First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 1-4 (Mango-Hammer)

“He undoes the plastic bag: there’s only one mango left. Funny, he remembered more.”

(It’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog with a new article. That bothers me, as I have an extensive backlog of topic drafts that I’ve been meaning to revise and upload but whose priority has otherwise been overtaken by my commitments to school. So, instead of waiting for the storm of assignments and papers to blow over, I’ve decided to try and bridge the gap between the two. I’m currently reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in my Contemporary World Lit. class. As I have not yet read it before and have heard such good things about it, I’ve decided to post my response assignments here, so as to extend my in-class conversations and reading observations into a digital space. Alright, feet first; Here we go.)

There’s a lot to cover in the first four(ish) chapters of this novel. The main character of O&C is the mysterious “Snowman”, a man who by all appearances seems to be the last normal human being living in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by untold ecological disasters and runaway genetic technology. The Snowman is a pitiful character; a man plagued by bug bites, blisters, hunger, pent up sexual frustration, all the while trying to function and survive with a mind frayed at the corners by insanity.

Despite this, Snowman is surprisingly adept and  tenacious in maintaining his survival. Building temporary hammocks, insulated sleeping quarters to protect from acidic rain water and lightning, all conveniently within safe distance of the feral eugenic monstrosities that freely stalk and roam across the now abandoned post-human world.

Then there’s the mysterious but benign “Children of Crake”, green-eyed creatures who appear human in all but name who seek out and interact with the Snowman as though he were the last living relic of a now extinct race, the abominable boogey-man of the post-apocalyptic world.

Snowman, because of his fragile and fractured state of mind, must constantly reassess and sometimes revise his own memories in order to understand the world around him and how exactly things got to the way they are now, “He can’t recall ever having read such a thing  but that means nothing. there are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be.” (Pg. 36, End of Mango) These revisements come in the form of verbatim quotes from innocuous textbooks and irrelevant information that seems to have congealed into the inside of his memory, along with recollections of his early childhood and life which make up the majority of the story.

“Don’t fall in,” said his father. “They’ll eat you up in a minute.”
“No they won’t,” said Jimmy. Because I’m their friend, he thought.

Snowman’s real name is Jimmy, a boy who was born sometime after the turn of the century to eugenic engineers living in a corporate-sponsored think tank/enclave. The world outside, the so-called pleeblands, is teetering on the cusp of the apocalypse that the Snowman is now witnessing.

The world behind Jimmy’s life is rampant with corporate espionage, genetic warfare, organ farming, eugenic manipulation, capitalistically-obscured cannibalism, and general misery. But life within the corporate compounds is safe, people living lives of relative ease and comfort save for the special misery that they often afflict upon themselves.

Jimmy is caught in the middle of the marital strife of his father, a cheeky-grinned geneticist who has long since traded in his ethical scruples to fit into a life of conscious-less comfort and his Mother, a woman torn by her steadily deteriorating mental and emotional state who frequently lashes out at Jimmy only to attempt consoling him afterwards. The reader witnesses not only the abuse of his parent’s neglect, but Jimmy’s subsequent attempts at manipulating that neglect to his benefit. Cruelty comes in all kinds of forms.

Eventually his father is scouted for a position with another company (NooSkins, a eugenic skin-graft manufacturer)  and Jimmy’s family is relocated to a different enclave. The tension between his father and mother reaches its breaking point and she escapes the security of the CorpSe officers to defect to somewhere in the pleeblands, abandoning her son but not without stealing Jimmy’s genetically engineered pet rankunk (racoon skunk hybrid) in order to release it into the wild.

Jimmy’s father eventually recovers, shacks up with his doe-eyed number-crunching assistant Ramona, and Jimmy is left with only the occasional succinct, deliberately mis-named post cards from his fugitive mother to keep him company in the presence of his lingering guilt and grief that his very existence may have been the cause of all this turmoil.

Questions after reading:

  • What has happened to Oryx? Who or what are Oryx and Crake?
  • Has Crake asserted some kind of authority in this post-apocalyptic world? Given that genetic manipulation takes such a huge role in this book, are the “Children of Crake” his genetic descendants, or are they just the product of his own genetic tampering?
  • Who causes this apocalypse? Crake, or Snowman? Someone else?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 4-6 (Crake-Roses)