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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapter 3

Summary Chapter 3

Analysis: Chapter 3

Chapter 3 showcases the wandering nature of Snowman’s mind, which moves from one thought or recollection to the next in a fragmentary way. Snowman feels preoccupied with his past and with his present situation, and his busy mind prevents him from giving adequate attention to his survival. But even when Snowman repudiates himself for being so self-involved, his scolding frequently leads to other thoughts and memories. For instance, as he moves into the forest he chastises himself for losing the pocket knife he had when he set up his first shelter near the beach. This moment of chastisement leads to a recollection of when his father gave him a similar knife on his ninth birthday. This memory brings forth yet another, when he told Oryx about the knife his father gave him. Snowman’s busy mind signals the volatility of his overall emotional state, exemplified once again when his joy at seeing a caterpillar dissipates just as suddenly as it arises.

Snowman’s emotional volatility separates him from the Children of Crake, who have an energetic but simple-minded sense of curiosity about the world. In contrast to Snowman, they show no traces of existential anguish. The Crakers also possess a childlike disposition that keeps them from feeling self-conscious. Snowman, on the other hand, chooses not to bathe at the river for fear of showing his naked both to the others, which would only make him feel “deformed.” The gulf that separates Snowman from the Crakers has a profoundly alienating effect. Snowman even has a difficult time considering the Crakers to be fully human, even though they mostly look human. Despite not technically being alone in this post-apocalyptic world, Snowman very much feels alone, isolated like an animal in a cage. Occasionally, Snowman’s feelings of isolation and loneliness leave him feeling helpless and desperate.

It is precisely in order to avoid his feelings of hopelessness and desperation that Snowman turns his mind to the past. At the end of the chapter, after Snowman’s sense of being trapped brings him to tears, he tries to calm himself by summoning words from an old survival manual that he once read. The words of the manual insist on the need to focus on immediate needs and “avoid pointless repinings”—that is, not think about useless memories. On the one hand, Snowman calls these words to mind in an effort to steady himself and get himself to focus on his own survival. On the other hand, the quote is ironic, since the words are themselves products of Snowman’s memory, and hence examples of the “pointless repinings” he’s instructing himself to avoid. As this example demonstrates, no matter how hard he tries, Snowman keeps getting sucked back into his recollections in order to avoid the difficulties of his present situation.

In addition to the words from the survival manual, Snowman also references other quotes and texts from his past. For instance, after his experience of joy with the caterpillar, he chastises himself with another quote that instructs him not to play, dream, or drift, but rather to do hard work. Snowman can’t remember the source of the quote, which, in fact, comes from the hymn “Be Strong!” by the early-twentieth-century clergyman Maltbie Davenport Babcock. But despite his inability to remember the source, Snowman uses the quote as a resource for getting him through his current difficulty, much as he does with the quote from the survival manual. Yet Snowman’s failure to remember the source also has significance since it indicates how his memory is beginning to fade. Just as he can’t remember Babcock’s name, he also can’t remember the meaning of certain words, like “Mesozoic,” that populated some kind of wordlist he once cherished. Snowman clearly relies on his memories of the past to get him through the present, but the fading of his memories indicates that he might be losing his grip on the past.