Oryx and Crake

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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.
Humans & Animals Theme Icon

The advanced science achieved in the world of the novel has challenged the distinction between human and animal. Pigoons, for example, are pigs that grow human organs and even human brain tissue (for the purpose of transplantation). Their partially human makeup makes it so that people are uncomfortable with the idea of eating them, because it seems vaguely cannibalistic. They are the book’s first, but certainly not only, example of transgressing the divide between human and animal. The most distinctive blend of human and animal are Crake’s genetically engineered creation, The Crakers. They have color-changing sex organs like a baboon, a digestive system like a rabbit, and the smell of a citrus plant. The Crakers are a particularly interesting example because they are humanoid, with certain human traits, and the book constantly asks the reader if they are human, and if they are, what makes them so.

The characters of the novel also often think about the distinction between animals and humans, though in very different ways. Jimmy frequently compares himself to various animals. In Jimmy’s case this kind of comparison grows out of his feeling inferior given that he is not scientifically gifted. His lack of scientific genius makes him feel lesser, like an animal. Crake, conversely, thinks that human ingenuity and scientific curiosity is actually an inferior, animal trait. He refers to the scientific human brain as a “monkey brain,” and disdains scientific genius (though he himself possesses a great deal of it.) He also believes those things which are traditionally revered as “distinctly human” (love, art, language, self awareness, knowledge of mortality) are a kind of evolutionary mistake—he finds them to be “inelegant” solutions to the problem of life and survival. His solution to these problems, on the one hand, is the “invention” of the Crakers, whom he considers to be “superior” genetic combinations of humans, plants, and animals that share neither human intelligence or sexual desire. On the other hand, he solves what he sees as the problem of human beings by developing a plague that effectively wipes them off the face of the earth.

Oryx and Crake therefore wonders about the difference between human and non-human life—is it a matter of intelligence? Of self-awareness? Of artistic creativity, religion, or philosophy? All of these answers are presented as possibilities, but Atwood does not indicate that any one answer is the “correct” one. The question itself is indicative of Atwood’s environmentalism. While the characters in the novel seem fixated on the distinction between humans and animals, the novel challenges this distinction in the first place and suggests instead that humans do not exist somehow separately from or outside of nature, that humans are not obviously distinct from the other kinds of life in their environment and were mistaken to ever treat themselves as being so.

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Humans & Animals ThemeTracker

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

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

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).


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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.

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 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Crake, The Crakers
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Snowman thinks about the new society that's arisen on Earth, after the decline of humanity. The Crakers have been bred by Crake to be uncreative, emotionless, and basically atheistic. And yet the Crakers are still drawn to art, mythology, and religion: they have a strong religious instinct, apparent in their embrace of the mythology Snowman has invented for them. The Crakers, against all the odds and their own genetic makeup, have maintained a human capacity to worship the divine.

The passage is interesting because it suggests the rivalry between Jimmy (Snowman) and Crake: Jimmy seems to be getting revenge on Crake by teaching the Crakers to worship everything that Crake hated (religion, stories, myths, etc.). Crake, we can tell, was an atheistic person with a highly scientific turn of mind: he didn't believe in "myth" of any kind, whether it was religion, poetry, or fiction.

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.

Related Characters: Crake, The Crakers
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

In the post-apocalyptic world, the Crakers are what remains. 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. Jimmy notes that the Crakers' habits have some advantages over humans: unlike humans, Crakers don't have any jealousy or sexual violence to speak of--sex is just a regular act for them, like an athletic "demonstration." (And this was Crake's intention in creating them--to free them from all the potential suffering and conflict that arises from sexual desire.)

The passage is interesting because it seems to allude to the Biblical Garden of Eden. Before the fall of man, some religious scholars suggest, Adam and Eve did have sex, but only out of an abstract necessity--they hadn't yet found "fallen" sexual passion. The notion of the fall of man is highly relevant to the novel, since it shows that by discovering the mysteries of life and death, mankind has fallen out of paradise. Thus, the passage is a subtle signal that with the Crakers, we've returned to the Garden of Eden: ignorant of the knowledge of death and life, and of sexual passion, too.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Maybe the guards tried to get out of RejoovenEsense just like everyone else. Maybe they, too, hoped they could outrun contagion.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Inside, Outside
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Snowman revisits the guard tower of a major corporate building. He realizes that there are no dead bodies inside the building, suggesting that even the guards were trying to run away from the mysterious "contagion"--the disease that, it's implied, killed most of the human population.

As we go on, we learn more about what, precisely, caused the global apocalypse. Here, we realize that it was a virus that did humanity in; furthermore, the virus may have been developed within or close to a major corporate building. The passage conveys the pathetic quality of humanity's struggle for survival: nothing humanity does can save it from the horrors of disease and amoral, all-consuming greed.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman) (speaker), Crake (speaker)
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Jimmy first meets the Crakers, the genetically modified beings that Crake has created. Here Crake claims that the Crakers have been programmed to die when they're 30 years old. But Crake also explains that they are "immortal" in the sense that they don't have any concept of death (like Adam and Eve before their fall, in another possible Bible reference).

In this passage we get a better idea of just what Crake values and doesn't value about humanity. He doesn't have a problem with death--or at least he doesn't yet know how to avoid it--he just has a problem with thinking about death. Thus his "perfect" being (the Crakers) aren't necessarily long-lived, they just lack the capacity to wrestle with larger issues like love and mortality (essentially, what art and the humanities are all about). The Crakers don't have to suffer over sex, love, or death, but they can't achieve any kind of joy, fulfillment, or enlightenment either.

Chapter 13 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman), Crake, Oryx
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Snowman, patrolling the ruins of old corporate headquarters, come to the dead bodies of Crake and Oryx: the scientist and his supposed lover. Even in death, we can tell a lot about Oryx and Crake: Crake is still grinning, as if in recognition of the fact that his plan to kill the world has "succeeded" (even if his version of "success" is pretty morbid). For her part, Oryx is an object, through and through: she's been exploited for her beauty and her sexuality again and again. Thus, Oryx's face is turned away from Snowman: she remains a mystery, both to Snowman and to us. (The turned head could also symbolize Oryx turning her back on the destruction Crake has masterminded and she has unknowingly assisted in.)

Oryx  is undeniably, transcendently beautiful, to the point where she seems to stand outside the deterioration of time--a fact symbolized by the beautiful pink ribbon in her hair. The ribbon could also evoke Oryx's creativity and hopefulness--even when the world is in ruins all around her, she radiates joy and beauty, something that transcends mere survival.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Our arboreal ancestors, Crake used to say. Used to shit on their enemies from above while perched in trees. All planes and rockets are simply elaborations on that primate instinct.

Related Characters: Crake (speaker)
Page Number: 358
Explanation and Analysis:

Snowman remembers that Crake used to talk about mankind's "arboreal ancestors"--i.e., the common ancestor shared with monkeys and apes, the evolutionary forebears of human beings. Crake notes that monkeys (like our ancestors, presumably) defecate on one another, using height to their advantage. By defecating on the animals below them, Crake argues, monkeys anticipated rockets and planes thousands of years later--a bombing from above isn't really so different.

Crake's observation might suggest that humans are hard-wired for aggression and assertions of power: they celebrate their own state by abusing the people below them, just like their evolutionary ancestors defecating on anyone unfortunate enough to be below them. The passage, then, might symbolize the stratification of Jimmy and Crake's world: a world in which the people at the top feel absolutely no need to look out for the "pleebs" at the bottom of the pile. One could generalize the concept even more and say that humanity has always contained the seeds of its own undoing: the aggression, arrogance, and delusions of grandeur that eventually lead to a global plague can be traced all the way back to "arboreal ancestors."

“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.

Related Characters: Crake (speaker), The Crakers (speaker), Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Snowman returns to the Crakers to find that they've made a picture of him. The picture, Snowman realizes, is a form of art--disproving what Crake had predicted about the Crakers (Crake had claimed that the Crakers would show no interest in art, and also warned that art was dangerous to the human species).

It's important to keep in mind that the "art" that we see in this scene isn't just art--it's also religion. The Crakers make an image of their god-figure and leader, Jimmy, to summon him back--a clear echo of the talismans and icons common to nearly all the religions of the world. Try as he might, Crake has been unable to "stamp out" the religious and creative instinct in his genetic creations: the Crakers seem to be just as hard-wired for creativity and wonderment as human beings.

Is Crake justified in claiming that art is the first sign of trouble? Atwood has shown that it's also possible that science and immoral scientific experimentation can eventually lead to destruction.The creative instinct, and the religious instinct, it would seem, are flawed, but they're fundamental parts of what it means to be human, and ultimately they're longer-lived than any scientific advance could ever be.