The Importance of Femininity in Society
In Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake, society no longer values that which is feminine. Literature and the Arts are disregarded. Females and those associated with femininity are seen as weak, unintelligent, and valueless. The only valid lifestyles are those that contribute to society in a malleable way; science is for the elite and intelligent. Crake is the ultimate in masculinity; he extorts the feminine Oryx and Jimmy to do his work for him. Atwood uses Oryx and Crake to show a society that does not value the feminine, but also in the end she shows that the feminine qualities in the world are just as important as the masculine, as they are an important part of human nature. Atwood also answers the question in her novel, how could society function without empathy?
In Atwood's novel, Crake represents the views of the elite, while Jimmy represents a happy medium between the elite and the disadvantaged. Crake and Jimmy’s discussion of the arts is an interesting one. “Jimmy and his defense of ‘the arts’ are positioned ‘feminine’ and ‘self indulgent’, while Crake and science are gendered ‘masculine’ [through his] blatantly masculine performance of power.” (Ingersoll 166). The arts are considered feminine because they are unnecessary and emotional and their only purpose, according to Crake, is to serve a greater biological need. Jimmy is interested in the joys of life while Crake is interested in the biological necessities. It is a common “misconception” that men only want sex and women want a relationship; men only want what is biologically necessary. However women want and sometimes need more. Crake is being the ultimate male in that he only wants the biological necessities of relationships. Jimmy is showing his femininity through his desire to experience love and through the challenges of finding love.
“But think what we’d be giving up.” [Jimmy said.]
Crake overpowers Jimmy in this argument through his outrageous antics and hard hitting theories. Jimmy is defending his love of art and Crake belittles him.
“When any civilization is dust and ashes,” [Jimmy] said, “art
Crake then claims that the only purpose art serves is a biological one. Art’s only purpose is to satisfy a scientific need; in this book, the feminine characters’ only purpose is to serve the needs of the masculine Crake.
Jimmy is a “word person” in the novel. Jimmy’s talents are only worthwhile when it comes to his ability to advertise for the elite scientists. The only way he can be a valid member of society is to become a slave to science. This, once again, represents the overpowering of science and masculinity over the arts and femininity. Crake is Jimmy’s superior at work and within society. “[He] discovers, Crake has had designs for him for some time, ironically ’designs’ very similar to those Crake has had on Oryx” (Ingersoll 168). Crake’s knowledge of his power over Jimmy, once again, shows Jimmy’s femininity; his only duty is to service the masculine and dominant Crake. Jimmy’s feelings for Oryx are also much more feminine than Crake’s feelings for her. “The times when [Oryx] was away were hard for Jimmy. He worried about her, he longed for her.” (Atwood 314). Crake always views Oryx as a sex slave and someone he can dominate and put to use for his schemes. However, Jimmy sees Oryx as “an icon of desire” (Ingersoll 168).
Throughout the novel Jimmy shows that he is empathetic and caring; he empathizes with the animals and others. As a very small child Jimmy connects with the burning animals in the bonfire; he feels sorry for them but he also feels at one with them. “At the bonfire Jimmy was anxious about the animals, because they were being burned and surely that would hurt them” (Atwood 18). When Jimmy arrives at Martha Graham he sees the “pleeblands” for the first time and he empathizes with the people living within the pleeblands. Empathy and a sense of mothering or wanting to care for others are mostly seen as feminine traits in both our society in in Atwood's futuristic world.
Oryx, the main female character, was a child sex slave in her youth. Jimmy and Crake’s first encounter with Oryx was when she was only eight years old. The two boys were surfing a child pornography site when they found a picture of Oryx. The image struck Jimmy’s heart, he felt like she was seeing through him. Throughout the novel Oryx is always in a subordinate position. She was pushed into servitude by her mother at a very young age. During this time she was used by a pimp and she was forced to put herself in horrible situations and also to pleasure men. This sets the stage for the rest of Oryx’s life; she will continue to play the subordinate role and please everyone she can. Crake and Jimmy both have sexual relations with her; she is used by Crake in a way that shows no true feelings from Crake while, Jimmy, the effeminate, has actual feelings for her, he may even love her. “Oryx is pressed into service as a surrogate mother to the Children Crake has ’fathered’” (Ingersoll 168). Oryx is a prostitute and a mother; these are the two versions of female that Crake desires (Ingersoll 169).
Crake uses Oryx, a female, to deliver the BlyssPluss Pills across the globe; I believe this is Crake’s way of finally demonizing the feminine, which he seems to hate so much. Oryx, through her naivety delivers the pills that will kill the human race. The pills are supposed to increase beauty and sex; these “supposed problems” are both more often seen as feminine. Women are often worrying about their appearances and it is more acceptable for a woman to wear makeup or other beauty enhancers than it is for a man to wear makeup. Sex is also a problem that Crake seems to think women have caused. Crake believes that sexual frustration has lead to violence and art; both Crake seems to feel both of these are evil and unimportant.
Crake is the ultimate homo faber. He is someone “who labors to use every instrument as a means to achieve a particular end in building a world, even when the fabrication of that world necessarily demands a repeated violation of its materiality” (DiMarco 170). He is a brilliant scientist and this is the most powerful and therefore masculine job, skill, or gift a person can have. Crake denies love and affection. He feels that emotions and feelings towards others are just chemical imbalances. Crake’s feelings towards Oryx are purely sexual; there is no real loving emotion in them.
“Crake's own analysis of ‘love’ resonates closely
with Freud's. As
Crake sees Oryx as only a sex slave and a mother figure. “[Crake] appropriately constructs [Oryx] as a variety of Mother Goddess, bringing together the only two versions of the female in the economy of his desire- mother or whore.” (Ingersoll 169). Oryx is a surrogate mother to the Crakers. Crake also uses Jimmy, the only person readers have been lead to believe that Crake actually cares for. Jimmy is exploited by Crake throughout the story. Crake dominates Jimmy in almost every way.
Crake is arrogant in his masculinity. He feels that he could and should fix the problems of the world and all of the problems with humanity. Crake realizes that science and masculinity are the problems with the universe and he works to change this through his vast scientific knowledge. He creates a new species, the Crakers. The Crakers are an interesting race; they were meant to live without the arts, science, love, or God. However, with time, because of the inquisitive nature of humans or perhaps the ultimate power of the Arts, the Crakers begin to worship Crake and Oryx. The Crakers also learn through storytelling; often they will ask Snowman (Jimmy) a question and Snowman answers with a full story. These stories will more than likely pass on from generation to generation creating the arts again. Jimmy, in many ways the effeminate artist, has restored the power of femininity and the expression of feelings through art and stories.
After the “apocalypse” Jimmy becomes the androgynous Snowman. Snowman is not dominated by science because science has been destroyed; ironically Crake, the masculine scientific genius, is the person responsible for the destruction of science. While Snowman remains a word person he is losing his memory because words mean nothing in the new world. He is dominant over the Crakers, yet, subordinate to the greater world around him. He is the last of his species, making him almost asexual; he can not have sexual relations with anyone. He is less emotional, but he continues to care. He teaches the Crakers like Oryx did; however, he also shows himself to be far less inept in the knowledge of science and his role over the Crakers is not of a sweet mother figure, but of an all knowing prophet figure. While Snowman remains part Jimmy, because he has been pushed into Crake’s nightmare and perhaps because he is no longer being dominated by Crake, he has become more masculine.
Crake solved human deficiencies through the Crakers. He felt that the only reason humans created art was because they were sexually frustrated. The only reason people worshipped or “created” God figures, was because of a certain part of the brain that made people long for a greater being. According to the scientist, the main problem with society was sexual frustration. So Crake built the Crakers in such a way that he hoped would end all of these “atrocities”. However with help from Snowman the Crakers learn to idolize Snowman and to worship Oryx and Crake. They create an idol figure of Snowman while he is away on a journey. The idol is the first actual symbol of their creativity and artwork; it also, perhaps, represents their future religious beliefs. The Crakers also speak to the deity Oryx. “’Tonight we will apologize to Oryx,’ says one of the women – Sacajawea? – ‘for the rocks. And we will request her to tell her children not to bite us.’ [Snowman has] never seen the women do this – this communion with Oryx – although they refer to it frequently. What form does it take? They must perform some kind of prayer” (Atwood 157). Crake’s dreams of ending the suffering of the world may have all been in vain. It seems where there is humanity, there is God and art. When there is an inquisitive group of people, such as the Crakers or human beings, there is going to be stories and literature to help the beings make sense of their world and satisfy their questions.
Throughout Oryx and Crake, the feminine characters are used and then pushed aside. The weak are left in “pleeblands”; the sick animals and sickly people are left to die. This is not a caring society, it is rather a society in which strength and brute skills are virtues. However, the feminine traits and feminine world prevail in the end. Despite Crake’s efforts to end religion and inquisitiveness the Crakers are human enough to question their existence and worship deities. Ironically, the Crakers worship Crake. Snowman, the effeminate Jimmy, is the last human and the person responsible for taking care of the Crakers. He, unknowingly or perhaps self-consciously, teaches the Crakers to worship and to value words and stories. In the end, the readers see that there can be no intelligent or inquisitive beings that do not have feminine traits. Perhaps the point Atwood was trying to make is that femininity is the answer to the world’s problems.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. United States. Anchor Books, 2003.
DiMarco, Danette. “Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: homo faber
Dunning, Stephen. “Terror Therapeutic.” Canadian Literature
no. 186. Autumn
Ingersoll, Earl G. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s novel
Oryx and Crake.”
Copyright 2006 Dr. Michael O'Conner
All rights reserved.