Bonfire. Snowman used to be called Jimmy. Jimmy’s earliest memory is of a bonfire. He remembers wearing rubber boots with ducks on them and being made to walk through a pan of disinfectant. Jimmy is told that the disinfectant is dangerous and that he should be careful not to splash. He worries that the disinfectant might hurt the ducks on his boots The bonfire was not made from wood but rather from an enormous pile of dead cows, sheep, and pigs.
This nightmarish vision of the past introduces us to images that will become common: the mass death of animals, the emphasis on sanitation. That Jimmy’s boots have ducks printed on them suggests both Jimmy’s childlike innocence and the hypocrisy of this culture: images of animals are printed on products while the flesh of animals burns.
The smell of the burning hair reminds Jimmy of when he’d burned his own hair, as an experiment. His father had found it funny, but his mother, Sharon, had been furious, and it had caused a big fight. His dad told him not to worry about the fight, and that women “get hot under the collar.” Snowman wonders why he has never heard anything about the “hot collars” of men. His hair got fixed the next day when his father took him to a hairdresser. Jimmy remembers liking how tough he looked.
This memory emphasizes the breakdown of trust and respect in Jimmy’s family. Jimmy’s father does not take seriously the concerns of his wife, which he dismisses as being a product of her gender. This kind of uninquisitive oversimplification gestures at Jimmy’s father’s moral weaknesses. Their fight over something so minor suggests their collapsing marriage.
At the bonfire Jimmy feels anxious for the animals, because the fire could be hurting them. His dad explains the animals, being dead, could not feel pain anymore. Jimmy overhears his dad talking to another man. They are discussing the possibility that “it was brought in on purpose.” It becomes clear that a new kind of virus had been introduced in the livestock population from outside. Jimmy’s father and the other man lament that their paid security forces failed to do their job, and both agree that two (or any number) could play at this game.
The threat of biological warfare is made clear in this passage. Hired security forces are in charge of protecting livestock. Both men worry about the failure of these forces and comment on the possibility of counter attacks. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s softhearted, humane and ethical concern for the welfare of the animals seems displaced by this conversation about corporate stakes and biological sabotage.
The next day Jimmy asks his parents why the animals were burned up and they tell him the animals were diseased. Jimmy asks if he will be burned up for getting sick. Jimmy’s father says yes, as a joke, which angers Jimmy’s mother. Jimmy cries, and his mother takes him outside where she lights a cigarette. She tries to explain to him what a disease does, how it attacks the cells and changes things inside you—and that if enough cells are infected, the disease takes over. Jimmy doesn’t understand right away, and remarks that he has had a cough before and could have one again. His mother is discouraged by this, and though Jimmy asks her to explain about the cells again she refuses, and they go back inside.
Jimmy’s father’s lightheartedness in the face of fear and worry once again comes out, while his mother’s seriousness is also emphasized. The emphasis on sanitation, on inside vs. outside, is again present. Jimmy’s failure to understand scientific concepts, and his mother’s resulting disdain of him, shows the cultural importance of science. Jimmy cannot have a serious conversation with his father because his father doesn’t take anything seriously, and he cannot have one with his mother because he does not speak her (scientific) language.
OrganInc Farms. Jimmy’s father works at a company called OrganInc Farms, where he is one of the foremost architects on the pigoon project. The pigoon project creates pigs with fully functional human organ tissue, highly resistant to disease, for the purpose of organ transplants. OrganInc Farms is currently perfecting a pigoon that can grow five or six kidneys—which is highly desirable because it drastically reduces cost. All of this is explained to Jimmy when he is old enough.
Pigoons are a strange, and perhaps unethical, transgression of the line between human and animal. However, their existence is justified by the world of the novel through their cost-effectiveness and their status as products of advanced biological and genetic science. Jimmy’s father’s work on the project shows his belief in scientific progress above all else, and his complicit role in this profit-driven culture.
As he remembers this, Snowman remarks to himself that he is not “old enough” to handle his current situation—that no one could ever be equipped to handle it. A voice in his head feeds him several lines about choosing a unique path, and traveling that path with grace, strength, and patience. Snowman tells the voice—he believes it is the voice of some old self-help enlightenment handbook, but worries that it may be his own—to “stuff it.”
Again the voices in Jimmy’s head demonstrate his estrangement from the past, from his own history, and from himself. He cannot even distinguish his own voice from others. However, despite his best efforts, the past remains lodged in Jimmy’s brain—he cannot remove it from himself.
OrganInc brochures extoll the benefits of using pigoon-grown organs. They also make a point of assuring people that pigoon meat was never sold for consumption. But as the climate and environment deteriorated over the years, and meat became harder to find, it is probably the case that OrganInc started serving and selling the meat. Jimmy is disturbed by the idea of eating Pigoon meat because he identifies with the creatures.
Corporations will sell “animal” meat with human genes in it simply to make a profit. It is notable that they are only forced to do so because the same corporate greed and scientific advancements that produced pigoons also reduced natural supplies of meat via environmental damage. Jimmy’s ethical integrity also shines through—his instinct that the pigoons are like him emphasizes his engagement with humanistic and moral questions.
Jimmy often eats lunch at OrganInc with his dad and his dad’s coworker Ramona. Ramona asks Jimmy’s father many questions about Sharon, expressing concern for her mental health and sadness over the fact that Sharon’s intelligence is going to waste. Jimmy’s father agrees, and wishes Sharon would take pills or see a doctor. Jimmy is made uncomfortable by these conversations, and usually escapes them by asking to go look at the pigoons.
The nature of the disagreement between Jimmy’s mother and father becomes clearer. His father and Ramona think the greatest tragedy is that Sharon’s scientific prowess is going to waste, betraying little care about her actual emotions. Jimmy’s father is convinced her problems could be solved with a pill, revealing that his grasp of emotional conflict and complexity is shallow at best.
Jimmy lives in the OrganInc “compound,” an insular and secure community built for company employees and their families. Jimmy has never been outside, to a city, and has heard that the cities are dirty and dangerous. People within the compounds refer to cities and their surrounding areas as “the pleeblands.” Jimmy’s father likes the safety and serenity of the compound, but Jimmy’s mother likens it to a “theme park” and is nostalgic for the “old ways.” Though the Compounds are safe, the security force (the “CorpSeCorps”) has to work hard to keep them that way; there is always the threat of disease or nuclear attack.
Corporations don’t simply define the economic or political landscape; they actually define the literal landscape of the Western world. They draw lines between people and widen the divisions between classes, separating corporate workers from the “pleebs.” Jimmy’s mother seems aware of the artificial happiness corporations are selling, but his father is content to simply enjoy the perks of living in a compound.
Lunch. Jimmy’s mother used to work for OrganInc farms, where she’d worked on making the pigoons immune to hostile microbes and diseases. She explains her work to Jimmy by saying she put locks on the doors in cell walls. When Jimmy asks her why she stopped working, she tells him that she simply wanted to spend more time with him. Jimmy doubts this, because his Mother is often irritated by him or utterly uninterested. When she is sad, Jimmy asks her if she is sick. She says she might be, but takes it back when she sees Jimmy getting upset.
Jimmy senses that his mother she stopped working for moral reasons, not her stated reasons. Their relationship has only grown unhappier since she started staying at home. Her previous work is an extension of the work corporations do—keep filth and disease out by strengthening borders and boundaries. Her quitting suggests her disillusionment with this process.
Every so often Jimmy’s mother makes an unusual effort to be a “real” mother to him. Sometimes when Jimmy gets up in the morning she has put on fashionable clothes and make up and has painstakingly made his lunch for him. This always saddens and worries Jimmy, because his mom seems artificial or “porcelain” in these moments, but he always pretends to enjoy the lunch completely.
This illustration of Jimmy’s mother’s deep sadness points especially to the breakdown of their familial bond. When she acts like Jimmy’s mother, she does so by putting on makeup and almost literally “play-acting” the role of “mother.” Their bond in these moments is false and artificial, and Jimmy knows it.
As Jimmy grows older he takes to acting out to get his mother’s attention. He likes to make her yell, slam doors, and sometimes cry. After he upsets her he apologizes and comforts her—and though he really is sorry, getting a reaction from his mom in this way makes him feel better.
This is Jimmy’s response to the absence of functional, loving relationships in his life. His relationship with his mother is reduced to cheap stunts and attention-grabbing, a sad consequence of their emotional estrangement from one another.