The narrative moves back in time and recounts Snowman’s memories of his childhood, when his name was Jimmy. Snowman recalls his earliest memory, when he was five and a half years old and witnessed a massive bonfire of animal carcasses. Snowman’s mind links this memory of a bonfire to another memory of when he burned his own hair, which caused a fight between his parents.
Snowman’s mind returns to the bonfire, and he recalls how, as Jimmy, he felt culpable for all the animals who died since he hadn’t done anything to save them. He also recalls some confusion around what was happening and why, though in retrospect it seems clear that the bonfire was related to some kind of virus. The day after the fire, Jimmy asked his parents why the animals had to be burned. His father answered that they had to be burned to prevent the spread of disease. His father also joked that Jimmy might have caught the disease, which angered his mother.
The narrator explains that Jimmy’s father was an employee at OrganInc Farms, where he worked as a “genographer”—that is, someone who maps genetic material. His father rose to prominence at OrganInc Farms for helping design the “pigoon,” a pig-like animal that served as a transgenic host for up to six human kidneys. When the kidneys were mature, they could be transplanted to human hosts, all without harming the pigoon, which would survive to grow another crop of kidneys. The pigoons were kept secure in special buildings where Jimmy used to visit them.
One day in the OrganInc cafeteria Jimmy overheard a conversation between his father and his colleague Ramona. They talked about Jimmy’s mother, Sharon, and her battle with depression. Ramona lamented that Jimmy’s mother used to be so smart. The narrator explains that Jimmy’s mother previously worked as a microbiologist at OrganInc Farms. She told Jimmy that she left her job to stay at home with him, but he felt suspicious, since she left her job just when he started going to school. Jimmy’s mother had frequent mood swings, and Jimmy desired to make her feel better.
Jimmy lived with his family in a suburb-like area called the Modules, which was the residential portion of the larger OrganInc Farms Compound. Everything in the Compound was designed to replicate the comfortable lifestyle of a previous generation. The Compound featured replica homes built in older architectural styles, as well as pools, shopping malls, restaurants, and more. The Compound kept OrganInc Farms families sequestered from the outside, and particularly from the increasingly lawless and dangerous cities, known as “pleeblands.”
Jimmy’s father appreciated the protection offered by the Compound, and he compared the Compound’s function to that of a castle. Like the Compound, “Castles were for keeping you and your buddies nice and safe inside, and for keeping everybody else outside.” By contrast, Jimmy’s mother complained that the Compound was little more than “a theme park,” and she insisted that no matter how much the designers tried to replicate earlier standards of living, they “could never bring the old ways back.”