Throughout Atwood's text, there is a distinct division between before the release of the virus and after. This dichotomy in the plot is presented through the renaming of various characters in the novel. The renaming is symbolic as it tracks the enormous changes that have happened in the world. The protagonist of the book, Jimmy/Snowman, provides an excellent example of the transformation symbolized by a name change.
In addition, there is a foreshadowing of the events to come in the use of extinct animals as nicknames for two of the three main characters. Oryx and Crake both received their nicknames from a list of extinct creatures. The names of those working inside of the Paradice project were also drawn from the same list. Jimmy also had a similar nickname, Thickney, but it didn't stick. Jimmy is also the only one of the three that survives the fallout of the pandemic.
Oryx's name stands alone. She does not have a "real" name. This ambiguous naming, i.e. the using of only a nickname, reflects her character. She is a wispy, undefined character. She speaks vaguely and reveals little about herself. Most of what is learned by the reader is through Jimmy's speculations.
In Jimmy and Crake's world, little is left to the imagination. Almost everything can be watched, for a price. Jimmy and Crake's friendship is built upon watching hours upon hours of execution, live suicide, animal killing, and pornography. Their world is one of spectacle. The CorpSeCorps don't seem to care about this but instead concentrate their efforts on those who are against such a lifestyle.
In everyday life, appearance drives the economic market for beauty enhancing products. OrganInc, AnooYoo, and RejoovenEsense all make their money on this seemingly global desire. The need to look good is necessary as nearly everything is broadcast and everyone wants to look his or her best.
Even as the virus is destroying the world, the pattern continues. Several individuals broadcast their respective demises on the internet for the surviving few to witness.
The theme of "natural" evolution vs. "synthetic" evolution is presented in Oryx and Crake numerous times. The pharmaceutical companies in the novel have gone beyond creating medicines to battle disease and bodily dysfunction. Their expansion into genetically modified animals raises questions about what exactly comprises nature. Crake describes his modification of human beings as a part of nature as in his view, nothing lies outside of the realm of nature.
The theme of nature is most poignantly explored in the last chapter of the book. Upon seeing three other surviving humans, Snowman has to decide which population, human or Craker, will have the chance to prosper. His decision, which is not revealed in the text, raises questions about human nature and the future evolution of the various surviving species.
The creation of the Crakers was driven by society's (and Crake's) desire to achieve immortality. While most were pursuing the goal through modification of the human through organ transplant and drugs to rejuvenate aging bodies. Crake, on the other hand, approaches the quest differently.
Instead of pursuing immortality by modifying humans that were already in existence, Crake aimed to recreate the human from the inside out. Based on the premise that fear of death is what resulted in mortality, Crake figured that if he could construct a being that had no fear of death that the search for immortality would end.
The Crakers were created to maximize quality of life and minimize impact on the Earth. Among the traits genetically given to them, an inability to read, a lack of interest in art, a lack of desire to worship a higher being, and an ignorance of death were the most pertinent to achieving Crake's desired immortality.
In Oryx and Crake, disease plays a multitude of roles. Its overarching presence makes it one of the most important themes of the novel. For example, disease is a marker of class through the segregation of urban areas. Those who have comfortable jobs with the major pharmaceutical companies live in disease-free, highly guarded compounds. Those who are not affiliated with such companies live in the disease-infested pleeblands. Disease is so ubiquitous in the latter that residents who do not normally reside in the pleeblands either avoid entering them or take special medicines to enter them safely.
Disease is also presented in Oryx and Crake as a weapon of mass destruction. Crake's widespread distribution of his masked virus results in the death of almost the entire human population. Crake is not the only one to use disease as a weapon. Crake himself accuses pharmaceutical companies of inventing diseases and cures simultaneously in order to maintain a high demand for their services. Although one could consider this use of disease a swindle, it is also a powerful capitalistic weapon.
Finally, disease is subversively used as a cure to the problems of humanity. By inflicting a lethal disease on the world's population, Crake hoped to remove hunger, war, jealousy, crime, rape, and a host of other undesirable conditions of the human experience.
In Oryx and Crake, there is a strong preference for those who are scientifically or mathematically capable. The world has little use for those who are verbally inclined. Unfortunately for Jimmy, he is skilled with words, not numbers. This fact comprises one of the main tensions in the novel.
From the very beginning of their friendship, Jimmy and Crake noted their academic differences. Crake would often tutor Jimmy to help him pass his math and science classes. Crake was unable to understand why Jimmy struggled with subjects that he found easy and essential.
The death of artistic use of language is seen in the various points of the book. For example, Jimmy's college asked him to throw old, useless library books away. Jimmy couldn't do it, however, because he was unable to choose which books to keep versus which ones to dispose of. Another example can be seen in the rank and salary given to an individual in Jimmy's vocational grouping. Those working in advertising, i.e. a purely word-driven field, were paid little. Jobs in this market were extremely hard to come by as well.
In Jimmy's present, i.e. as Snowman, there is a slow slipping away of words. Unable to remember the definitions or importance of words, Snowman recognizes that not only is he slipping away, so is the last bits of humanity. For much of the novel, Snowman believes that he is the only surviving human. If this is true, it means that once he forgets a word, it's gone forever. The thought panics Snowman as he tries to hold on to every bit of his verbal memory.
Jimmy and Crake's parental relationships are reflected in their later lives through their romantic and platonic interactions. As both Jimmy and Crake had absent or dead parents, their understanding of nurturing relationships is maimed. Oryx, on the other hand, despite having been treated badly by all of her parental figures, retains a respect and hope that Jimmy and Crake lack. It is probable this facet of Oryx's personality is part of what attracts both Jimmy and Crake to her.
Jimmy's romantic relationships are short and largely meaningless, a way for him to dull a festering emotional pain. Crake is seemingly unable to form connections with individuals apart from Jimmy. Once they both meet Oryx, they both appear to experience love for the first time.
Oryx's nurturing nature is also featured prominently in her interactions with the Crakers. She is the Craker's symbol of love. Jimmy, on the other hand, struggles with his position as the Craker caretaker.
Oryx and Crake Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake takes place in a future world where scientific achievements and particularly genetic experimentation are the focus of society. Mankind's obsession with science ultimately allows the ethically blind idealist Crake to destroy human society.
The protagonist, Jimmy, is the only son of two genetic scientists. His mother quits working when he is young, due to an untreated nervous breakdown. Jimmy's father rises to prominence as a researcher but fails as a father. His father does not understand that young children do not understand ironic humor, so he has a hard time communicating with Jimmy. Both of Jimmy's parents usually forget his birthday.
Jimmy's mother abandons the family and escapes into the pleeblands (dirty, lawless cities) when Jimmy is a teenager. He finds it hard to make friends and only really talks to his classmates when he is creating comedic skits to entertain them. Midway through high school, Jimmy befriends Crake, a transfer student. Jimmy and Crake share similar online and gaming interests, and they bond over their obsession with a child porn star who will later be known as Oryx.
Although Jimmy is intelligent in using words, he graduates from HelthWyzer High as an average student. He gets accepted at a third-rate college, the Martha Graham Academy, where he studies problematics. After graduation, Jimmy takes a job as a librarian but gets fired because he cannot bear to throw out books. His next job involves writing ads for self-help products. Even though Jimmy doesn't have any interest in his work, he has a knack for what he does and soon starts climbing the corporate ladder.
Jimmy finds it easy to relate to women sexually but hard to have intimate emotional connections. By his mid-twenties, he has given up on romance and settled for a collection of married sex partners. However, his interest in women fades when Jimmy falls into a depression after learning that his mother has been executed for treason.
Crake re-enters Jimmy's life while Jimmy is feeling depressed. Crake, a brilliant scientist, now works for Paradice, a project in the RejoovenEsence compound. Crake hires Jimmy to work on an ad campaign for BlyssPlus, a Viagra-type drug that will clandestinely sterilize its users. Trusting his old friend, Jimmy doesn't stop to ponder the ethics of the product. While working with Crake at the RejoovenEsence compound, Jimmy meets Oryx and finds that he is as attracted to her as ever. Oryx, who has been subjected to sexual abuse from her early days as a child porn star to her later experiences as a prostitute, works for RejoovenEsence as well. She teaches simple botany and zoology to the children of Crake, a genetically altered humanoid species that lives in the bio-bubble at Paradice. Although Oryx is officially Crake's girlfriend, Jimmy and Oryx start an affair.
Crake places Paradice under Jimmy's charge in the event that something should happen to Crake. One night Oryx and Crake disappear, and then Jimmy learns from news reports that a viral plague has broken out worldwide. The virus was transmitted via BlyssPlus. Later that evening, Crake stages his own death. He uses Jimmy's love for Oryx and slits her throat so that Jimmy will shoot him.
After several weeks of remaining locked in Paradice, watching humanity die out on the TV news, Jimmy decides that he must lead the Crakers to a green area where they will have enough food to survive. He tells them that his name is Snowman. Once out of the compound and settled in an arboretum near the sea, Snowman continues to protectively monitor the Crakers from a distance. Meanwhile he suffers from starvation, bug bites, the threat of wild animal attacks and the idea that he is losing his mind.
Finally, Snowman decides that he must return to Paradice to get more food and supplies. While at the RejoovenEsence compound, he sees corpses and the remnants of ordinary human life. He injures his foot while running away from pigoons that threaten to attack him. Snowman makes his way to Paradice via a rampart that runs the length of the compound.
After Snowman replenishes his supplies, he heads back to the arboretum. The Crakers tell him that they have been visited by three people like him. Snowman follows his fellow survivors' tracks to the beach and sees them sitting before a campfire. He is about to approach the trio as the novel ends.
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