Imagine waking up, alone, in a world that completely changed overnight. This is exactly the position that Snowman, the main character in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, is in. In Atwood’s novel, the topic of biotechnology and the costly effects of it are explored in great detail. Biotechnology is “the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc.” In Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, biotechnology is developed in many ways, and the potential dangers of these actions are made clear to the readers.
The first and most obvious example of Oryx and Crake developing biotechnology is manipulating genes to make new animals. The “rakunk” is a genetically engineered animal which is made up of a racoon and a skunk, thus the name given to it. Snowman, or Jimmy says “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). This quote stresses playing the role of God which is a classic science fiction topic. Jimmy is now living in a post-apocalyptic world, and it could be punishment for playing God’s role. Jimmy was given a rakunk as a gift for his birthday, and it became his pet much like many other families before the end of the world. Another animal that was created by modifying the genes of two animals is the “wolvog” which is made up of a dog and a wolf. In chapter 5, Jimmy was sitting up in a tree when he called down to a pack of wolvogs. “In answer there’s a supplicating whine. That’s the worst thing about wolvogs: they still look like dogs, still behave like dogs, pricking up their ears, making playful puppy leaps and bounces, wagging their tails. They’ll sucker you in and then go for you”(Atwood 108). These genetically modified creatures killed many things in their way, including all the pure-bread dogs. These are two great examples of our arrogant use of technology in our everyday lives. With this novel, Atwood is trying to teach us that our technological decisions have consequences, because we believe otherwise.
Along with genetically modifying animals, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake explore many other areas of biotechnology. Pigoons are a great example of the experimenting with biotechnology in the text. Jimmy “thought of pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on”(Atwood 24). The pigeons are genetically engineered creatures that combined the DNA of a human being and a pig. A corporation called OrganInc bred and sold these pigoons so that when people got sick, the organs of the pigoons could be transplanted in order to save them. This is very similar to how we use organ transplants in our everyday lives, however it is taking the idea to a whole new, and immoral level. In chapter 4, Jimmy’s parents are arguing over a new product that his father is working on. The argument was as follows:
“We give people Hope. Hope isn’t ripping off!”
“At Nooskins’ price it is. You hype your wares and take all their money, and then it’s no more treatments for them…Don’t you remember the way you used to talk?…you had ideals, then.”
“There’s nothing sacred about cells and tissue.” (Atwood 56)
This disagreement is about the Nooskin Corporation where Jimmy’s father works. It charges people huge sums of money in return for a ‘new skin’ that won’t get old or show signs of aging over time. The company also mixes human DNA with animal DNA in unusual ways. Jimmy’s mother, Sharon finds it immoral that a company would cheat people into buying new skins for such large sums. She also believes that is unholy to mix human and animal DNA. From this argument, we learn an important lesson. This lesson is that whatever we may be working on, we must not lose sight of morality, basic humanity, and the wonders of life. Life to Jimmy’s father is now just a product that can be sold for money.
This essay would not be complete without mentioning the Crakers. The Crakers are the prime example of biotechnology in Oryx and Crake. The Crakers were a result of one of Crake’s projects. They were supposed to be genetically perfect children that families could purchase to be their own. “Snowman must serve as a reminder to these people, and not a pleasant one: he’s what they may have been once”(Atwood 106). The Crakers share certain traits with humans, but they are more advanced in some ways and primitive in others. Snowman is like a father-figure to the Crakers and his job is to take care of them, to make sure that they don’t destroy themselves. In the post-apocalyptic world “Sex is no longer a mysterious rite, viewed with ambivalence or downright loathing, conducted in the dark and inspiring suicides or murders. Now it’s more like an athletic demonstration, a free-spirited romp”(Atwood 165). The Crakers are like humans in some ways, but they lack humans’ capacity for jealousy, sexual rivalry, and love: thus, they have sex, but only as a means of reproduction.