Hannah Shaner
English 202
Professor O’Conner
12 December 2006

Crake’s (Almost) Perfect World: Attempting to Create a Utopian Environment in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever” (Atwood 223). This theory, related by Crake in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, is first introduced while two of the main characters, Jimmy and Crake, are both in college. Although there are earlier instances in the novel that foreshadow Crake’s obsession, Crake’s college years give readers the insight of the beginning of his idea of creating a utopian environment. Intent on destroying all of human life, Crake created a primitively-designed new species, affectionately named the “Crakers,” to jump-start this utopian world. His main idea was to base his new world on science and to only program the replacement humans or Crakers to function in basic instinctive ways, such as having animal-like reproduction and having no emotional attachments to fellow Crakers. In this process, Crake also pushed to destroy all institutions that promoted advanced societies—religion, art, politics, and so on. Crake’s attempt at creating this utopian atmosphere was planned, perfected, and timed out to the minute. How, though, did it fail and instead become a dystopian world?

Crake’s main theory behind his utopian plans was to incorporate the sciences as much as possible. Because he was a “numbers” person, this theory coincided perfectly with Crake’s personal experiences and way of life. In his essay “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake,” Earl G. Ingersoll notes that Crake designed his plan so that it was “masquerading as an idealistic mission to ‘save the world,’ even if he must destroy that world in order to save it” (Ingersoll 166). Ingersoll continues by stating that Crake knew that humans could not continue to thrive in the twentieth century environment they had created, especially with detrimental factors such as “burning fossil fuels and…a mushrooming population” (Ingersoll 166). Because he believed that human beings were already on their way to becoming extinct, he decided to wipe out the current populace and design a species that would be able to adapt and survive in such a polluted environment. Although he was the one to act on the idea, Crake was not the only person who believed that human nature had disrupted itself. At one point in his post-Martha Graham years, Jimmy lives with Amanda, his girlfriend at the time, and two male artists. The artists, who do not hold a very high opinion of Jimmy, have their own joint view of human life. According to the artists,

It had been game over once agriculture was invented, six or seven thousand years ago. After that, the human experiment was doomed, first to gigantism due to a maxed-out food supply, and then to extinction, once all the available nutrients had been hovered up (Atwood 242-243).

The artists also claimed that “human society…was a sort of monster, its main by-products being corpses and rubble. It never learned, it made the same cretinous mistakes over and over, trading short-term gain for long-term pain. Soon…there would be nothing left but a series of long subterranean tubes covering the surface of the planet” (243). In the artists’ view, humans would eventually be reduced to crawl through these “tubes” naked and eventually fed to other thriving individuals (243). Although a bit different from Crake’s view, the similarities were prevalent. With his and other ideas in mind, Crake carried out his master plan in two ways: first, by creating the BlyssPluss pill to destroy the present population, and second, by designing beings that could withstand the harmful environment in Atwood’s futuristic setting.

In many ways, Crake possessed a God-complex personality. Although he was set upon denouncing any kind of religious beliefs in his new society, he relished in the fact that he was the one able to create and destroy human life. In his argument, once “civilization as we know it gets destroyed…it could never be rebuilt” (223). He continues by saying
It’s not like the wheel, it’s too complex now. Suppose the instructions survived, suppose there were any people left with the knowledge to read them. Those people would be few and far between, and they wouldn’t have the tools. Remember, no electricity. Then once those people died, that would be it. They’d have no apprentices, they’d have no successors (223).
While his plan was still formulating, Crake told Jimmy that his research unit (appropriately named “Paradice”) was working on immortality. This concept was the crucial basis of the first step of his plan, BlyssPluss. While BlyssPluss was marketed as a pill that would protect against any and all sexually transmitted diseases, boost sexual energy, and prolong youth, it was also a one-time birth control pill. Its logic was to “eliminate the external causes of death” (Atwood 293). The external causes, Crake explained, were factors such as war, contagious diseases, and overpopulation, all leading to “environmental degradation and poor nutrition” (293). By marketing BlyssPluss to fit three of the factors most desired by the general population, Crake was able to sell them by the millions—and instantly lower the population by preventing further reproduction by sexual intercourse. By lowering the population, Crake seemed to be “altruistic” in behavior by allowing for less people to reap the most possible benefits of an environment that was already dwindling in natural resources. What Jimmy—and the public—was unaware of, was that BlyssPluss was actually a time bomb set to destroy the entire population, since it contained a deadly time-released virus. Ironically, Crake’s marketed immortality wiped out the very beings who craved it the most.

The Crakers, the second step of Crake’s plan, were programmed to survive in this ravaged environment. With the depletion of the ozone layer in Atwood’s setting, Crake designed the skin of his “offspring” to resist harmful UV rays.
They’re every known colour from deepest black to whitest white, they’re various heights, but each one of them is admirably proportioned. Each is sound of tooth, smooth of skin. No ripples of fat around their waists, no bulges, no dimpled orange-skin cellulite on their thighs. No body hair, no bushiness. They look like retouched fashion photos, or ads for a high-priced workout program (100).

The Crakers did not wear clothing—they even possessed a “citrus-oil insect repellant” (108). To comply with the diminishing supply of food, the Crakers ate grass, leaves, and other forms of vegetation. This herbivore-ism also extinguished the “destructive potential of civilization” (Ingersoll 167) that farming and hunting could have brought about. Crake also designed these beings to recycle their own feces. In addition to these basic factors, Crake redesigned the human mating ritual. To eliminate any emotional attachment, a female’s genitalia turned a dark shade of blue once every three years. This blue attracted the males of the community, whose penises acclimated to the same color. The female then chose three males in which to fornicate with, in order to abolish any sense of parenting in the child-to-be (164-165). In this way, the community could continue by having planned reproductive stages yet individually remain unemotional and undesirable, much like Crake himself. Furthermore, the Crakers were programmed to “drop dead at age thirty—suddenly, without getting sick. No old age, none of those anxieties. They’ll just keel over. Not that they know it; none of them has died yet” (303). Although this factor pushed Jimmy to question Crake’s desired “immortality,” Crake argued, “Immortality…is a concept. If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality’ is the absence of such fear” (303). By eliminating the concept of fear of death, Crake believed that he had achieved his ultimate dream of human immortality.

Crake’s plan also relied on the absence of any concept that would potentially socialize the community.

Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall, in Crake’s view. Next they’d be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war (361).

Crake eliminated any possibility for the future of the arts and humanities in his design of the Crakers, or so he thought. According to Crake, “[g]one were its destructive features, the features responsible for the world’s current illnesses. For instance, racism—or, as they referred to it in Paradice, pseudospeciation—had been eliminated in the model group” (Atwood 305). Besides taking away their recognition of “race,” the Crakers could not read; they did not play or have fun. Their only historical knowledge is that which is told to them of their origins by Snowman (Jimmy). Before Snowman's influence, they did not draw or paint or have any knowledge of art; they did not know any religion or concept of language, other than what they spoke. One of Jimmy and Crake’s childhood computer games, Blood and Roses, illustrated this loss of the humanities. In the game, the “Blood” side played with “human atrocities,” such as massacres and genocides; the “Rose” side, however, played with artworks, architectures, inventions, and other means of “human achievements.” The game “traded” between atrocities and achievements; to prevent an atrocity, the Rose player was required to give up an achievement. This feature would then vanish from the “history recorded on the screen.” Likewise, the Blood player could obtain the Rose item by giving up the atrocity (Atwood 78). Crake’s plan became the ultimate Blood and Roses game, only with a biased result: The genocide of the entire world’s population was in addition to the “giving up” of the humanities, instead of in exchange for.

One part of Crake’s plan, however, did not follow through as he had hoped. At Crake’s Paradice unit, he had hired Oryx as his “go-between,” or a mediator-of-sorts for the Crakers. After she met with the Crakers one particular day, she reported to Jimmy and Crake that they had, in fact, questioned their origins; this was quite unexpected because Crake thought he had “edited out” that part of their brains:

“Well, actually, they did ask [about their origins],” said Oryx. “Today they asked who made them.”
“ And?” [asked Crake.]
“ And I told them the truth. I said it was Crake…I told them he was very clever and good” (Atwood 311).

In that single instance, Oryx gave the Crakers a deity, a god. Crake became their god and creator. Snowman furthered this concept, after the apocalypse, by explaining how Crake created the world and themselves and how Oryx had created the “Children of Oryx,” the animals. Furthermore, when Snowman travels to one of the Compounds, the Crakers built an “idol” of him out of discarded trash and were “worshipping” it to try to bring him back. Their concept of Snowman as a leader or “shepherd,” as Crake calls him, further signifies the beginnings of religious beliefs among the Crakers. Their makeshift idol of Snowman’s head also is an example of the reappearance of art and the worship of Snowman as a sort of prophet or soothsayer. Both of these concepts are two that Crake was obsessed with eliminating.

As Ingersoll states in his essay, “What can an English major do?” (Ingersoll 166). In the atmosphere that Atwood has created, “numbers” people within the Compounds thrived as “scientific and technological knowledge further genders this futuristic society” (Ingersoll 166). Advances such as genetic engineering played a major role in the Compounds’ progressions; “numbers” people were chosen for higher institutions, were offered better jobs, and brought in a larger amount of money than “words” people. This segregation of educational backgrounds provided the basis of Crake’s beliefs, especially when he designed the Crakers. In his mind, “words,” along with arts, religion, and other various humanities, would cease to exist while “numbers” and other scientific developments would continue on as long as life did. Crake himself, however, thwarts this very concept. Jimmy is the only human being left after Crake’s worldwide elimination because Crake administered a vaccination to him to prevent him from catching the “disease.” Because of this, Jimmy, a “words” person, lives on while Crake and the majority of the others, “numbers” people, are destroyed. Because of this, the humanities will live on regardless of all the programming and planning Crake put in to his beloved Crakers. The mascot and namesake of Jimmy’s post-secondary educational facility, Martha Graham, is “some gory old dance goddess of the twentieth century” (Atwood 186). As described by Atwood,

There was a gruesome statue of her in front of the administration building, in her role—said the bronze plaque—as Judith, cutting off the head of a guy in a historical robe outfit called Holofernes. Retro feminist shit, was the general student opinion (186).

In her essay “A Tale Meant to Inform, Not to Amuse,” Susan M. Squier notes that the significance of this statue is “that art has the power to liberate from tyranny” (Squier 1154). Although the Martha Graham Academy does not seem to dote on—or even remember—this “theme,” Atwood plays it up quite nicely in her novel.

In conclusion, Crake had many ideals and concepts that would lead him to creating the “perfect” world. His theory of eliminating one generation to eliminate all generations was almost carried out—until he made certain that Jimmy should stay behind. Crake pushed the scientific aspect as far as he could, but he failed in eliminating all the humanities. Crake’s fateful decision was the main factor that changed his ideal utopian society into a potentially dystopian world. By forcing Jimmy to stay alive to take care of the Crakers, Crake did not realize that he may have allowed the arts and humanities to conquer over all. Crake himself unperfected his perfect world. As noted by Squier, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake distinctly illustrates “how education that separates scientific and aesthetic ways of knowing produces ignorance and a wounded world” (Squier 1155).

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.

Ingersoll, Earl G. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake.” Extrapolation, Vol. 45, No. 2. University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, 2004.

Squier, Susan M. “A Tale Meant to Inform, Not to Amuse.” Science, Vol. 302 Issue 5648. 14 Nov. 2003, p 1154-1155.



 

 

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