The Novel “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer well-known for many of her speculative fiction novels. In 2003, she created Oryx and Crake, set in a near-future dystopian post-apocalyptic world. In her work, the author discusses many social and ethical issues of capitalism, corporate greed, and corruption, in which the novel’s setting resembles the real contemporary world. One of the main themes of Oryx and Crake is scientific advancement and how far is too far in its context. For the purpose of answering this question, this essay examines the manner how the technology is used, endangering humanity. Devaluation of life, dehumanization, corporate greed, impossibility to control technology, and the empowerment it provides are investigated further.
Scientific and technological advancements are praised for making life easier. Simplified and speeded production is what separates the contemporary world from the past. One of the areas of production that is affected by technology and is of most importance to humanity is food. In Atwood’s novel, the traditional food industry is undercut by artificial meat. Much easier and cheaper to produce, meat harvested from artificially created animals became the most common tendency in agriculture. Creating a new form of life for people’s convenience can already count as a description of a problem with morals. If animals can be created in labs, mixed with human and non-human creatures, then the cost of such life can be calculated and assigned value, rendering some lives dispensable. And so it happens in the novel when humanity was eliminated because it was considered inferior.
Since the novel’s plot is based in the near future, the pattern of life’s value can be noticed today. For example, animals are invisible in meat production, and they are priced based on consumption in both worlds. Furthermore, Parry (253) wanders further and discusses the transformation of sex workers into Western men’s appetizers. The metaphor is noticeable when children are referred to as “delicious midgets” (Atwood 90) in the context of porn. The dehumanization of sex workers is not Atwood’s novelty; it can be seen nowadays. As such, scientific advancement can be considered to have gone too far when it comes to the devaluation of animals and people’s lives in the process.
The artificial meat of the novel is only possible due to genetic engineering. The technology can be closely observed through the protagonist, who has been surrounded by it throughout his entire life. Genetic engineering is the reason behind hybrids that are utilized for food and medicine around the world. However, the problem with this technology lies in the lack of visible laws that regulate and control its extent (Sanderson 235). This flaw brings severe consequences to the novel’s society. For example, the food and goods produced this way avoid any independent and credible examination, endangering the consumers’ lives, which eventually happens as the entire humankind ceases to exist because of an unchecked product. “The sexually transmitted disease protection mechanism had failed in a spectacular manner” indicates how poorly products were asserted (Atwood 348). The cause of law’s absence can be considered the complexity of such science, entangled with morals and ethics. Indeed, one of the hybrids of the novel, a pig, used for harvesting human organs is a difficult matter for legal regulation. As such, scientific advancements can be considered to have gone too far when they cannot be adequately regulated by the law.
Since the technology cannot be controlled, it is mainly utilized for profit by multibillion-dollar corporations that exist in Atwood’s novel. Corporate greed and capitalistic competition drive these companies to fight for market dominance by all means. For them, technology is no longer an art of providing society with goods they need but a race of profits. For example, by selling vitamins that aggravate consumers’ stability, corporations of the novel exist only to “prey on the phobias and void the bank accounts of the anxious and gullible” (Atwood 247). Corporations are also the reason behind the ultimate disaster that led to the elimination of humankind since the product that caused it was advertised as something everyone needed. In this scenario, scientific advancement is no longer an engine of progress but its deterioration and destruction and, therefore, has gone too far.
In order to conquer the market with useless yet profitable products, companies needed talented scientists and researchers. Such demand can be considered to have elevated these people in the eyes of everyone around them. They not only created the future but also dictated it due to the absence of serious legal intervention. A perfect example of such a scientist is seen in the pre-apocalypse life of the protagonist, in the person of Crake. Despite his young age, having been a successful engineer, he possessed the ultimate power to change the world to his liking. Although Crake was an atheist and, when creating his new humans, deprived them of any religious bias, he is shown to believe himself to be God. When questioned about creating unethical forms of life, the scientist states that “Nature is to zoos as God is to churches” (Atwood 209). This idea indicates that his view on true nature is as fake as his view of God, letting him institute and decide what is considered natural and who is considered God.
Eventually, Crake accomplishes his goal and cleanses the world from unworthy, in his opinion, people. He intended the world to be populated with synthetic creatures that are superior in any way. Within not only the scientific context but also sociological and economic, it was possible to show the actual consequence of the combination of devaluation of life and lack of control over such powerful technology. As such, scientific advances can be considered to have gone too far when their tremendous power can be wielded by one person with no safety regulations or policies.
In Oryx and Crake, scientific advancements were transformed from a helping hand in humanity’s progression to its doom. The question of how far is too far within the context of technology can be answered with the example of the dystopian world created in Margaret Atwood’s novel. Technology can be considered to provide no assistance to people when it promotes devaluation of life through the creation of hybrid forms of life and dehumanization of real people for the convenience of the rich. Accompanied by corporate greed and lack of legal control, the manipulators of scientific advances are rendered as new gods in power to decide the course of the natural order. The novel presents a post-apocalyptic world created by the design of such an empowered scientist, where humans are eliminated, cleansing the world for far more superior synthetic beings.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Little, Brown Book Group, 2009.
Parry, Jovian. “Oryx and Crake and the new nostalgia for meat.” Society & Animals, vol. 17, no. 3, 2009, pp. 241-256.
Sanderson, Jay. “Pigoons, Rakunks and Crakers: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and genetically engineered animals in a (Latourian) hybrid world.” Law and Humanities, vol. 7, no. 2, 2013, pp. 218-239.