Oryx and Crake: A Brave New World?
Numerous novels exist suggesting a future of today’s world unlike any imagined before. But is that possible? If a writer reads a novel by another writer and then writes her own, surely the second novel is highly influenced by the original, whether by accident or on purpose. While reading Margaret Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake, obvious connections between it and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World become apparent. The similarities are numerous and included everything from the levels in society to the appearance of a miracle pill.
In Oryx and Crake, Crake invents a type of miracle pill to solve the
world’s problems. Readers find:
Due to the wonderful effects claimed of the BlyssPluss Pill, it practically sold itself. The people barely had time to come to rely on it before they died from it, as it contained a deadly hidden virus. Of course, maybe it was better to die from it if it would change who a person was. In Brave New World the people relied more heavily on a pill, and although the effects were somewhat different, the way it made the people feel was relatively similar.
And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that's what soma is. (Huxley)
Soma, much like BlyssPluss, is the miracle pill that makes everything better and right. If you are having a bad day or time, you just simply take some soma (which is handily distributed regularly for free) and depart for a mental holiday.
Overpopulation was an area that Crake intended to improve through his new pills. Natural resources ran out much before many people realized, and it would be only a matter of time before people would start naturally dying. Instead of letting nature take its course, Crake decided to quicken the process by eliminating the human race, poisoning them with his “miracle” pills. As Crake observes, “All it takes 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).
Huxley chose to address overpopulation in a different light. By eliminating the mother, babies are grown in test tubes and raised much like rabbits or pigs. This way, scientists could “grow” exactly the number of babies needed at the specific time. Also, through scientist raising children, certain other aspects could be modified. People could be made smarter, shorter, taller, or any way at all depending on which social class they were being made for. They are made to think a certain way and are programmed to know where they exits in society and how to think depending on their level. As the novel states, “Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestion, and the sum of the suggestion is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestion! Suggestions from the State” (Huxley 32).
In much the same way, the people in Oryx and Crake want to alter certain aspects of natural aging. People want to be able to chose what their babies look like, and they all want to look young for as long as possible. Animals are also altered in various ways so that people can live longer. One example of this are the pigoons. “The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human-tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host—organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend of attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses” (Atwood 22). Other animals are altered to be more useful, or sometimes purely for entertainment (such as pets). “There’d been a lot of fooling around in those days: create-an-animal was so much fun, said the guys doing it; it made you feel like God” (Atwood 51).
It is interesting that this sentence occurs because there is little mention of God in the world created in Atwood’s novel. Once science explains everything, there is no need for God to exist; people worship science instead. In Huxley’s novel, too, civilized culture still worships, but instead of God they worship “our Ford.” The “civilized” culture does, anyway. The poorer people (referred to as savages) seem more similar to how most people think of worship with Native Americans. The main example we are given of this is John’s description of how he became a man.
When the other boys were sent out to spend the night on the mountains—you know, when you have to dream which your sacred animal is—they wouldn’t let me go with the others; they wouldn’t tell me any of the secrets. I did it by myself, thought. Didn’t eat anything for five days and then went out one night alone into those mountains there. (163)
Because of his differences, John was not accepted into any level of society. In Brave New World, the savages live in the Reservation, while the “advanced” people live in the World State society. John is a mixture between the two, and therefore is not accepted into either. In Oryx and Crake, the poorer less educated people live in the pleebands, while the richer (supposedly smarter) people live in the compounds. In this novel, Jimmy is stuck between the two worlds. He was raised in the compounds, but is not as smart as he needs to be to become successful. On the other hand, the pleebands are unacceptable in his mind. In both instances, the “better” communities are thought of as safer, healthier, and the ideal way to live. The pleebands and reservation are not only thought of as dirty and dangerous, but also the people from the “better” communities only visit these places when they want a sort of adventure, much like some people visit the jungle or the rain forest.
This class system determines not only where people live, but also how they act. In Brave New World, a class system exists determining which traits correspond with each category of people. Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons are the divisions of people, and which designation you are determines what your job is as well as your social level. On the plus side, everyone is conscious of the things that the people from the different levels do for each other. “Every one works for every one else. We can’t do without any one. Even Epsilons are useful. We couldn’t do without Epsilons. Every one works for every one else” (Huxley 88). Of course, everyone is happy being what they are because they were conditioned to be so.
In Atwood’s novel, the people in the higher class only acknowledge the people in the pleebands because they are more consumers that might buy their product. Also, they can be a form of entertainment. Besides visiting the pleebands for things they cannot get in the compounds, much of the entertainment comes from there. One example of this is the HottTotts website. “It claimed to show real sex tourists, filmed while doing things they’d be put in jail for back in their home countries. The locations were supposed to be countries where life was cheap and kids were plentiful, and where you could buy anything you wanted” (Atwood 89).
The narration of both novels is nonlinear with Atwood’s combining Jimmy and Snowman’s memories, while Huxley’s novel shows the reader several different perspectives. Ingersoll believes that, “Snowman in part plays the John the Savage or Bernard Marx role as the one who is close enough to The Scientist to provide narration access to that inner world without accepting the mad extensions of the desire for power, inherent in the professed aims of this monstrous Science to “benefit” humanity” (164). Basically, both novels have a hope for humanity, and these characters are it.
It is not surprising that there are so many connections between Atwood and Huxley’s novels. Atwood herself admits that her general knowledge of the genre comes from her extensive reading sessions of books similar to (and including) Brave New World in her cellar during her childhood (Atwood The Handmaid's). Since these books helped shaped her love of the genre, it seems reasonable that she would want to incorporate shared ideas and themes into her own writing.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
---.“The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake in Context.” Correspondents Abroad. 2004.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper and Row, 1932.
Ingersoll, Earl. “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx
and Crake.” Extrapolation 45.2
Copyright 2006 Dr. Michael O'Conner
All rights reserved.