Stephen Swain
Dr. Michael O’Conner
EN 202—Writing about Literature
21 November 2006

Whoever Has the Money Has the Science and Whoever Has the Science Has the Money

Margaret Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake, is a science- fiction story about a futuristic dystopian society with a strong under current of social and political commentary. The novel revolves around the friendship between two boys named Crake and Jimmy/Snowman and the difference between their personalities. These differences ultimately result in Crake eliminating the human race in an attempt to build the perfect society. On the surface, this story may only seem like a thrilling science- fiction novel, but upon further inspection, the theme of this novel deals heavily with the current social conditions of the world. Topics such as the division between the rich and poor and gated communities are prevalent throughout the entire novel. When Oryx and Crake is analyzed through a Marxist perspective, the division between the rich and poor and gated communities are easy to distinguish and simple to relate to Marxist ideologies, such as the value of material possessions and the establishment of class systems.

First, in a “chicken or the egg” type question; which comes first? Do gated communities lead to a division between the rich and poor or does the division in classes lead to gated communities? Both of these aspects act as contributing factors to each other, but they also function separately as well. In the novel Oryx and Crake, the division between the rich and poor is fairly obvious. According to the article, “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake,” written by Earl G. Ingersoll;
“ The cities or ‘Pleebllands’ have been abandoned to the masses by the elite who are protected in corporation compounds, futuristic versions of ‘company towns’ where employees live with their families in corporation-owned spaces with little need or desire for contact with the Pleebs” ( Ingersoll 167).

It is apparent the people living in the compounds are making a successful and excessive living. It is apparent that the people living in the compounds are living a more luxurious life. They enjoy a higher sense of living. Jimmy/Snowman’s family have, at one time, a live in Philippine maid named Dolores.. As described in the novel, they do not struggle to put food on the table, they have a greater amount of possessions, such as computers, televisions, etc, and they have a competent private police group in the CorpSeCorps, even if they are a bit like “Big Brother” in the book 1984. Also, as described in the novel, the pleeblands were places where the compound people did not go and where the poorer class lived. In the novel Snowman states;
“ Despite the fingerprint identity cards now carried by everyone, public security in the pleeblands was leaky: there were people cruising around in those places who forge anything and who might be anybody, not to mention the loose change—the addicts, the muggers, the paupers, the crazies” (27).

Obviously, the people being described would not be associated with the upper crust of life. Since it is not clearly described in the book just how the compounds and pleeblands were formed, it is necessary to propose an idea. As science became a capitalistic field, meaning more money was being paid for more technological advancements, and as the arts became more useless in the monetary sense, the people themselves separated. One can see something like this happening everyday. People tend to associate with those like themselves. That is why in larger cities places like Greektown, Little Italy, and Chinatown exist. Therefore, the corporate science people began to live and associate with only other corporate scientists, while the artists began to congregate among themselves. This change could have started gradually. For instance, small communities of scientists could have developed in towns and cities and since these were people working high paying jobs they were labeled the wealthier neighborhood. Or the need for more and more corporate security may have been a factor, to protect intellectual property and avoid sabotage. As more time went on, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer because they were not being paid well for their particular jobs. A certain point must have been reached where it became unsafe to be so wealthy and so exposed to those so desperate and poor, because of the possibility of murder and/or robbery. Therefore, corporations developed these compounds to keep their employees not only safe, but living amongst people with similar thought processes.

As in most cases, like Jimmy/Snowman’s mother, different views eventually lead to a disaster. This theory applies directly to the book in one metaphorical sense. Crake represents the scientific mind and Jimmy/Snowman represents the artistic mind. They began as friends with much in common and yet eventually, as they are separated throughout life, their needs, desires, and goals, change drastically and they become representatives of the rich, scientific, upper crust (Crake) and the poorer, lower class, artists (Jimmy/Snowman). Further examples of this connection are stated in the book. For instance, Atwood writes, “Crake had graduated early, done post-grad work, then written his own ticket. He was at RejoovenEsense now- one of the most powerful Compounds of them all- and climbing fast” (252). While Crake was creating a successful life for himself, Jimmy/Snowman, a "word" person, was struggling to find a job that he enjoyed and his life was spiraling downwards. In the article “Paradice Lost, Paradice Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake,” written by Danette DiMarco, the author states “On one hand, Crake’s scientific intelligence, evident through his work in Paradice where he creates the BlyssPluss pill and the genetically-spliced Crakers, positions himself as a member of an elite class that values instrumental production only as it is linked with personal gain” (171). This further exemplifies the mind frame of the people living in the compounds and their desires for material excess.

Another aspect of the division between the rich and the poor in Atwood's novel is the value of material possessions. In the compounds, science is capitalist driven. They (Corporations) are using science as a way to produce more while costing less. This way they are maximizing their income. Everything is seen as a way to make more money and to spend it excessively. On the contrary, in the pleeblands, everything is viewed as a means of survival. It is not a matter of having more of anything than someone else. It is viewed as having enough to survive. Ironically, very early in the novel, the Crakers come to Jimmy/Snowman asking him what the objects they found washed up on the beach are. The novel states;

“They lift out the objects, hold them up as if offering them for sale: a hubcap, a piano key, a chunk of pale green pop bottle smoothed by the ocean. A plastic BlyssPluss container, empty; a ChickieNobs Bucket O’Nubbins, ditto. A computer mouse, or the busted remains of one, with a very long wiry tail.” (7)

These items hold no use to anyone after the virus wiped out humanity, but when the compounds were thriving they were a part of the ultimate goal or the dream of having every excess , whereas to the people in the pleeblands these items were less available. The misunderstood value of material possessions is always a constant when discussing the differences between the rich and the poor.

In our own world, to both positive and negative reviews, gated communities have been springing up all over the world. According to the USA Today article, “Gated Communities More Popular, and Not Just for the Rich,” by Haya El Nasser, Gina Rojas, a woman who lives in a gated community with her two year old child, states, “It’s nice, quiet, and private. You pretty much know everyone who comes in and out. There’s less traffic” (Nasser). This sentiment is logical; however, in the same article, Neal Payton, an architect, is quoted as in saying, “Gated communities are anathema to civic life. What they do is isolate individual neighborhoods from each other and from the public realm. But the perception was that the marketplace wouldn't support a new housing development unless it had the security of gates” (Nasser). Is there a line that a society comes to where they are no longer just trying to stay “safe” from strangers and the outside world or are they simply separating themselves from society itself? In the article “A Tale Meant to Inform, Not to Amuse,” Susan Squier writes, “And people in the developing world risk everything to get a foothold in the West, where workers for the multinational corporations trade autonomy for a lavish lifestyle” (Squier 2).

This statement sets the backdrop of the society in the story. It describes the main desires of the people of the new world. In the novel, Jimmy and Crake are both raised in compounds, which are basically corporate living communities for only their employees and their families. These compounds function as gated communities. These boys, and all the children in their compound, live separately from all the other compounds and from the pleeblands, or where the majority of the poor people live. The families inhabiting these compounds are living moderately well. They are not struggling financially and they are taken care of by the compound. Most of these people work extensively on developing new technology for the further advancement in the sciences, which in turn, they use to raise the amount of financial income they can make.

The educational systems are very different between the compounds and the pleeblands. The schools of the compound focus more upon the study and advancement of the sciences and even though the curriculums of the schools in the pleeblands are not discussed it is easy to assume that they do not focus on strongly on the sciences. Even in the compounds, the “lesser” schools are not focused on the sciences. Jimmy/Snowman describes the Martha Graham Academy by stating, “So what went on at Martha Graham was like studying Latin, or book binding: pleasant to contemplate in its way, but no longer central to anything,” (Atwood 187). These schools focus on unimportant facets of the current world. In a modern world filled with scientific advancements, children who were stuck at lesser schools such as these were doomed to face a lower quality of life. These divisions in society and divisions between modern educational systems of the compounds and the pleeblands only led to a widening gap between the classes. Obviously, the compounds produced more intelligent children due to the greater opportunities provided to them by the finer schools. This gap in intelligence and opportunity would completely separate the people of the compounds and the people of the pleeblands.

Gated communities will only lead to less interaction between people. If everyone is lumped into a gated community based on their profession, their bank account, their religion, or their race then these people form no social skills or connections with anyone outside of their comfort zone. If people alienate themselves, then they are alienating other's ability to reach out to them. This leads to separate classes or elite groups and the human race will never succeed as one successful unit. This novel proves that point. Margaret Atwood presents a fictional story of a possibly not too fictional future.

The growing division between the rich and poor and the constant springing up of gated communities is a problem that is present in today’s society. In a Marxist sense, will these problems lead to a widening gap between the classes? Is our present society destined to follow in a path similar to the novel’s plotline? These problems are shown in Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake and under a Marxist lens these problems are simple to observe. This novel is laced with political commentary and a sense of potential disaster. One wonders what Karl Marx would have to say about this novel and the potential for such circumstances in the present day?

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Anchor Books. 2003.

DiMarco, Danette. “Pardice Lost, Paradice Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake.” P170- 195.

El Nasser, Haya. “Gated Communties More Popular and Not Just for the Rich.” USA Today.
15 December 2002.

Ingersoll, Eral G.. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake.” Extrapolation. Vol. 45, No. 2.

Squier, Susan. Science. 14 November 2003, Vol. 302 Issue 5648. p1145- 1155.

 


 

 

Copyright 2006 Dr. Michael O'Conner
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