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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

Voices

Throughout the chapters set in the present time, Snowman frequently hears voices in his head. All of the voices Snowman hears come from his past, and he can’t seem to control them. Although these past voices sometimes keep him company in his otherwise lonely situation, their involuntary appearance in his head can sometimes make him feel haunted or tortured by his previous life. Some of the voices Snowman hears speak in quotes from literature or from the manuals and self-help textbooks that he studied for his undergraduate thesis. Even though Snowman remembers the words, he often forgets where the words come from and who wrote them. Snowman also occasionally has a difficult time identifying the other voices that belonged to real people he used to know. This inability to remember suggests that Snowman’s memories of his old life are receding and may eventually leave him abandoned and all alone in the present. The voice that comes to him most frequently, and which Snowman has no trouble identifying, is that of Oryx. Before the apocalyptic event that devastated the world, Snowman was in love with this woman, and his continued preoccupation with her voice indicates just how desperate he feels for companionship now that he’s alone.

Memory

Snowman spends much of his time dealing with the desperation of his present situation by thinking about his past. Memory is thus an important and ever-present motif, both in Snowman’s thoughts and in the narrative structure, which constantly moves back and forth between the present and the past. Snowman recognizes that his preoccupation with the past prevents him from being more proactive about his own survival. In addition to misplacing useful tools, like the knife he once found and quickly lost, he has also proven to be an ineffective scavenger, often prioritizing his search for alcohol and forgetting to look for essentials like soap. In chapter 3, Snowman tries to remind himself to focus on the present. He calls to mind the words from a survival manual that advised its reader to “avoid pointless repinings.” The phrase “pointless repinings” comes back several times throughout the novel. Snowman’s repetition of this phrase is ironic because even though his memories won’t change anything, they do keep him company, and thus they may not be so pointless after all.

Playing God

At several points in the novel, Snowman draws attention to how Crake played God. Despite his resolute atheism, Crake cast himself as a symbolic God when he designed the facility named Paradice and populated it with a new breed of humans. Although Crake likely took an ironic attitude toward the name “Paradice,” Snowman recognizes that Crake really did have a God complex. Not only did he create a new race of people, but he also took it upon himself to exterminate the existing human population. In the present time, Snowman twists Crake’s irony against itself by turning Crake into a god to be worshipped by the Children of Crake. Snowman describes himself as the “God of Bullshit,” and he makes up outlandish creation stories that the Crakers wholeheartedly believe. Effectively, Snowman has become Crake’s prophet, and he is writing the liturgy for Crake’s worship.