Atwood has described Oryx and Crake as ‘speculative fiction’, meaning that it is a novel that takes current trends and extrapolates them to explore what the future might look like. The world of Oryx and Crake extrapolates upon the rapid advances around the turn of the 21st century in biological and genetic engineering and the questions raised about the moral and ethical responsibilities of science and scientists when they became capable of creating new kinds of life and manipulating natural processes.
Many characters in the novel fail to exercise their power over nature responsibly. Crake is the most extreme example of this kind of transgression. His genetic experiments on the Crakers (they are made from stolen embryos which are then genetically altered) and his introduction of a terrible virus into the human population are the nightmarish product of the advanced biological science in Oryx and Crake. But the general experimentation on plants, animals, and humans performed by many different scientists throughout the novel is rife with immoral conduct. HealthWyzer spends a great deal of resources and manpower secretly devising new viruses and releasing them into the population, so that new cures can be sold. Sharon (Jimmy’s mother) and Jimmy’s father argue frequently about the work that Jimmy’s father does in genetic manipulation of animals, and it is implied that Sharon knows about and objects to the abuse of knowledge and power happening at HealthWyzer (and at other corporations). Jimmy’s mother ultimately decides to leave and join various rebellious efforts against the corporations in the Pleeblands, while Jimmy’s father chooses to continue to work in spite of the obvious abuse of power occurring at his company and others.
The world of Oryx and Crake is not just a comment on the responsibilities and costs of advanced biological science, it is also imagines the cultural ascension of science in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, accompanied by the decline in prestige and cultural impact of the humanities, to have continued unabated. The book imagines a world where humanistic questions (regarding ethics, morality, and responsible decision making) have been pushed aside in the name of scientific progress. The resulting suggestion is that scientific progress absent humanistic thinking leads to perverse uses of scientific power and knowledge, affects our moral decision-making, and has a dehumanizing effect on culture generally.
Scientific Progress & Its Costs ThemeTracker
Scientific Progress & Its Costs Quotes in Oryx and Crake
“Leave Daddy alone,” said his mother. “Daddy is thinking. That’s what they pay him for. He doesn’t have time for you.
He thought of pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe the guards tried to get out of RejoovenEsense just like everyone else. Maybe they, too, hoped they could outrun contagion.
“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.”
“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?
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.
“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.