The Arts and Humanities in Oryx and Crake

In her recent novel, Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents to readers a distinctively bleak future for the arts and humanities. The revelation of Jimmy/Snowman’s isolation as a lover of words, in a society whose obsession with profit places value on science and numbers alone, begins as soon as his first childhood memories of the Compounds are narrated. Jimmy’s parents, both with scientific backgrounds, argue about his intellectual inferiority as a “words person” as early as Chapter Four. Jimmy hears the secret disputes between his parents and is well aware, even as a child, that the scientific community in which he lives views him as “not the brightest star in the universe, not a numbers person.” (58).

Though Jimmy/ Snowman’s character makes repeated allusions to his inferiority as a “words person” throughout the entire course of the novel, Atwood simultaneously creates endless opportunities wherein Jimmy/Snowman’s isolated identity gives him a subtle upper-hand within society. Jimmy’s childhood friendship with Crake, the quintessential scientific whiz-kid, leads Crake to a future of extreme privilege, attending the most prestigious university then available: Watson Crick. Crake’s education ultimately leads him to take genetic manipulation to the most extreme extension (destruction and then recreation of the human race), while Jimmy’s education at the infamous, dilapidated Martha Graham (where his most valued work consists of out-witting his professors with extinct words) leads him to a career consisting of public manipulation in the form of writing advertisements (185). Ironically, however, Atwood’s bias as a writer and lover of words becomes adequately established by the novel’s end when Jimmy/Snowman becomes the Crakers’ sole source of history and information, using his manipulation of language to recreate with words everything that Crake had once tried to obliterate in his new race with science, from their names to their visions of deity.


Copyright 2006 Dr. Michael O'Conner
All rights reserved.