Student Question

How does Oryx and Crake parallel our society?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oryx and Crake takes place after an apocalyptic event has killed much of the world's population. The main character, Jimmy, takes care of a group of genetically modified people who survived the event. The world has been changed by a variety of human-influenced issues that mirror modern problems in society. Ultimately, Oryx and Crake parallels modern society by taking issues that affect the world and making them more extreme and immediate. In many ways, Atwood shows where our world could end up if things continue down dangerous paths and don't have some kind of check on the powers of genetic engineering.

The three major things that Atwood touches on that have parallels to modern society are genetic engineering, corporate dominance, and climate change. The relationship between Jimmy and his best friend Crake is at the heart of the novel. Crake is a brilliant scientist who works to make the Crakers, docile, attractive people who avoid the problems of modern humans. They don't want sex or meat. They don't use technology. They don't look for religion. Crake believes they avoid the pitfalls of humanity. Meanwhile, corporations unleash diseases and then provide cures to make money. Crake wants the Crakers to replace all humans to create a better world. This leads to Crake's company eventually releasing a drug that kills most of the world's population; Jimmy survives because Crake gave him the antidote. Then, however, Jimmy kills Crake and becomes caretaker of the Crakers.

Corporate dominance is one of the main issues that affects the world. People who work for the corporations live in safe, gated communities where they're taken care of. Most of the large corporations make genetically modified animals and do other types of bioengineering. One of the things that corporations do is protect their employees and their families from the way climate change has ravaged the world.

The corporations don't adhere to laws that would protect society. Instead, in their unceasing desire for profit, they manipulate the world to the point of it ending. They create genetic hybrids that are dangerous and unstable. They design things that wouldn't sound out of place in a modern science journal like headless, legless chickens for fast food-restaurants.

Genetic engineering is the largest parallel to the modern world in the novel. Science is so focused on what it's creating that the scientists don't always stop to wonder or care whether what they're doing is good. Progress is great, but without checks and balances, it's possible to go too fast and damage the world. There are also no limits on what the corporations can choose to do, which is why it's possible for Crake to unleash the medication that's supposed to be for his libido but instead leads to most humans dying.

Part of the reason why Crake has so little respect for life is disapproval for the way humans live, but it may also be due to his relative isolation. Growing up in a corporate compound with one parent dead and the other distracted, he's unable to make real connections with people other than Jimmy and, to some extent, Oryx. He sees humanity as so flawed that it needs to be replaced and is fixated on how simple it would be. He says:

All it takes . . . is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.

Of course, ultimately, he's almost right. Jimmy is—as far as he knows—the last human. When he sees three more at the end, he has to choose between approaching them and killing them; Atwood never shows what he ultimately decides.

Climate change is another issue that parallels a major problem in modern society. The landscape is so changed that the characters refer to Harvard as being drowned. Weather is more extreme; the climate in America is dangerous and unfamiliar. It's one of the reasons that the corporations keep people inside the gated communities. It's impossible for certain foods to be grown, and much of the population eats food developed in laboratories. One of the driving forces for the extreme bioengineering is the devastation of the world.

Each of these issues reflects problems and quandaries that modern society faces. There are lots of ethical questions around bioengineering topics and risks that still haven't been fully answered. The issue of climate change is being explored on an international level as governments gather to try to stop the world from going too far toward the brink. Corporate power is also a problem that is being dealt with by governments that are trying to figure out where the proper place is between liberty and regulation.

One thing Atwood shows, though, is that humans are destined to be the same in some ways no matter what happens. Despite the Crakers being engineered to not desire religion, Jimmy becomes a kind of prophet to them as he tells them stories of Crake and Oryx, the girl Crake and Jimmy both had a sexual relationship with. They see Crake and Oryx as gods and therefore may develop some of the traits of the humans they were designed to replace. The world keeps turning, even with so many things going wrong in it.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial