Oryx and Crake Analysis

  • Like The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake imagines a dystopian future where society as we know it has broken down. In Oryx and Crake, advancements in science have created a world where children can be genetically modified to order, pigs can be bred to grow human organs, and chickens are replaced with "ChickieNobs," which have no brains or beaks. Science is a dangerous tool that results in the destruction of the human race.
  • Atwood engages in humorous wordplay throughout Oryx and Crake. She invents words like "pigoon" and alludes to fictionally websites like nitee-nite.com, where Jimmy and Crake watch assisted suicides. Her wordplay is both dark and satirical, with products like ChickieNobs and the BlyssPlus Pill clearly making fun of commercialism. This wordplay offers readers some comic relief in an otherwise serious novel.

Oryx and Crake

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...

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Oryx and Crake

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Margaret Atwood paints a disturbing picture of a storm-racked Earth where corporate greed and arrogant science have virtually destroyed the planet. Near a seashore newly formed by melting icecaps, a vermin-infested creature who calls himself Snowman wraps himself in a filthy sheet and huddles in a tree, terrorized by ferocious wolvogs and crafty pigoons. Snowman is a ragged mythmaker for the Children of Crake, bioengineered innocents in a perverse Eden, in exchange for their weekly tribute of fish. They revere him because he alone knew their brilliant creator Crake, once his best friend, with whom he still pretends to communicate by means of a broken wristwatch.

In flashbacks, where an adolescent Snowman is still known as Jimmy, his parents belong to the scientific elite who work in heavily guarded corporate Compounds far from the grimy cities (pleeblands). His father is an architect of the Pigoon Project, designed to grow multiple human organs in large pig hosts, but his deeply troubled mother escapes the Compound to become an eco-terrorist. Crake’s parents both die mysteriously.

The two boys, who favor violent computer games like Blood and Roses and Kwiktime Osama, accidentally discover the child Oryx on a pornographic Web site, where Jimmy is transfixed by her accusing gaze. She will enter their lives again as a beautiful young woman to become their mutual lover and teacher of the Children, but it is Crake’s misguided vision of the future that will result in the final cataclysm.

Too much of this dystopian world is plausible, even though it is mercifully leavened with Atwood’s acerbic humor (the Children’s hilarious mating ritual, the inedible ChickieNobs). Oryx and Crake will guarantee the reader more than one thoughtful, uneasy night.

Review Sources

America 189, no. 4 (August 18, 2003): 24-25.

Booklist 99, no. 14 (March 15, 2003): 1252.

The Economist 367, no. 8322 (May 3, 2003): 76.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 6 (March 15, 2003): 408.

Library Journal 128, no. 8 (May 1, 2003): 152.

Maclean’s 116, no. 17 (April 28, 2003): 44-49.

The New Republic 229, no. 12 (September 22, 2003): 31-36.

The New York Times, May 13, 2003, p. E9.

The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2003, p. 12.

The New Yorker 79 (May 19, 2003): 88.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 14 (April 7, 2003): 44.

Time 161, no. 20 (May 19, 2003): 72.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Review Sources

America 189, no. 4 (August 18, 2003): 24-25.

Booklist 99, no. 14 (March 15, 2003): 1252.

The Economist 367, no. 8322 (May 3, 2003): 76.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 6 (March 15, 2003): 408.

Library Journal 128, no. 8 (May 1, 2003): 152.

Maclean’s 116, no. 17 (April 28, 2003): 44-49.

The New Republic 229, no. 12 (September 22, 2003): 31-36.

The New York Times, May 13, 2003, p. E9.

The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2003, p. 12.

The New Yorker 79 (May 19, 2003): 88.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 14 (April 7, 2003): 44.

Time 161, no. 20 (May 19, 2003): 72.