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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapters 14 & 15

Summary Chapters 14 & 15

Through a veil of leaves, he looks at a group of three people sitting around a fire and roasting some animal. The group looks battered and thin, and one of the men has a spraygun. Snowman wonders whether to approach them as a friend or a foe. He whispers to himself, “What do you want me to do?” The voice of Oryx speaks in his mind: “Oh, Jimmy, you were so funny.” Next comes Crake’s voice: “Don’t let me down.” Snowman thinks to himself: “Time to go.”

Analysis: Chapters 14 & 15

At the end of a novel that has staged a symbolic battle between the sciences and the arts, the Crakers’ statue of Snowman suggests that art may have won out, if only just barely. On the one hand, it’s important to recognize the fact that the Crakers are flourishing in the post-apocalyptic world and that this in itself is a sign of Crake’s scientific achievement. Yet the Crakers are also developing into a tribe of quasi-religious people, which contravenes Crake’s desire for them to live without any metaphysics or faith. And as they begin to construct religious idols in their attempt to influence the world around them, the Crakers violate their creator’s original designs even further. In addition to the Crakers’ experiments with statue building, Snowman’s survival also indicates that the final victory might go to art. Crake may have succeeded in destroying human civilization and ensuring the survival of his own creations, but when he died, he left everything in Snowman’s hands, and it is his influence that will dictate the Crakers’ destiny from now on. And given the Crakers’ construction of a Snowman idol, it is likely that Snowman will become an important part of their pantheon, alongside Oryx and Crake.

The budding leadership sensibility of the Craker named Abraham Lincoln also threatens to undermine Crake’s designs. In this chapter Abraham Lincoln is the first to inform Snowman of the group of human survivors, and he appears to take more responsibility for the Crakers than anyone other than Snowman. Snowman noted Abraham Lincoln’s leadership qualities back in chapter 7. At that time, he also reflected on Crake’s warning that leaders inevitably turn into tyrants. Crake’s theory about leaders likely stemmed from his recognition of the tyranny of corporations. Crake knew well the power that corporations held. In fact, he wielded the power of RejoovenEsense against itself when he used that corporation’s vast resources to develop BlyssPluss and the Crakers. Crake’s dislike of corporate tyranny gave birth to his desire for the Crakers to live in a nonhierarchical society with no authority figures. However, Abraham Lincoln’s growing tendency to take charge suggests that the Crakers could eventually evolve into a more hierarchical society. And when considered alongside their nascent religiosity and art-making abilities, the Crakers may eventually develop into the same kind of complex society that Crake just destroyed.

The novel’s ambiguous ending emphasizes the uncertainty of the future. With his foot infection having advanced past recovery, Snowman will likely suffer a painful death in the near future. In the present moment, though, he remains unsure about how to approach the group of survivors. He doesn’t know whether the strangers are friends or enemies, and the novel leaves the reader unsure what Snowman has chosen to do next. When Snowman tells himself, “time to go,” it isn’t clear whether that means it’s time to approach the group or time to walk away from it. Evidence could support either reading. Snowman has been so lonely throughout the book, and his only moments of joy have come from entertaining the possibility of other survivors. From this perspective, it seems likely that he has chosen to approach the group. On the other hand, Snowman has learned to manage his loneliness by retreating into memory, and by now, he might prefer the companionship of the voices in his head. In the novel’s final moments, Snowman hears the voices of Oryx and Crake, suggesting that they are with him in spirit. Snowman’s imagined trio therefore symbolically mirrors the group of survivors around the fire. Which group will he choose?