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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapter 6

Summary Chapter 6

Analysis: Chapter 6

Although Oryx has already come up many times in previous chapters, chapter 6 provides the first substantial insight into who she is and where she came from. As the chapter recounts, Oryx went through a number of difficult experiences. In addition to being sold to a mysterious man at an early age, she was also forced into sex work when she was still a young girl. These experiences forced Oryx to grow up quickly, and they also taught her important lessons about the world. In particular, she learned about the power of money to fulfill desire as well as money’s ability to reduce human beings to commodities. While working for a child pornographer, she witnessed how the men who paid for the films could do anything they wanted as long as they had enough cash. Seeing this, Oryx learned that everything has a price, a lesson she would later recount to Jimmy. Furthermore, as a slave in the sex industry, Oryx realized that her whole existence had been reduced to monetary value. Having been wrenched away from her family and then separated from her brother, Oryx learned another lesson: “A money value was no substitute for love.”

Throughout chapter 6, the narrative moves between the account of Oryx’s past and a later conversation between Oryx and Jimmy in which Jimmy questioned Oryx about her traumatic experiences. Jimmy clearly cared for Oryx, but his aggressive and invasive interrogation demonstrated an emotional immaturity and a warped sense of romantic love. Although it isn’t clear why Jimmy was so fixated on Oryx’s trauma, one possibility is that he wanted to connect with Oryx over his own traumatic experiences. Although Jimmy fixated on his own terrible childhood, Oryx refused to dwell on the dark parts of her past and instead insisted, “We should think only beautiful things.” This demonstrates that Oryx had a fundamentally different approach to life than Jimmy. Whereas Jimmy believed that Oryx was hiding something from him, or else repressing her trauma, Oryx really did focus on the positive. For example, Oryx took it as a sign of her mother’s love that she sold Oryx and her brother together so that they could keep each other company. It may seem terrible that their mother would sell either of them, but Oryx prefers to see evidence of love in a desperate choice.

In addition to providing the first information about Oryx’s background, chapter 6 also offers the first reference to a triangular relationship between Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy. When Jimmy pressed Oryx to admit that Jack took advantage of her, she responded by telling him that his behavior merely confirmed Crake’s assessment that Jimmy lacked an “elegant mind.” Oryx’s revelation that she and Crake spoke about him behind his back disturbed Jimmy. Not only did it incite feelings of jealousy, but it also humiliated him to think that both Oryx and Crake saw him as intellectually deficient. Jimmy had long felt inferior, initially because of his father’s ill treatment when he didn’t show a knack for math and science, and later because Crake proved himself a genius in both math and science and went on to study at a much more prestigious university. The reference to Jimmy’s inelegant mind therefore reignited his old feelings of shame, made worse because he also felt betrayed by both his friend and his lover.