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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide

Chapter 4

Summary Chapter 4

The narrative moves forward to a time when Jimmy and Oryx were together. Jimmy showed her the image he’d printed out and asked her what she was thinking when she looked into the camera, but she responded evasively.

Analysis: Chapter 4

As Snowman’s encounter with a rakunk leads him back to memories of his childhood pet, the reader begins to see that feelings of loneliness and isolation afflicted Snowman long before his current situation. Snowman recalls that neither of his parents ever really remembered his birthday or how old he was turning. His mother was out of touch and gave age-inappropriate presents. Meanwhile, his father always forgot about his birthday but then turned around and gave him a big present the day after to make up for forgetting. This pattern repeated on Snowman’s tenth birthday, and his father brought home the pet rakunk named Killer. Even though Killer provided some degree of companionship and comfort, the rakunk also symbolized the degree to which Snowman’s parents remained distant and inattentive. Snowman’s loneliness only grew more acute in subsequent years, and particular after his mother left with Killer in tow. The loneliness that traumatized Snowman in his youth clearly continues to affect him in the present, when Snowman tries to convince his adult self that he is not his childhood.

The most traumatic experience of Snowman’s youth was his mother’s sudden departure. Snowman felt deeply attached to his mother when he was a boy, so when she left him, he felt abandoned and betrayed. Though he missed his mother and felt her absence intensely, those emotions also became mixed up with feelings of resentment, which led to deep psychological confusion. In addition to representing a defining moment in Snowman’s life, his mother’s departure also signals an important theme in the novel regarding genetic research, the moral implications of which troubled his mother. The conversation that Snowman overheard between his parents makes it clear that his mother left her own job at OrganInc Farms because she no longer believed that the research such companies pursued was morally defensible. Her critical stance on genetic engineering foreshadows her involvement with God’s Gardeners, an activist group that protests all research into genetic manipulation.

The troubling activities Jimmy and Crake engaged in have important implications for how their personalities develop in the rest of the novel. Although Jimmy felt disturbed by much of the sexual and violent video content they watched, nothing seemed to affect Crake. Crake’s lack of an emotional response may suggest that he had a sociopathic personality, meaning that he couldn’t understand what others were feeling. In addition to watching graphic videos, the boys also played a range of games. Crake obsessively mastered every game he and Jimmy played, which demonstrated a compulsiveness always to be the best. The content of the games the boys played also has significance. Blood and Roses warrants special mention here since the game staged a battle between the achievements of human civilization and examples of human barbarity. In the present time, Snowman recalls that it was always difficult to win on the “Roses” side, since it was much easier to remember “the Blood stuff.” This observation reflects the reality of Snowman’s present situation, as he tries to save the words on his wordlist from extinction in the wake of a human-driven apocalypse. The “Blood stuff” appears to have prevailed.

Just as chapter 4 recounts how Crake first came into Jimmy’s life, it also recounts how Jimmy and Crake first encountered Oryx while surfing a child pornography website. Jimmy instantly felt transfixed by the little girl who gazed directly at the camera. Her direct eye contact stirred him emotionally and made him feel both desire and shame. He felt desire because he found her attractive. Yet he also felt shame because her gaze seemed to call him out and chastise him for watching such morally repulsive material. Up until this moment Jimmy didn’t register that watching child pornography might be immoral, but her gaze made him question his own actions. Although Jimmy didn’t realize it at the time, Oryx’s gaze also had a profound effect on Crake, who would also hold on to the screenshot image. The fact that both Jimmy and Crake felt attached to Oryx the moment they first saw her will have important implications later in the novel.