Thursday, October 30, 2014

Impressions of Oryx and Crake

Snowman and all his confusion lies here.

Margaret Atwood’s writing is inspirational, witty, and progressive, and I am in no position to critique or review her work; therefore, an impression as well as a brief analysis of the novel will suffice. Oryx and Crake tells the story of Jimmy/Snowman and his life in an utopia, a dystopia, and the aftermath of civilization’s destruction. Divided into fifteen parts, the novel alternates space and time between the vacillating viewpoints of the protagonist, either as defeated Snowman or clueless Jimmy. Because the novel cannot be reviewed by my meager wisdom, I have decided to give my impression and a brief analysis of the ideas brought up.

Creation of an Utopia

The most prominent plot point is Crake’s dream of eliminating all human characteristics and replacing them with animal traits in an effort to create the ideal person. This idea establishes the utopia of the novel.

Although Jimmy lives in the Compound separate from the Pleeblands and its poor people, this division resembles modern society to emphasize class differences rather than the failures of an attempted utopia. The government enforced the division of these classes more out of purity for the scientists and money for themselves rather than with the idea of a perfect society in mind. Crake’s vision, however, involved mass murdering and destroyed the remnants of all civilizations before finishing the ideal human prototypes, thus following a reverse order for the typical dystopian novel’s conflict timeline.

Therefore, in order to achieve an utopia and for it to succeed, should humans be focused on creating a new type of human rather than transforming the ones already provided? Could the success of an utopia be based on eliminating the ones with significant flaws to make room for genetically enhanced humans with no knowledge of power, religion, or love?

Failures of a Dystopia

Jimmy’s Compound represents the dystopian society because Jimmy lives unhappily but the notion of changing never occurs to him. Not only that, but the forms of entertainment focus on the greatest failures performed by humanity.

The suicide website films the before, during, and after events of a person’s death without omitting gruesome details, and, much like shows like “16 and Pregnant” that led to teenage pregnancy having more positives than negatives (TV time vs. no sleep), suicide rates in Jimmy’s America escalated for the chance to be on TV. The games “Blood and Roses” and “Extinctathon” rely on the players extended knowledge of crimes (sex trafficking, child raping, genocides, racism, and the mass killings of animals) to win each game. If “Blood and Roses” was won by the person representing Blood, which often happened because happy rosy thoughts cannot stop blind murder rampages, the person would be in control of the destroyed, blown apart earth. Not much of a “win.”

The government allowed these types of games to poke fun at humanity because they strived to develop pills that would genetically enhance all people to eliminate these kinds of problems. Crake believed that humans could not be fixed because their genetics needed to be rewired, and it would simply be easier to create a new species of human. Crake’s genocidal vision is extreme, but the majority of novels focuses on changing genetics to improve the human race (Divergent, Uglies). Is this what humans need to succeed without war? Are human genetics now erupting into greed, power, or immortality driven monsters, or have they always contained that diseased gene, hidden under the innocence of new life?

Human Mind vs Human Genes

Snowman wanders the world, believed to be the last original homo sapiens sapiens left alive, and struggles with his memories over what could have, should have, and did happen after the Crakers were conceived and birthed. Are the actions of humans, good or bad, the result of a corrupted mind over time or the innate strive for control and independence in the DNA?

Atwood offers two perspectives on this topic, and Snowman best represents the human mind’s influence over decisions. The Crakers are essentially toddlers, their actions innocent and without malice even to those who cause them harm. Snowman finds their actions frustrating, but he watches over them and protects them. Does his duty stem from the promise he made to his best friend or from the emotional bond he shares with them and the knowledge that they, mentally, are ill-prepared to protect themselves? Snowman clings to the idea that the human mind is unsolvable. His conversations with Crake, his relationship with Oryx, his memories of his parents, and even his daily battles with what he has accepted as a decent life create a jumbled mass of confusion that Snowman cannot untangle and decipher.

This idea is often explored in modern apocalyptic stories. The human mind molds to its surrounding influences, and even in the direst of situations will strive to perform “good” or “beneficial” deeds because of emotional or psychological connections. Snowman does not abandon the Crakers because he fears being alone and he craves the power he possesses over them. While these motives are one-sided, they do benefit both sides of the argument, and Snowman never admits that he somehow a “good guy” in the sequence of events nor does he acknowledge that “good guys” ever existed. In this conclusion, the human mind affects every decision made, and unless a person has more attachment to Hitler, Henry VIII, or similar characters he or she will strive to do what will be beneficial to themselves and then those around.

Crake, on the other hand, represents the mindset that human minds only control so much of a person because human genes and DNA are so corrupt they hold the true control of a person’s emotions, actions, or beliefs. Some novels have focused on altering human DNA, but Atwood creates Crake as a man who believes human cannot be altered without changing who they are completely. Thus, the destruction of the human race and the creation of the Crakers ensue.

If genetics are to blame, there is no hope for ideas like world peace, ending hunger, and equal rights for all because there will be too much desire inside each person to be slightly superior to those around them. Crake offers friendship to Snowman, but even these actions are later questioned when he murders Snowman’s lover and forces him to accept the Crackers as his responsibility after Crake dies. Atwood’s writing style welcomed questions and theories more than it provided answers, but when examining the innate human tendencies, there is very little argument for or against either way. The human mind can be re-influenced, but genes are permanent. It is because of that ideal that I believe it is the human mind that corrupts the population rather than the human genetics.

Nearly every animal has its own kingdom. Often the males fight for dominance and power, even killing each other over desired females, in an effort to be superior. Can animals put into coherent thoughts this path of ideas? Probably not; however, that does not change the fact that Crake transformed the human body to accept more animal characteristics because he believed animals to be superior in maintaining survival. It is not genes that corrupt the human race into desiring power or sex, because these ideas are innate in animals as well. It is the human mind that possesses more drive and intelligence that creates deeper separations of gender, race, class, and age that results in genocides, trafficking, and abuse. Crake tried to create the perfect human race by changing its genetics, but even the first homo sapiens sapiens did not understand all the mechanics and possibilities of their world, just like animals don't. It is with time and influence that the human mind tells itself it needs more than what nature provides.

If you're interested, you can get the novel here.


  1. Well thought out post! This book sounds fascinating. I really want to read it just to reread your post to see where I stand.

  2. Thank you for your comments! I recommend this book, and it was recently brought to my attention that that are two more novels that make up a trilogy focused on these events. Until I started writing, I was only trying to show the two arguments that really stood out to me, but once I got into it I realized I needed and wanted to write for the side I believed in.

    If you check it out, be sure to let me know what you think!