she places her protagonist, Snowman. Although Snowman has managed to survive some kind of catastrophe, the specifics surrounding the event are not revealed until the end of the work. The only other forms of life that Snowman meets on the barren seaside landscape are humanoids and animals that have resulted from bioengineering. The humanoids are called Crakers, innocent beings that are tractable and resistant to diseases. These green-eyed mutants manifest selected traits; they are uninterested in sex and violence, and their skin is impervious to ultraviolet light.

Along with the narrative of Snowman’s daily existence, the reader learns of his youth via flashbacks. As a child he was called Jimmy (he has renamed himself Snowman), and his best friend was named Glenn, who later adopts the name Crake. Both lived in a compound built by a bioengineering firm for its employees. The compound was isolated from other cities. Crake, a scientific whiz, and Jimmy were raised in dysfunctional families. Jimmy’s mother left the family because of her moral resistance to her husband’s work; he was responsible for creating genetic hybrids.

Crake’s father appears to have been murdered in the wake of a scandal with the firm. Crake grows from a youth who spends his time surfing the Web to a scientific mastermind in charge of a secret project. First he studies at the...

(The entire section is 542 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 648 words.)