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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
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Summary

Chapter 3

Summary Chapter 3

Summary: Chapter 3

The narrative returns to the present, with Snowman retreating into the forest as the heat of noon approaches. He goes to lie down on a bed he’s made in the shade of the forest. Snowman recalls that the lean-to he originally erected didn’t offer him adequate protection from the sun’s dangerous UV rays. Because he built the lean-to at ground level, he also had to deal with ants as well as pigoons and rakunks (a genetic splice of raccoon and skunk).

The word Mesozoic randomly comes to Snowman’s mind, but he can’t remember what it means. He mourns the fact that he’s forgetting more and more of “the entries on his cherished wordlists.” As he lies in bed, he hears the voice of an old schoolteacher. Snowman rebukes himself for his wandering thoughts and tells himself he needs to find a better use for his time. He thinks about whittling a chess set, which makes him think of when he used to play chess and other games with Crake. Snowman also considers finding pen and paper to keep a diary like a castaway, but he dismisses the idea since anyone who might read his diary is already dead.

Snowman observes a caterpillar descending on a thread, and he experiences a sudden, “inexplicable surge of tenderness and joy.” But the moment of “irrational happiness” passes quickly, and Snowman says aloud to the caterpillar: “We are not here to play, to dream, to drift. . . . We have hard work to do, and loads to lift.” Snowman wonders to himself where these words came from, and he thinks of the man who taught his junior high Life Skills class.

Snowman dismisses this memory, and his mind returns to the question of how to occupy his time. He thinks he should focus on improving his living conditions. He fantasizes about finding a cool, well-ventilated cave, and then he thinks about a nearby stream with fresh water that collects into a pool he likes to cool off in. He rejects the thought of going to the pool for fear that the “Crakers”—that is, the Children of Crake—might be there. He fears that they would encourage him to swim with them, and he doesn’t want them to see him naked.

He falls into a half-sleep and has a dream of someone named Oryx wearing an elaborate dress and floating in a swimming pool. In the dream, he senses they are both in danger, and he hears a large, hollow boom. Snowman wakes up to thunder and wind and takes shelter. When the rain slows he goes to a collapsed bridge where he bathes and drinks runoff water.

Snowman suddenly feels overcome by the sensation of being trapped like a caged animal, and the thought makes him weep. Words from “the book in his head” come to mind, instructing him like a survival manual: “It is important . . . to ignore minor irritants, to avoid pointless repinings, and to turn one’s mental energies to immediate realities and to the tasks at hand.” He says the phrase “pointless repinings” aloud and wonders if someone might be listening.