Oryx and Crake

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Oryx and Crake Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
SoYummie. Jimmy and Crake graduate from HelthWyzer High. Crake graduates at the top of the class, and has earned a spot at the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute. Jimmy will be attending the much less important Martha Graham Academy, an arts-oriented school. Ramona (now his stepmother officially) and his father attend the graduation and offer jimmy congratulations, but all Jimmy can think about is what his real mother would have thought. He concludes she wouldn’t have cared about his graduation at all. Jimmy resorts to getting very drunk to alleviate his sorrow.
Fittingly, Jimmy goes to a school for the humanities, not held in high esteem, and Crake goes to a celebrated school for the sciences. The cultural decline of the humanities in this society is evident in the shabbiness of Jimmy’s new school. This major transitional moment in Jimmy’s life makes him miss his mother, whose absence, both physical and emotional, troubles him and forces him to seek comfort not in meaningful human interaction (for he can find none) but in chemical self-abuse.
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After the ceremony, Crake approaches Jimmy and brings up the subject of his own mother, who we learn passed away suddenly only a month ago. Crake explains what happened in a remarkably glib manner. His mother had died of a terrible disease, and had been incoherent at the end. Before she died she had “frothed”—Crake compares her to a salted slug. Jimmy assumes it’s just an act, and that Crake is hiding his grief to maintain his coolness.
Crake’s unfazed, scientific demeanor when discussing the horrifying death of his own mother is dismissed by Jimmy as an act—but this is a moment of dark foreshadowing. Crake’s disregard for human life will only become more and more clear—in fact Jimmy will eventually conclude Crake not only failed to mourn his mother appropriately but in fact infected her with the virus that killed her.
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Happicuppa. After graduation, Jimmy goes on vacation with Crake and Uncle Pete. Instead of watching their usual TV programming, they tune into news about the “coffee wars.” HelthWyzer has created a new bean that could be picked mechanically, and a global resistance movement has broken out against the new “Happicuppa” bean, because it is putting small growers and laborers out of business. Crake tells Jimmy he is against Happicuppa because they are “nuking” cloud forests to plant their new beans, but also maintains he is not on the side of the “peasants” who are revolting.
Crake does not side with the rich or the poor, the corporations or the individual. Rather he sides with the “cloud forests,” with nature, with the survival of species. This is not evidence of his compassion, but rather of his scientific interest in the survival of “elegant” life forms—he clearly believes there is elegance in the cloud forests, an elegance of simplicity that does not include higher-order human thinking, which he disdains. He therefore opposes the Happicuppa bean and the peasants. To him, they are two sides of the same human coin, and he rejects the coin entirely.
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Sometimes Jimmy and Crake watch the coffee wars coverage with Uncle Pete, who has stock in Happicuppa and says disparaging things about the rebels. While watching this coverage, Jimmy sees his mother on the screen, wearing a green bandana over her mouth and shouting at CorpSeCorps men. He asks Uncle Pete to freeze the frame, but Uncle Pete has already changed the channel. Jimmy thinks he shouldn’t have said anything, and hopes Uncle Pete didn’t notice—he doesn’t want to betray his mother.
The reappearance of Jimmy’s mother alongside rebels in the coffee wars confirms that she left to join groups fighting against the corporations. Jimmy’s outburst upon seeing her worries him—he hopes he did not accidentally betray her, showing that he still cares deeply about his mother even if he is bitter about her departure.
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When Crake and Jimmy are alone again, they talk about what Jimmy saw. Crake says he guessed it was Jimmy’s mother, and assures Jimmy he can be trusted. Seemingly to make Jimmy feel better, Crake tells him that Crake's own father had also left under similar circumstances, and died after going over a highway overpass. Crake says that everyone talked about it as though it was a suicide, but he doesn’t believe it was. Jimmy asks him if his father had simply fallen by accident. Crake tells him “he was kind of uncoordinated” and smiles.
We will eventually learn that Crake’s father was killed for trying to resist the increasingly unethical corporations. When Crake calls him uncoordinated, Jimmy here assumes Crake means physically, But we can understand that Crake’s father was “uncoordinated” in the sense that he did not move in line with corporate enterprise. He did not act according to plan; he did not behave.
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When Snowman thinks about this event years later, he is furious with himself. He thinks, “How could I have missed it?” and realizes Crake had been trying to tell him something. Jimmy had been willfully ignorant.
Jimmy eventually realizes what Crake had been saying, and Snowman is left punishing himself for being naïve and missing the signs, for failing to realize what the corporate system was really doing.
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Applied Rhetoric. Jimmy and Crake part ways to go to their separate academies. Martha Graham has fallen into a state of disrepair, and the facilities are unimpressive. The school is named after the 20th century dancer, Martha Graham, and puts special emphasis on the humanities and performing arts in particular. As the importance of the arts has waned, Martha Graham has shifted its emphasis. The school now focuses on “contemporary arenas” and more employable skills, like writing advertising copy and pamphlets, or manipulating images, or writing for web-based games.
Martha Graham is in many ways a physical manifestation of the cultural rejection of the importance of the arts and humanities. It is literally dilapidated, and though it still technically teaches language, visual, and performing arts, it has been forced by cultural demand to teach not the humanities but what might instead be described as the “applied humanities”: how to use language above all else to serve the sciences and the corporations’ best interests. Humanities are no longer studied for their own sake.
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Jimmy studies “problematics” (which would prepare him for a job writing descriptions of new products.) He lives across the hall from a “fundamentalist” vegan named Bernice whom he finds very unattractive. Bernice antagonizes Jimmy about everything from his faux-leather sandals to his string of overnight female guests, and Jimmy manages to change rooms.
Bernice, who will later be executed by CorpSeCorps men, arguably has much more integrity than Jimmy, though he paints her as foolish and extreme. He chooses to use his love of and talent with language to train himself to write advertisements for corporate products.
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Jimmy realizes at Martha Graham that he is interested in damaged, artistic women, because he finds them easy to manipulate, and finds satisfaction in listening to others’ vulnerabilities. The relationships never last long, because Jimmy gets bored rather quickly. Jimmy often likes to use the story of his mother to draw women in—it works on everyone except Oryx.
Jimmy’s twisted view of love, sex, and relationships continues to develop at Martha Graham. He prefers women he can manipulate, and doesn’t commit seriously to any of these women, though he leads them to believe he will. Oryx, though she does have a relationship with Jimmy, is not manipulated by him in this way.
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Asperger’s U. Jimmy and Crake correspond by email. Crake tells Jimmy that people call Watson-Crick “Asperger’s U” because there so many strange, socially inept geniuses there. Crake says there are absolutely no “neurotypicals” there—in other words, people who lack the genius gene.
Watson and Crick is a place where science has superseded everything: no one has relationships or normal social interactions, and no one there is less than a genius. It is an institution representing the inordinate power the sciences have over the rest of culture.
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Though Jimmy could easily purchase papers instead of writing them, he applies himself at Martha Graham and spends long hours in the library looking for the most obscure, arcane books he can find. He also begins compiling lists of old, unusual words, occasionally tossing them into conversation. For his Applied Rhetoric course, he writes a term paper on self-help books of the 20th century. He enjoys quoting these texts to his friends, who find them hilarious. His senior dissertation is an extension of his self-help term paper—he earns an A.
Jimmy continues to develop his love of language and language arts. He builds his vocabulary even though, in this world, there is no reason to do so. He continues to have a sense of humor, and enjoys making his classmates laugh with his comedy. At the same time, his thesis is on self-help books—a commodified form of “literature” that sells easy fixes to human problems. These self help books will often appear in Snowman’s head later, much to his chagrin, and perhaps indicate a regret on Jimmy’s part that he didn’t devote his time to more meaningful texts.
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Crake invites Jimmy to visit Watson-Crick over the holidays and Jimmy accepts. At Watson Crick, Jimmy is stopped by Watson-Crick security, who question him yet again about his mother. When Jimmy tells the guards he has come to see Crake, the guards look impressed and let him through. Jimmy is so pleased to see Crake he almost cries.
The disappearance of his mother is still having a tangible effect on Jimmy, as evidenced by the maintained interest of the CorpSeCorps in her whereabouts. Crake has already started to achieve status and recognition—the security forces now know and respect his name.
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Watson-Crick’s campus is modern and beautiful, decked out in high-tech genetically modified plants in a wide array of colors. The climate is carefully controlled and the air is clear and pleasant. Jimmy asks Crake if the large butterflies are “real” and Crake responds by saying that things created by science are as real as things created by nature.
Watson Crick is a demonstration of both the power and the freedom of scientific institutions to produce and modify whatever they wish. The effect is pleasant but the implications are troubling—Crake’s belief that there is no difference between science and nature is ominous—just as one might say that there is no morality in nature, Crake then seems to believe that there is no morality in what science creates.
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Crake takes Jimmy on a tour of the campus, frequently introducing him to others as “Jimmy, the neurotypical.” Jimmy is especially thrown by a lab that is growing a new kind of chicken, with no head, feathers, or feet. It is just a lump of muscle with a feeding tube. Crake explains that these chickens are so cost-effective that the resulting food product (“Chickienobs”) will be able to undercut the cost of all similar products.
Jimmy is out of place on this campus, where the only valued intelligence is scientific intelligence. Watson-Crick is a hotbed of ethically dubious scientific activity and profit-driven research. Crake and his peers are completely unfazed by the thought of growing headless, motionless, only sort-of-alive chickens, and focus only on their cost-effectiveness.
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Next Crake shows Jimmy the wolvog pen. It is a CorpSeCorps-funded project that has designed a dog that looks friendly but is irreversibly vicious. The CorpSeCorps is thinking of building moats around protected areas and filling them with wolvogs. Jimmy feels ill—seeing all of this has made him uncomfortable, and he wonders if a line is being crossed. Crake remarks offhand that mankind has always built walls to keep nature and God confined—animals are kept in zoos, and God is kept in churches. He clarifies, however, that he does not believe in God or Nature.
Wolvogs are an instance of corporate self-interest directing scientific progress and in fact evolution itself. Jimmy’s discomfort is understandable—the things being done at Watson-Crick are clearly violating moral and ethical boundaries. But this is of no interest to Crake, who believes that such questions are not just pointless but ridiculous. He reduces religion and nature to manmade structures, and confirms our suspicion that he has no reverence for either God or nature.
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Hypothetical. A few days into his visit Jimmy asks Crake about the dating prospects at Watson-Crick. Crake explains that “pair-bonding” is not encouraged, and that if you really need it, you can arrange to get a prostitute through student services. Crake thinks this service is a good idea, because it allows you to fulfill whatever desires you have without getting distracted from your work.
Watson-Crick even goes so far as to eliminate romance and dating from the lives of its students. Jimmy finds this unfathomably strange but Crake likes the idea, claiming it reduces distractions. Crake resents his own sexual desires and believes them to be an impediment.
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Crake and Jimmy hang out in much the same way they used to. They play computer games, or make funny sentences out of the fridge-magnet words Crake has on his fridge. Jimmy finds it relaxing to simply sit and listen to Crake talk. One day Crake tells Jimmy that HelthWyzer and similar companies have been producing viruses and releasing them into the population in order to sell the cures—because “illness isn’t productive.” Crake's father, Crake then reveals, was pushed off an overpass because he had found out about this practice. Jimmy is shocked. Crake says that Uncle Pete or his mother must have turned his father in. Then he suggests that Jimmy’s mother must have known, and that’s why she was so disappointed in Jimmy’s father, and ultimately why she ran away.
Though Jimmy and Crake revert to old habits, their conversation has changed dramatically. Crake opens up to Jimmy about things he knows about the corporations, about their reach, about the fates of his parents and Jimmy’s. That Jimmy has never even thought of these possibilities is evidence of his naiveté—the same naiveté that prevents him from seeing Crake for what he really is. The moral differences between Jimmy’s parents, and between Crake’s father and his mother and Uncle Pete, demonstrate the extent to which greed and arrogance can corrupt people in this system.
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On the last evening of Jimmy’s visit, Crake asks him to play Extinctathon. Jimmy agrees, and when Crake logs on Jimmy realizes that Crake has become a grandmaster. MaddAddam instructs grandmaster Crake (via a screen pop-up) to “find his playroom.” In order to do so Crake brings up a picture of 8-year-old Oryx, from the screenshot taken years ago, and clicks on her eye. It opens the playroom. Jimmy is jealous and furious, but doesn’t know why he feels so strongly and says nothing.
Crake still plays Extinctathon, and has achieved the status of grandmaster, which Jimmy suspected he wanted all along. The name MaddAddam seems to refer the first man (Adam) but is a mysterious figure in this novel (though he is explored more fully in the full trilogy of novels of which Oryx and Crake is just the first.) The love triangle between Crake, Oryx, and Jimmy begins to take shape and immediately leads to jealousy, a very human emotion.
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A string of e-bulletins pops up on the screen. They all describe events where mysterious hostile bioforms attacked the animals and products created by major corporations. Then Maddaddam asks for “new initiatives.” Jimmy gets nervous and asks Crake what’s going on. Crake explains MaddAddam runs a subversive, rebellious operation, and that the MaddAddam group wants to tear the whole corporate system down. Crake says he doesn’t know much about who they are, except that they are doing very advanced work and must have been trained in the compound. Jimmy tells Crake he shouldn’t be messing around with this stuff, as he could be caught, but really the thing on his mind is the picture of Oryx, and why Crake had chosen it for his gateway.
Crake has found his way into an organization that uses scientific knowledge produced by the compounds to fight the compounds—they fight science with science, because perhaps there is no other way. Jimmy, who wants to avoid this kind of conflict for fear of the consequences, wishes Crake would stop telling him all of this. Though what Crake is showing him is of the utmost importance, is in fact a massive revelation about the forces at work in this world, all Jimmy can think about is Oryx, and his own jealousy.
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During this visit, Crake often wakes Jimmy up by screaming, horribly, in the middle of the night. When Jimmy asks him about it, Crake responds that he never remembers his dreams. When Snowman thinks about this later, he realizes that, while Crake could never remember his dreams, Snowman worse than remembers them—he’s trapped in Crake’s dreams. He no longer wonders why Crake screamed so much.
Snowman believes he is, in some sense, living in one of Crakes nightmares—for he is in the world Crake “dreamed” up, one in which humanity has been cleared out to make way for the Crakers. That Crake was afflicted by horrible nightmares perhaps suggests he did have a sense of the atrocity of his ambitions, but repressed it.
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