Oryx and Crake

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The State of Human Relationships 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.
The State of Human Relationships Theme Icon

The novel examines various kinds of human relationships (sexual, romantic, familial) and how they are affected by the scientific and cultural shifts taking place in Oryx and Crake’s world. Are human relationships free and safe from corporate and scientific manipulation? Are individuals still even capable of human bonding in this culture?

Jimmy spends a great deal of time in the novel seeking connection, and largely failing in achieving it. His mother has left his family for ethical reasons (taking his beloved pet with her), while his father is distant. Jimmy fills this void through his friendship with Crake, though that friendship is founded on video games and watching porn. Jimmy also seeks sex almost constantly– Crake thinks he is a sex addict – yet Jimmy rarely finds comfort in the sex he does have. His only true romantic love is Oryx, whom the novel implies may not even be a single person but rather a conglomeration of televised images of women that Jimmy has seen throughout his life, culminating in the woman that works for Crake in Paradice and with whom Jimmy has a secret sexual relationship. Jimmy’s relationships are characterizes by emptiness on the one hand and betrayal on the other, until after the plague when he is the last human left he takes on the name “Snowman,” which bears a marked resemblance to the words “no man,” implying that without any other humans with whom to have relationships that Snowman can’t be human himself.

Where Jimmy spends the novel seeking out meaningful human relationships (often unsuccessfully), Crake grows increasingly disdainful of human bonding over the course of the novel. Crake never shows any familial love for his parents, and Jimmy ultimately suspects that Crake killed his own mother and stepfather (Uncle Pete) in order to test the deadly viruses he was developing. Further, Crake thinks little of sex, seeing it in purely scientific terms as an “inelegant” solution to reproduction, and believes that love is nothing more than the painful consequence of poorly regulated hormones in the human brain. Crake seems to view everything that contributes to human relationships as messy and unnecessary, and tries to eliminate that messiness. With the Crakers, Crake tries to breed out sex and romance entirely, turning copulation into an infrequent and purely reproductive activity, so that sexual frustration and betrayal is eliminated, as is overpopulation. The only exception to Crake’s rejection of sex and romantic love is Oryx, the first woman Crake has ever had any affection for. Yet Oryx finds sex with Crake to be mechanical and impersonal, and conducts a secret affair with Jimmy. It is suggested that Crake knew about the affair, though it is unclear the extent to which Crake’s actions in his final months of his life (releasing the plague, killing Oryx) are a result of her affair and his unrequited love for her.

The novel thematically wonders how human relationships will fare if rapid scientific advancements and corporate greed continue to have an increasing effect on the life of the individual. Trust, love, and bonding are hard to come by in this world, where sex and love are so often paid for, where security organizations sponsored by corporate enterprises are always watching, and where culture is so saturated with consumption and entertainment it is not clear which relationships are real and honest. The effect on the novel’s main characters is clear: Jimmy is alienated and alone and plagued by addictions, where Crake becomes maniacal in his attempt to control human relationships so completely through scientific manipulation that they cease to be relationships at all.

The State of Human Relationships ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Oryx and Crake related to the theme of The State of Human Relationships.
Chapter 1 Quotes

There are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Snowman, we're slowly learning, is our window into the fictional society of the novel: he's the main character, and his experiences of the world comprise the novel's plot. And yet in his present self Snowman isn't a particularly reliable witness: as we learn here, he's suffering from various mental problems, brought on by the horrors of civilization's collapse. In all, then, Snowman's account of history will be fractured, fragmented, and generally full of "blank spaces." In such a way, Atwood suggests the fragmented nature of history itself. In a society that's broken down to the point where it can't even keep time, history has distorted to the level of myth. Snowman will do his best to remember the past, but we won't always be able to take his account one hundred percent seriously.


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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.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“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 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman), The Crakers
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Snowman is again interacting with the Crakers, the genetically modified human-like creatures that Crake built. The Crakers share certain traits with humans, but they are more advanced in some ways and primitive in others. Snowman is like a god and a father-figure to the Crakers: his job is to take care of them, to make sure that they don't destroy themselves.

In this passage, Snowman realizes that the mythology and stories he's been teaching the Crakers is a kind of warning: Snowman is a survivor of the old world, and so paradoxically, his presence among the Crakers is a warning that the Crakers are flawed--they share DNA with an ugly, imperfect being. Ironically, Snowman, because he's one of the only survivors of the pre-apocalyptic human civilization, is taken as representative of that civilization, despite the fact that he's always hated it.

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 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.

Chapter 11 Quotes

From time to time he looks over his shoulder. The smoke is still there, just one column of it. It hasn’t spread. It keeps on rising.

Related Characters: Jimmy (Snowman)
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Snowman notices a huge plume of smoke in the distance. The plume of smoke is controlled, and never changes size or shape, suggesting that it was built by a human being (not a Craker). Snowman faces the possibility that he's not alone in the post-apocalyptic world after all; there are other people around, perhaps trying to communicate with him. (It's a sign of the decay of human communication that the only form of communication in the passage is fire).

The passage could also be interpreted as an allusion to the Biblical Book of Exodus, in which God takes the form of a large pillar of cloud and guides the Hebrews out of Egypt through the desert. Perhaps Snowman is a kind of Moses figure, guiding the remains of the human race into an uncertain future.

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

“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.