Oryx and Crake

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood’s second view of dystopia, reveals a bug-ridden creature near a newly formed American seashore after the icecaps have melted. He calls himself Snowman, after the Abominable Snowman, “a white illusion of a man . . . existing and not existing.” His name used to be Jimmy, he used to love words, and he is trying to stay alive. Scraps of sentences, random phrases, surface in his brain. He savors rare old words that are disappearing inside his head. When he forgets them, they will vanish forever from the world.

In his “authentic-replica” Red Sox baseball cap and a filthy sheet that protects him from the ultraviolet rays, Snowman watches the Children of Crake on the beach, naked innocents in a perverse Eden, as they bring him their broken treasures washed in by the waves. They speak simply and cannot read. Snowman is their mythmaker, inventing stories for the adult Children in exchange for their weekly tribute of fish. They remain in awe of him because he alone has seen their creator, Crake, a brilliant scientist and Snowman’s best friend, with whom he still pretends to communicate by means of a broken wristwatch. They are fearless; he is terrified.

These humanoid Children are the product of Crake’s creative gene-splicing at RejoovenEsense, a highly competitive corporate Compound. They possess luminous green eyes (courtesy of a deep-sea jellyfish gene) and citrus-scented skin which discourages the mosquitoes that plague Snowman. Their innocence is ingrained, too; their brains have been altered to exclude thoughts of hierarchy, racism, and religion. They have been programmed to survive.

The novel alternates between present and past action, viewed through the memories of Snowman-Jimmy. His father is a genographer, first at OrganInc Farms and later at the HelthWyzer Compound. These walled, fortresslike Compounds employ scouts to recruit the best scientific minds and security forces to protect their people. Competition between the biotechnological Compounds is fierce and deadly; the truly talented are automatically at risk of kidnapping or worse. Jimmy’s father has been selected as an architect of the Pigoon Project, creating bigger, fatter pig hosts designed to grow multiple human-tissue organs and replace human skin.

Unlike Jimmy’s pragmatic father, Jimmy’s mother is a scientific idealist. As a microbiologist, she has modified living organisms to protect the pigoons against infection, but she is disillusioned by the increasing commercialization of science, “a moral cesspool.” Depressed, she eventually flees the Compound, leaving Jimmy with a farewell note and a few cryptic postcards. She becomes an antitechnology activist, hunted by the relentless Corporation Security Corps (CorpSeCorps); occasionally Jimmy glimpses her on the television news.

The adolescent Jimmy is a confused dreamer. Green-eyed Crake, intelligent and relatively unemotional, is his new high school lab partner. When the teenagers play the Web game Extinctathon (identifying creatures that have become extinct within the past fifty years), he adopts the code name “Crake” (after an Australian marsh bird), which quickly replaces his real one. The boys also enjoy violent computer games like Blood and Roses, in which human atrocities are pitted against human achievements. While Jimmy prefers to focus on achievements, the more detached Crake favors the atrocities. These opposites seem to identify them, yet Jimmy’s mother once told him that Crake is “intellectually honourable” and “doesn’t lie to himself.” Jimmy remains suspicious.

The boys also roam the Internet to view live beheadings (hedsoff.com), assisted suicides (nitee-nite.com), and continuous pornography. For them, the line between simulation and reality blurs; they fail to recognize reality when they see it. Crake, amused, argues that what they are watching is staged, not real. However, they accidentally discover a real little girl, Oryx, on a child pornography Web site (HottTotts), and Jimmy is stunned by her accusing gaze.

Although both of Crake’s parents die mysteriously before his high school...

(The entire section is 1705 words.)