Oryx and Crake

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Oryx and Crake Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rakunk. Snowman sees a Rakunk in the weeds and calls to it. He wonders if a pet would make him feel better. He wants someone to talk to. He is reminded of a moment when Oryx asked him if he had ever really talked to her.
In the absence of human companionship, Jimmy wonders if he can find comfort from animal companionship. Oryx’s devastating comment essentially amounts to the question of whether or not Jimmy has ever made a real human connection in his life.
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On Jimmy’s tenth birthday his father gives him a pet rakunk. Jimmy wants to name it Bandit, but when his mother suggests that name he changes his mind and names it Killer. His tenth birthday is the only one he can ever remember—his birthdays were usually stressful occasions or completely forgotten. But on his tenth birthday Jimmy’s father had brought this animal. Rakunks were designed by OrganInc as a kind of casual project. They are a genetic splice of raccoons and skunks designed for docility and cleanliness, and are popular pets for families living in the compound.
The same scientific haphazardness and corporate power that is driving apart Jimmy’s parents brings Killer into the picture. What’s more, Killer is a birthday present—and birthdays are, for Jimmy, a constant reminder of his family’s failures to communicate and bond appropriately. Killer thus represents Jimmy’s failure to forge meaningful bonds with his (human) family members.
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Shortly after Killer arrives, Jimmy’s father finds a better job at NooSkins, a subsidiary of HelthWyzer, and the family moves to the HelthWyzer compound. Jimmy’s father has Ramona transferred over with him. Jimmy’s mother is unhappy about the move. She especially dislikes the HelthWyzer guards, and suspects that they perform strip searches on women because they get a kick out of it. She feels like a prisoner and believes she is being spied on. Jimmy’s father rejects all of these notions.
Jimmy’s father’s professional success corresponds to an increase in his mother’s unhappiness and disillusionment with the entire compound system. Ramona’s closeness with Jimmy’s father further emphasizes the rift in their marriage. The guards’ apparent abuse of their power underscores the moral bankruptcy of the current corporate culture and its larger abuse of its power.
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Jimmy attends HelthWyzer Public School. Jimmy is old enough that he no longer has to eat lunch at home with his mom or at work with his dad. He is happy about this, and begins to put on weight and branch out more socially. In his free time he watches educational videos in the library, and especially likes one in which a host called Alex the Parrot talks about animal behavior. Jimmy also develops his first crush, on a classmate named Wakulla Price.
Jimmy’s escape from home and his life at school help to normalize him. He makes friends, develops a crush, and demonstrates intellectual curiosity (though notably he is curious about ecology and nature, two displaced and undervalued things in this world.) The rest of the book will confirm the utter fragility of this kind of human bonding and intellectual curiosity free from ambition.
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Jimmy’s father begins spending more time at work, but rarely talks about his work to Jimmy or Sharon. Nooskins is trying to develop a new kind of skin that could regenerate quickly and prevent signs of aging. One night he comes home drunk and tries to toast with Sharon to his most recent accomplishment: human neo-cortex tissue growing in a pigoon. This disgusts Jimmy’s mom, who believes NooSkin basically steals money from those less fortunate by charging exorbitant amounts for their medicines and making false promises. Jimmy’s father can’t believe his ears, and remarks that there’s nothing sacred about cells and tissue. Sharon is unmoved by this remark, and insists that she is depressed because she is plagued by disillusionment and guilt. Jimmy’s father dismissively tells her to take pills if she is depressed.
The moral divide between Jimmy’s parents is fully articulated in this scene. Jimmy’s father has given Pigoons human brain tissue, further complicating the line between man and animal (this animal experiment is beginning to seem more like a human experiment). He sees no problem with this, and finds Sharon’s moral concerns to be unscientific and therefore without merit. Sharon explicitly identifies the reason for her depression, yet this doesn’t make Jimmy’s father take it any more seriously. He has completely forsaken ethical or moral concerns in his scientific and professional advancement
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Jimmy hears the whole fight via a series of small microphones he has set up through the house. This fight reminds him of many others—he often overhears his parents talking about him as though he is stupid or inferior. When he hears one of his parents coming up the stairs, Jimmy rolls over and pretends to be asleep. He is upset, but Killer’s nose tickles him under the covers and he begins to giggle uncontrollably.
Jimmy’s estrangement from his own parents is clear here. He turns to an animal for comfort and pleasure. It is also significant that Jimmy is not nearly as clueless as his parents suspect—his surveillance of their conversations and fights allows him to observe and understand what’s happening between them.
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Hammer. The following years are a blur. Jimmy begins to think about girls more and more, and though he is not unpopular at school, he doesn’t have many friends. Killer is his only source of true companionship—she is the only one he can talk to. He stops talking to his parents. At school, he entertains his classmates by acting out his parents’ fights by drawing little faces on each of his hands and staging arguments with them. He often makes crude jokes about them, and feels especially guilty about some of the things he says about his mother.
Jimmy’s dysfunctional approach to human bonding begins to take shape. His only friend is a pet, his increasing preoccupation with women will ultimately lead to sex addiction, and he distances himself from the trouble at home by making cruel and humiliating jokes about his parents. He does have a sense that this is wrong, however, and notably feels worse about betraying his mother than his father.
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One day Jimmy comes home from school and there is a note from his mother on the table. She writes that her conscience has driven her to leave, that she will always love him, and that she has taken Killer with her so the animal can be set free. Jimmy wonders if his mother ever loved him and is enraged at the fact that she took his pet. Before she left Jimmy’s mother had also taken a hammer to both the computers in the house, suggesting that she’d taken secret information with her.
Sharon’s defection from the compound is evidence of her commitment to her own moral code, but leaving Jimmy behind rightly causes Jimmy to question whether his mother ever thought of his welfare before her own. The fact that she absconds with Killer suggests that her devotion to nature is greater than her devotion to her son.
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The CorpSeCorps men begin questioning Jimmy frequently about his mother. Jimmy doesn’t understand many of their questions, and doesn’t have much to tell them about his mother’s behavior. Jimmy’s father was obviously rattled, and was taken away for a period of time. Jimmy was left with two CorpSeCorps agents, who irritate him with their constant questioning.
Though Jimmy doesn’t necessarily understand the reach of corporate enterprise in this universe, the persistence of the CorpSeCorps men in asking a young child to give incriminating information against his mother once again demonstrates that the corporations are driven by self-interest alone. Moral reasoning is absent.
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When Jimmy’s dad returns he goes to counseling, and eventually begins to seem happier. Ramona moves in, and Jimmy is made uncomfortable by their frequent and immodest lovemaking. When Snowman thinks about it, he concludes that Ramona and his father probably did not make their affair physical until after his mother left. He ruminates on the fact that he knows enough about life and sex to be sure of this.
Jimmy’s father recovers relatively quickly from Sharon’s departure. His actions once again betray an ignorance of Jimmy’s needs. Snowman’s interest in when the affair started shows he still maintains a desire to understand and accurately describe human relationships, at least from the outside.
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Ramona tries her best to be there for Jimmy, and Jimmy appreciates the attention, though he is still sad and misses Killer dearly. He occasionally receives cards, with stamps from faraway places like England and Argentina, that are signed “Aunt Monica.” Jimmy knows these cards are from his mother, but feigns ignorance when the CorpSeCorps men ask about them.
Though Ramona’s presence is not easy for Jimmy, he appreciates the effort she makes to try to connect to him. He continues to suffer more, seemingly, from the loss of his pet than from the loss of his mother. He remains loyal to her, however, when the CorpSeCorps question him.
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The section ends with Snowman reminding himself “I am not my childhood.” He tells himself he must hold onto words, odd words, old words, rare words. When he forgets these words, they will be gone forever—it is up to him to keep them alive.
Snowman tries to overcome the dysfunction of his past. He believes his salvation is in the preservation of language. In this book, the extinction of not only various animal species but of language itself is at stake.
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Crake. Shortly before Jimmy’s mother leaves, Crake arrives at HelthWyzer High. Jimmy’s mother likes Crake, more than the rest of Jimmy’s friends. She finds him thoughtful and mature—“intellectually honorable.” Crake’s given name is Glenn, but Snowman asserts that Crake is his true name.
Crake enters Jimmy’s life shortly before Jimmy’s mother leaves, and will re-enter shortly after his mother dies. His “intellectual honorability” will be thrown in question by the end of the book, when his wielding of scientific knowledge leads to death and destruction on a global scale.
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When Crake first arrives at HelthWyzer, Jimmy is apprehensive of him. He is threatened by Crake’s coolness and detects self-importance in him. Crake’s nonchalance makes Jimmy want to get a reaction out of him, so he asks Crake to the mall after school. They end up having a good time, and Jimmy begins to come around to Crake, though he worries a little that Crake will be better liked than him at school.
Jimmy and Crake’s friendship is borne out of Jimmy’s insecurity and jealousy. Little does Jimmy know that Crake’s “self-importance” is so pathological it will lead him to play God, all while denying anyone should believe in God. These initial (ultimately trivial) worries about Crake serve to ironically illustrate Jimmy’s underestimation of him.
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Brainfrizz. Wakulla Price leaves HelthWyzer high, leaving Jimmy without a lab partner. Crake is assigned to be his partner and Jimmy realizes Crake is an unusually gifted scientist. They become closer and begin to hang out after school, usually in Crake’s room watching videos or playing computer games. They often play a digital version of chess. Once Jimmy suggests getting a real set—but Crake responds that neither a plastic set nor a digital set is “real”: “The real set is in your head.” Jimmy responds by shouting “bogus!” This is a word he’d heard on an old DVD. He uses it to mean Crake is being pompous.
Wakulla is replaced by Crake, and an innocent crush is replaced by the disastrous relationship that results in death and destruction. They spend more and more time together. Once again Jimmy’s playful ribbing of Crake for being “pompous” is darkly ironic—Jimmy is unknowingly understating the issue. But “bogus” is also the beginning of Jimmy’s word collection, which will bring him much comfort in the future. That they bond over chess is interesting—Jimmy will eventually learn he is a pawn in Crake’s strategy.
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They play other computer games: Barbarian Stomp involves pitting the “barbarian” side against the “cities” side, and whoever loses gets stomped. Many of the names of cities and barbarian hordes listed in the game are unfamiliar. Blood and Roses is a trading game, where one player (on the “Blood” side) trades with atrocities, and the other (“Roses”) trades with human achievements like artworks, scientific breakthroughs, etc. Each event is assigned a value. A sidebar briefly explains about the various historical events catalogued by the game (so, for example, if Jimmy didn’t know what Madame Bovary was, he could read a short blub about it before trying to trade it). Snowman recites the names he learned in these games—randomly, and in no coherent order—to himself when he is feeling lonely or scared.
These games reduce history itself to cheap entertainment. Violence and horror as well as beauty and enlightenment are merely things to be traded. Major events are reduced to blurbs on a screen. They demonstrate the damaging effect consumer culture has had on history as a discipline and humanity’s connection to its past. Nevertheless, even Snowman’s cursory knowledge of human history, much of which he gets from these games, is a great source of comfort to him. It is as though even the act of preserving the names of great achievements, the places and dates of major events, reminds Snowman that he is not alone—that humanity did exist once.
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Crake becomes particularly obsessed with a game called “Extinctathon” monitored by someone called MaddAddam. The game tests players’ knowledge of extinct species. Certain players are grandmasters, and Jimmy suspects Crake is trying to achieve grandmaster status. Crake adopts his name from the game: the extinct Red-necked Crake. Jimmy’s game name is Thickney (after an extinct Australian bird that “used to hang out in cemeteries”) but the name doesn’t stick.
Extinctathon catalogues the species wiped out by the overreach of mankind and science in his world. That Crake and other Extinctathon players are named for extinct animals foreshadows the future near-extinction of the human race. The game is a way of preserving and remembering species erased from the earth. Crake’s eventual goal (we learn) is not only to become grandmaster, but also to add humans to this list.
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When Crake and Jimmy aren’t playing games they are surfing the internet. Some sites feature live streaming videos of open-heart surgeries, some depict animal torture, some show live feeds of executions in Asia or the Middle East. They particularly enjoy watching channels (such as “Brainfrizz”) that depict American executions. Crake is also amused by a channel where people commit suicide on live television, but Jimmy is troubled by this and prefers not to watch. Jimmy likes a show called “At Home with Anna K,” which features a naked performance artist reciting Shakespeare in her home.
The depraved side of humanity also has an exchange value—it is now packed and sold as entertainment. Crake’s interest in the channel depicting suicide, and Jimmy’s disgust with this website, it yet again foreshadowing. Jimmy will fight to preserve himself and humanity while Crake works to end it. Jimmy’s preferred program involves a performance artist who revives Shakespearean texts—Jimmy chooses art, sex, and humanity over self-destruction.
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Sometimes Crake is able to hack into his stepfather Uncle Pete’s account using something he calls a “lily pad labyrinth” that prevents his searches from being detected. This enables Crake and Jimmy to watch especially disturbing or disgusting violent snuff films or pornography. Often Jimmy and Crake smoke marijuana (also stolen from Uncle Pete) and spend hours watching this kind of depraved content. Jimmy notes that the violent videos and the sexual ones are often hard to tell apart.
We see an even darker side of pervasive commodification. Jimmy and Crake take advantage of this proliferation of depraved content and spend whole afternoons watching it. Their friendship is less based on humanity and honest connection than it is on the shared experience, via a television screen, of the absence or degradation of humanity.
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HottTotts. Jimmy and Crake always watch these channels when its late afternoon, and no one but Crake’s mother is home. She respects Crake’s privacy and never bothers them or enters his room. On one particular afternoon in March, they go on a site called “HottTotts,” and here they see Oryx for the first time. She is about eight years old performing sexual acts on a grown man. Jimmy is startled by her, and is unable to think of her as simply another girl on a porn site. There is one moment in the video where Oryx turns around and looks straight at the camera. Crake freezes the frame there and asks Jimmy if he wants a print copy (this is something they do with certain frames from time to time). Jimmy says yes, and hopes Crake hasn’t noticed him acting differently.
Crake and Jimmy encounter Oryx, whom we know Jimmy loved dearly, via one of these sites—she somehow stands out among the others as a human, as opposed to an object for viewing consumption. That Crake and Jimmy are both interested in her foreshadows their eventual love triangle, but also begs the question: why is Oryx the one thing that Jimmy and Crake seem to have in common? She (or whatever she represents) is somehow the link between Crake’s arrogant, cool, scientific mind, and Jimmy’s afflicted, emotional humanistic mind.
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When Jimmy shows this picture to Oryx years later, when she’s in his bed, she tells him she doesn’t believe it’s her. Jimmy insists it must be, and Oryx finally agrees, but Jimmy knows she is only saying so to make him happy. Jimmy asks her questions about how she felt, and what she’d been thinking, but Oryx finds these questions silly. She entertains them though, telling Jimmy, “I was thinking…that if I ever got the chance, it would not be me down on my knees.”
We are for the first time introduced to the idea that the character referred to as “Oryx” is actually more than one woman. Oryx is in many ways created by Jimmy—she good-naturedly conforms to his idea of her, though it seems clear that she only does so out of benevolence. This calls on the reader to wonder about the nature of their bond—with whom does Jimmy have a relationship? A woman or an image of one?
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