Oryx and Crake is a science fiction novel created by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood in 2003. In this work, Atwood describes a future world when genetic engineering gets out of control and human race dies because of the plague. The story created by Atwood is a kind of puzzle where the reader should find the only right way and understand what is happening in the story. In order to reproduce the horror that grips the main character and the results of the experiment conducted by Crake, the author uses a great number of imageries.
They are metaphors, similes, personification, etc. Imagery is the primary technique used by the author in Oryx and Crake in order to help the reader get a clear understanding of how human obsession with scientific achievements allows one person to destroy all humankind in a short period of time.
Atwood is a real master of uniting different meanings. She can easily wrap several powerful ideas in prose without telling them but showing by means of wide range of imagery that are left in the mind of the reader long after reading the novel.
The novel starts with a description of perhaps the last human being in the Earth, who survived after the plague. As there is no one who knows his name, the protagonist calls himself Snowman.
“Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving listening to the tide coming in wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep.” (Atwood 1)
By means of flashbacks, Snowman remembers what has happened earlier and brought to the world fell apart. In his past life, he was Jimmy. He had a best friend, Glenn, a smart student who wanted to change the world for better. With time, Glenn changes his name into Crake.
The world, Jimmy and Glenn live in, is not perfect, and has its own pros and cons. People live and work in the communities called Compounds. These communities provide safety for the society. However, the life in such Compounds is predictable and controlled by a certain security system (CorpsSeCorps). Jimmy’s father finds such community to be the best option to live in:
“Long ago, in the days of knights and dragons, the kings and dukes had lived in castles, with high walls and drawbridges and slots on the ramparts so you could pour hot pitch on your enemies, said Jimmy’s father, and the Compounds were the same idea. Castles were for keeping you and your buddies nice and safe inside, and for keeping everybody else outside.” (Atwood 26).
Jimmy’s father refers himself to this very community – safe and sound. He proves his son that they are those dukes and kings that live a perfect live without any troubles. Unfortunately, these Compounds are not idle, as it may seem at a glance. The father forgets about his son’s birthday all the time and does not involve into son’s life. Atwood uses this type of a metaphor, calling the society “Compounds” to emphasize the herd instinct inherent to that “idle world”, the inability to make choices, and follow own desires.
Oryx and Crake are the two quite mysterious characters. Oryx is a serenely and calm person. She realizes that it is impossible to change the situation and it will be better to accept everything as it is. In spite of the fact that she was a sex-slave sold by her own parents, she tries to pay attention only to positive aspects of her life. She gets the role to be a mother of our future, the mother of Crakers.
In contrast to Oryx’s naivety, Crake seems to be rather an ambitious person, who pursues one and the same goal – to change the world for the better taking into consideration his own preferences. The actions taken by Crake seem perfect to him. He notices every wrong detail in the existent society and thinks over the ways to change it.
Playing violent video games and watching violent programs make Crake disrespect his own life and the society he lives in. This character may be considered as an example of a negative personification of progress.
He wants to achieve his aim and reform a perfect society that will be in harmony to nature and each other so that he creates his first creatures, the Crakers. At the same time, Crake’s inventions cause a pandemic that kills all humans on the Earth. Only Jimmy remains alive because of being vaccinated in order to become a supervisor for the Crakers:
“Although the Crakers weren’t his business they were now his responsibility Who else did they have?” (Atwood 348)
The imagery of Crakers is used to describe some novelty that humankind has never met before. It is not accidently that the word “Crakers” is the analogy of the two words “create” and “crackle” – create something unusual, wild, and even dangerous for humans, something that with time can be crashed down with time.
There is one more example of imagery in the novel that needs to be analyzed – the imagery of cats. It is known that cats are the only domestic animals, which retain their natural behavior in any situation and always follow their own instincts, even more dogs. This is why cats are nuisance animals in the perfect world created by Crake, the worlds of Crakers:
“They were supposed to eliminate feral cats thus improving the almost non existent songbird population. The bobkittens wouldn’t bother much about birds…” (Atwood 348)
The major character, Snowman, has something in common with cats. He cannot but accept all the changes in the world, however, he tries not to forget about personal preferences and desires. He does not want to be a victim of circumstances as Crake and Oryx are. The only possible way out that Snowman sees is death. However, Atwood does not reveal what actually happens to Snowman. This is what the reader may think about and evolve own ideas.
The use of imagery in the novel Oryx and Crake is powerful indeed. The images of the main characters and society they live in help Atwood create an atmosphere of future, the future that was created by means of scientific achievements and human obsession. Margaret Atwood introduces a brilliant idea that all the humankind may be easily destroyed by own lust and arrogance.
This story is not about hope and happiness. This is a story about obsession of living in a perfect world and the power to change other lives. Imagery techniques chosen by the writer help the reader to comprehend the horror of personal desires and powers to make these desires come true.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2003.