Oryx and Crake

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Corporate Power & Commodification Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Scientific Progress & Its Costs Theme Icon
Corporate Power & Commodification Theme Icon
Humans & Animals Theme Icon
The State of Human Relationships Theme Icon
History, Language & the Humanities  Theme Icon
Extinction & Evolution Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Oryx and Crake, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Corporate Power & Commodification Theme Icon

Oryx and Crake also imagines a world in which the growing power of corporations in the late 20th and early 21st century also continues on its present path until corporate power literally reigns supreme, unchecked and unchallenged by any other kind of power. Though the novel occasionally mentions, for example, “Russia” and “Fiji” and other non-western countries, the western world seems effectively divided into pleeblands (which still contain cities like “New New York” and San Francisco) and Compounds that belong exclusively to corporations (Anooyoo, HealthWyzer, etc). There is no law and order outside of the compounds—and the corporations’ security enforcement services (the CorpSeCorp men) protect corporate interests over individual interests. And the only interest of the corporations is profit.

As a result, in a world controlled by profit-seeking corporations, everything has been commodified. Everything is for sale, and, absent any moral considerations or concerns, the corporations freely exploit people’s insecurities and weaknesses to sell sex, beauty, health, and the promise of happiness. Even more grotesquely, in order to preserve their high profits, health companies have even taken to manufacturing and releasing diseases in order to profit off their cures. This is as much an abuse of corporate power as it is an abuse of advanced scientific knowledge. In addition, just as health beauty, and happiness have a sale value, depravity, evil, and violence have entertainment value, and are thus similarly commodified. Executions, suicide, child pornography, animal snuff videos—all have become televised, with their very own channels.

This portrayal of corporate power and commodification in the novel comments on the current rising influence of corporations and their money in the early 21st century and values not only with respect to consumer culture but also with respect to influencing public policy and elections. The Compounds (and their associated organizations) serve as a critique of hyper-commodification and corporate supremacy in our own increasingly consumer- and entertainment-driven culture.

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Corporate Power & Commodification ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Corporate Power & Commodification appears in each chapter of Oryx and Crake. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Corporate Power & Commodification Quotes in Oryx and Crake

Below you will find the important quotes in Oryx and Crake related to the theme of Corporate Power & Commodification.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Leave Daddy alone,” said his mother. “Daddy is thinking. That’s what they pay him for. He doesn’t have time for you.

Related Characters: Sharon (speaker), Jimmy (Snowman), Jimmy’s father
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In the flashback scenes that begin in this chapter, we see Snowman's early life, back when he was called Jimmy--a life that was characterized by absentee parents and emotional emptiness. Jimmy's parents worked for a major corporation, although Jimmy's mother, Sharon, eventually abandoned the corporation because she objected to what she saw as its immoral uses of science and technology.

Sharon is a complex character in the novel, because she's a moral authority (she seems to be one of the only people who realizes how evil the corporation is), and yet she's not a very loving mother to Jimmy. In this scene, for instance, she speaks to her child harshly--she tells Jimmy to stop bothering her father, who works for the corporation. There's a strong note of contempt in Sharon's words here--she seems to be suggesting that she is just as ignored and undervalued by Jimmy's father as Jimmy himself is. But Sharon seems not to show much love for Jimmy either, and she also recognizes the value of capitalism and commodification in her society--even her husband's "thinking" is something to be bought and sold. In short, the passage shows that Jimmy grew up in an emotionally empty place dominated by the need to work and make money.


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He thought of pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Snowman/Jimmy thinks back on the pigoons--genetically engineered creatures that combined the DNA of a pig and a human being. A corporation called OrganInc bred and sold pigoons so that sick humans could obtain organs for transplants. Although the corporation insisted that it was only using the pigoons for transplants, not consumption, it was eventually forced to go back on its promise, harvesting the pigoons for meat (due to the famine throughout the country).

Jimmy felt for the pigoons--he didn't want them to be eaten, because he identified with them. The pigoons are partly human, which may account for Jimmy's sense of empathy. And yet Jimmy's sadness seems deeper and more visceral--he sympathizes with the pigoons because they're living creatures, not just because they're partly human. Atwood suggests that Jimmy is an unusually sensitive and moral young man--despite the fact that he's raised in an increasingly corrupt and amoral world, and so he's silenced (much like the poor pigoons themselves).

Chapter 3 Quotes

Strange to think of the endless labor, the digging, the hammering, the carving, the lifting, the drilling, day by day, year by year, century by century; and now the endless crumbling that must be going on everywhere. Sandcastles in the wind.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Snowman contemplates the slow deterioration of civilization. Human beings themselves are long-gone (except for Snowman, seemingly). And yet the emblems of their civilization are still around: cities, statues, paintings, machines, etc. Now, the second phase of human extinction is beginning: the slow deterioration of the things humans built.

The passage is lyrically poetic: it compares the slow destruction of material culture to the destruction of a sandcastle, suggesting that, for all their impressiveness, even the great buildings and machines of mankind are "mortal." The labor and ingenuity that went into building such devices, while not exactly wasted, didn't protect the devices from the elements or the slow destruction of time.

Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jimmy’s father
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

On his birthday, Jimmy receives a pet from his father: a rakunk, a combination of a skunk and a raccoon. As Snowman, in the present, remembers the rakunk, he thinks about the genetic engineering that went on during his childhood. Scientists seemed to enjoy the engineering projects not so much because of their utility but because they encouraged the scientists to feel powerful: creating new forms of life, after all, is practically the definition of being a god.

The passage introduces a religious flavor to the novel: it's suggested that mankind has been punished for daring to overstep its bounds and rise to a god's level (one of the oldest and most familiar themes of science fiction and fantasy stories, and even mythology). If Snowman is now living in a post-apocalyptic time, then perhaps the apocalypse was a punishment for this kind of hubris and recklessness.

“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.”

Related Characters: Sharon (speaker), Jimmy’s father (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jimmy's parents have an argument about the morality of Jimmy's father's genetic research. Jimmy's father works for a corporation called NooSkin that's pretty clearly corrupt and immoral: 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 corporation also researches its technology by experimenting with human DNA, combining it with animal DNA in various unusual ways.

Sharon's attack on her husband's research is twofold: first, she finds it immoral that a company would cheat people into buying new skins for such large sums; second, she seems to find something immoral and even unholy about mixing human DNA with animal DNA. It's the second objection that Jimmy's father focuses on--and perhaps it's a more debatable moral objection than the first. The implication of the passage, however, seems to be that Jimmy's father, in working with DNA so frequently, has lost all sight of morality, basic humanity, and the wonders of life: to him, life is now just a product to be modified and sold for money.

Chapter 6 Quotes

But love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value, because then at least those who wanted to make a profit from you would make sure you were fed enough and not damaged too much.

Related Characters: Oryx
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback Jimmy learns about Oryx: she's mostly had a horrible, joyless life. Oryx has been sold to many different people; her own mother sold her to a man named Uncle En, for instance. Jimmy is appalled that Oryx's mother would sell her as a slave to another man, and yet Oryx thinks of such actions as a basic part of survival--she seems not to be angry with her mother. The narrator suggests, ironically, that in the future, real love itself has more or less disappeared. Parents don't look out for their children, and strangers certainly don't show any love or respect for each other. Tragically, money has replaced love itself as the dominant way for human beings to interact with one another. Humans treat each other with respect because money mediates their relationship (for example, Uncle En probably won't hurt Oryx because he paid a lot of money for her, not because he loves her). The passage conveys the essential nihilism of life in the future: human emotion and morality has disappeared, with the notable exception of greed. Oryx is the passive victim of a culture in which everything is for sale, including and especially people.

Chapter 8 Quotes

How could I have missed it? Snowman thinks. What he was telling me? How could I have been so stupid?...
There had been something willed about it, though, his ignorance…he’d grown up in walled spaces, and then he’d become one. He had shut things out.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman), Crake
Related Symbols: Inside, Outside
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Snowman thinks back on his friendship with Crake, the mysterious young man with whom he grew up. Crake's father died in a car accident, supposedly a suicide. Jimmy remembers Crake remarking that his father was "uncoordinated." Years later, Jimmy realizes the truth: Crake was trying to say that his father was out of joint with the other people in his corporation--he refused to go along with the corporate dogma, and so he was murdered for his disobedience. Jimmy is furious with himself for missing the obvious truth about Crake and Crake's father: he's been willfully ignorant.

The passage is interesting because it shows Crake, not Jimmy, being adept at manipulating language in subtle ways. Jimmy is the writer and wordsmith, and yet he misses Crake's hint about Crake's father's supposed suicide. It also shows Crake as being connected with ideas of "walled spaces"--the divide between "inside" and "outside" is an important one in the novel, and we see Crake's secrecy and efficiency as related to himself maintaining his "inside" and keeping everything else out.

So a lot of what went on at Martha Graham was like studying book binding or Latin: pleasant to contemplate in its way, but no longer central to anything, though every once in a while the college president would subject them to some yawner about the vital arts and their irresistible reserved seat in the big red-velvet amphitheater of the beating human heart.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Related Symbols: Inside
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy doesn't go to a very prestigious school: Martha Graham is a run-down school devoted to the humanities, an area of human knowledge that few, if any, people continue to value in his society. Jimmy is perfectly aware that his society no longer values what he's interested in studying: the subjects at Martha Graham seem esoteric and "useless" compared to most of what Jimmy has seen in the professional world (Jimmy grew up around scientists and businessmen, after all). Even Jimmy himself doesn't seem very enthused when the president of his college makes a speech about the importance of the humanities to the human heart and one's inner life--Jimmy likes the arts, but he has no illusions about their importance to society.

The passage could be interpreted as Margaret Atwood's assessment of the place of the humanities in her own society. As the world becomes more technologically advanced and consumer-oriented, art and literature seem to be growing more and more unimportant--it's possible that someday they'll be considered as esoteric as book binding.

Chapter 9 Quotes

The striped-pyjamas guy upstairs must have been a word person, then: a RejoovenEsense speechwriter, an ideological plumber, a spin doctor, a hairsplitter for hire. Poor bugger, thinks Snowman.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Snowman surveys the ruins of what was once the headquarters of a mighty corporation. Snowman discovers the corpse of a former employee of the corporation--and on closer inspection, he discovers that the employee owned poetry books, suggesting that he was a humanities person, just like Snowman. The employee must have spent his life writing copy for the corporation--selling his verbal talents for money.

The passage conveys some of the pitfalls of the futuristic humanities major (or, for that matter, the present-day humanities major). People who study English and writing don't have many job opportunities--and as a result, they often end up working for large corporations. The advantage of working for such a corporation is that one has a job--the disadvantage is that one's writing is strictly controlled; it has to be centered around the same basic message, "Buy our products." In short, the passage reminds us that Jimmy's world didn't place much stock in words or the humanities in general, unless they were in the service of making money.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“People come here from all over the world—they shop around. Gender, sexual orientation, height, colour of skin and eyes—it’s all on order, it can all be done or redone.”

Related Characters: Crake (speaker), Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Crake takes Jimmy through the stunningly beautiful RejoovenEsense compound. Here Crake works on genetic modifications, marketed to whomever is wealthy enough to afford them. Crake can use his scientific knowledge to craft anyone's appearance--their eye color, sexual orientation, etc. He can also change a person's genetic makeup for the proper fee. In short, RejoovenEsense--a hugely powerful corporation--is a place where scientists like Crake change people's very identities.

The casual way that Crake talks about changing people's DNA suggests that it's an ordinary part of his life--he's lost any sense that his work is miraculous, sinful, or otherwise out of the ordinary. As Atwood has suggested elsewhere, though, Crake's work is downright unholy; it trivializes human life, treating the human body as a mere product to be retooled, perfected, and then sold for a profit. Atwood links the sexual crimes of Crake's society with the casual way Crake talks about "redoing" a person's appearance: both the scientists and the sexual predators of the future suffer from the same problem, a basic lack of respect for the human body and for human life.