Oryx and Crake portrays a world in which the humanities – history, literature, even language itself – have become devalued in the face of the rise of science, consumerism, and entertainment culture. History has become little more than fodder in video games, such as the game “Blood and Roses” that Jimmy and Crake play, while one of the last colleges to focus on the humanities, the Martha Graham Academy, is run down and a subject of jokes by those in the sciences. Language and writing is primarily a tool for corporations to advertise and market their goods, and as a result language becomes superficial and flat, unable to evoke deeper human feelings or ideas.
Even so, the novel emphasizes the importance of language and the humanities, and their vital role in making humans human. Jimmy knows that being a “word person” makes him inferior in his society, but he cannot give up his love of language, often repeating to himself lists of old words that, though no longer used, bring him at least some happiness and comfort. And the novel implies that Jimmy being a “word person” in fact humanizes him. While Jimmy is literally one of the last actual humans on Earth after the plague, the novel implies that in a sense that Jimmy is one of the last true humans even before most other humans die from the disease. His humanistic or “general thinking” as Crake calls it, is what saves him, figuratively and literally.
The novel worries that a progress-obsessed culture which only looks forward, and fails to attribute meaning and significance to the past, might cause people to fail to see themselves as members of a unified human culture; might cause them to cease to be “human” in a way we would recognize. The book suggests that an unchecked pursuit of scientific progress has a dehumanizing effect—Jimmy’s feeling of isolation and alienation and his desperation to hold on to obsolete and outdated words and images is indicative of this. Even more importantly, though Crake tried to breed such “cultural” and “humanistic” needs out of the Crakers, they continue to have an interest myth, religion, and even art. Crake developed the Crakers because he believed them to be the most “elegant” solution to the problem of survival. That he could not breed out their interest in history, language and art suggests that these things are not simply a source of happiness or ethical integrity but actually integral to human survival itself.
History, Language & the Humanities ThemeTracker
History, Language & the Humanities Quotes in Oryx and Crake
It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.
There are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be.
From nowhere, a word appears: Mesozoic. He can see the word, he can hear the word, but he can’t reach the word…this is happening too much lately, this dissolution of meaning.
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.
“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.”
“Homo Sapiens Sapiens was once so ingenious with language, and not only with language. Ingenious in every direction at once.”
On some non-conscious level, Snowman must serve as a reminder to these people, and not a pleasant one: he’s what they may have been once.
Crake thought he’d done away with all that…God is a cluster of neurons, he’d maintained…They’re up to something though. Something Crake didn’t anticipate. They’re conversing with the invisible. They’ve developed reverence.
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.
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.
“If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality’ is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear and you’ll be…”
“Sounds like Applied Rhetoric 101.”
Here are Crake and Oryx, what’s left of them. They’ve been vulturized, they’re scattered here and there, small and large bones mingled into disarray…He’s grinning with all the teeth in his head. As for Oryx, she’s face down, she’s turned her head away from him as if in mourning. The ribbon in her hair is as pink as ever.
Had he been a lunatic or an intellectually honourable man who’d thought things through to their logical conclusion? And was there any difference?
“We made a picture of you, to help us send out our voices to you.”
Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble.