“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Pages: 5
Words: 1409

Modern society is increasingly concerned about the problems of environmental destruction, which are the consequences of human activity. Although many works have been written in the 21st century describing the possible catastrophic results of long-term human impact on nature, Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake does it from a new angle. First of all, the author does not directly describe the picture of future changes; it provides readers with an opportunity to connect present and past events in order to assess the consequences of human activity.

Atwood seeks to show what effect a person’s desire to separate from nature and create its replacement within the framework of a new world can have. The main theme of the work is the opposition of the utopian and dystopian, as well as an illustration of the ambiguous nature of technological progress.

Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel written by Margaret Atwood in 2003. The main character of the story is a man named Snowman, who finds himself in a position where he needs to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. His companions are Crakers, humanoid creatures that are a human species and a product of genetic engineering. The story follows Snowman’s journey to his past habitat for supplies, as well as the past of Jimmy (who was Snowman before the apocalypse) and his friend Crake, who became a mad genetic engineer. The novel also focuses on the description of aspects of society before the apocalypse and the development of bioengineering and pharmaceutical engineering, which led to disastrous consequences.

The story unfolds in two timelines which explain present and past events. However, Oryx and Crake is hinged between two futures, both of which are arguably removed from either Atwood’s or the reader’s present” (Cole 20). Throughout the novel, the reader does not have access to the character’s past. The novel’s plot unfolds at an indefinite time, and the Snowman himself is a man of about twenty, who is presumably the last person to survive.

Thus, readers need to “figure out when and where they have been dropped and what’s happened to this world” (Ingersoll 163). Only towards the end of the novel does the author reveal the details of the catastrophe, while up to this point, the reader has to independently guess about the events. In a flashback, Jimmy notes that he “thought it was routine, another minor epidemic or splotch of bioterrorism, just another news item” (Atwood 324). Thus, the author reveals the nature of the Crakers to the reader and the causes of the current situation of the Snowman.

The Snowman’s companions, the Children of Crake, are genetically modified humans. The author notes that they resemble humans in appearance but are “amazingly attractive” (Atwood 8). This circumstance also, from the very beginning, refers the reader to the catastrophe that happened and, to some extent, describes its possible causes. Glover notes that the scientist Crake, who later appeared to be the creator of a new kind of people, was largely influenced by the environment in which he lived (51). Moreover, the world in which the scientist lived “is precisely that world currently feared by environmentalists, and which is gaining increasing exposure in the media” (Glover 52).

Thus, the author describes the fictional consequences of the current state of environmental pollution and the impact of human activity on the future of the planet. Atwood specifically describes this transformation by saying that “the coastal aquifers turned salty and the northern permafrost melted and the vast tundra bubbled with methane” (Atwood 24). Moreover, “the drought in the midcontinental plains regions went on and on, and the Asian steppes turned to sand dunes” (Atwood 24). Thus, the reader can guess that a catastrophe has occurred, which is the result of human activity. Moreover, it is possible to draw parallels between the current state of the environment and such changes.

Atwood does not explicitly state the political, social, and economic problems of humanity; instead, she hints at them by describing the possible consequences. The main focus of the novel is the contrast between utopia and dystopia, which have fragile borders. Atwood uses science as an illustration of how human activity can negatively or positively affect the world around us. The world in which Snowman lives in the present is an “extrapolation of contemporary nightmares” (Ingersoll 164). Science in a novel can have beneficial effects on human society. For example, Jimmy’s father worked as a genographer who started “mapping the proteonome” (Atwood 22).

He and his colleagues have made a significant contribution to destroying the black market in human body parts by growing new tissue in pigs. Moreover, Jimmy’s father was also involved in the development of technology for “implanting of cells in the skin of those who are no longer young” (Ingersoll 165). Thus, humanity was moving towards genetic modifications that would turn humans into perfect ageless beings.

These efforts of scientists may seem noble and useful, but Atwood emphasizes how destructive is the human desire to separate himself from nature. The development of genetic engineering ultimately leads humanity to the illusion of its omnipotence and superiority over nature (Ingersoll 165). Atwood is satirically describing the game played by Jimmy and Crake. Gene experiments are used by boys as entertainment in a game whose title emphasizes the problem of extinction of many species – “Extinctathon” (Atwood 80). Boys create genetically modified animals as entertainment, which illustrates how common this activity is for society.

Crake is a representation of humanity’s ignorant attitude towards the possibilities of science and the consequences of living in such a technological world (Ingersoll 165). He emphasizes that artificially created animals have all the properties of real ones, and if you can understand that they are fake, then “it was a bad job” (Atwood 200). Thus, the overconfidence of scientists in the positive impact of science on society can be a reason for catastrophic consequences.

The domination of transnational corporations which control bioengineering also leads society to stratification, which is expressed in the emergence of resistance to the existing order and the marginalization of its opponents. This circumstance also emphasizes the presence of a different attitude towards real meat and artificial meat. Atwood uses meat as an indicator of the identity of people in both societies and the hierarchy of species (Parry 254).

While real meat is an indicator of the high status of a person who uses it, since this product has become a rarity, artificial meat is available exclusively to the lower strata of society. Moreover, the Crakes are vegetarians, which may also be an indicator of their non-human nature (Parry 254). The nostalgic attitude towards meat is thus a manifestation of the opposition between nature and a destroyed environment. Atwood emphasizes that meat is a manifestation of the natural principle of humanity and that society is gradually losing this connection.

Another manifestation of this dichotomy may be Jimmy’s mother, who originally worked as a genetic engineer, but quit and became a housewife. She was forced to live in compounds which are consumed by technology and was under emotional pressure about her husband’s activities and his passion for creating artificial life (Glover 54). She was imprisoned by extensive control and was forced to flee when she realized the horrors of what was happening.

However, Jimmy notes that he perceived lower-class pleeblands as “mysterious and exciting” (Atwood 196). Despite all the existing problems, they were “so boundless, so penetrable, so wide-open… so subject to chance” (Atwood 196). Thus, Atwood portrays privileged compounds as a place of extensive control, where people lose their identity and experience distress, and seemingly dysfunctional pleeblands are the habitat of true human nature, where a person can be free despite environmental problems.

Oryx and Crake undoubtedly focuses on describing the possible catastrophic consequences of human activity. However, Atwood is more trying to illustrate how destructive the seemingly beneficial technological progress can be. Genetic engineering is the means by which humanity opposes itself to nature and seeks to replace it. At the same time, some part of society rejects these changes and is nostalgic for the old order, which is a representation of real human nature. Snowman as a real person is contrasted with Crakers, which are a product of human activity. Accordingly, utopia and dystopia are presented as fragile systems that are inseparable from each other. Atwood argues about the consequences of the human desire to interfere with nature, as well as excessive confidence in their technical capabilities.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004.

Cole, Amanda. “In Retrospect: Writing and Reading Oryx and Crake.” Philament, vol. 6, 2005, pp. 19-30. Web.

Glover, Jayne. “Human/Nature: Ecological Philosophy in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.English Studies in Africa, vol. 52, no. 2, 2009, pp. 50-62. Web.

Ingersoll, Earl G. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Margaret Atwood, edited by Harold Bloom, Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009, pp. 111-126.

Parry, Jovian. “Oryx and Crake and the New Nostalgia for Meat.Society and Animals, vol. 17, no. 3, 2009, pp. 241-256. Web.