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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapter 8

Summary Chapter 8

At the holidays, Jimmy visited Crake at Watson-Crick, which had a much more impressive and well-maintained campus than Martha Graham. Jimmy noticed some unusually large butterflies fluttering around, and he wanted to know if the butterflies were real or if they were also created by students. Crake responded by challenging Jimmy’s distinction between “real” and “fake.”

During the tour of Watson-Crick, Crake introduced Jimmy to numerous ongoing research-and-development projects. One such project was located in the BioDefences lab, which housed a series of cages containing friendly-looking dogs. Crake warned Jimmy not to approach the cages. These animals, called “wolvogs,” had been bred to look like ordinary dogs, but they were extremely dangerous. Jimmy again expressed concern about the development of such unnatural creatures, and Crake responded by rejecting the idea of “Nature” with a “capital N.”

On the second to last evening of the visit, Crake told Jimmy that HelthWyzer had been developing new diseases and distributing them to the population through their vitamin pills. Crake’s father found out and wanted to blow the whistle. He told his wife and supervisor, and one of them must have reported him, because HelthWyzer had him executed.

On their last evening together, Crake told Jimmy that he had become a Grandmaster on Extinctathon. He also explained that MaddAddam, the figure who monitored the game, was not a person but rather a group of people who were involved in a variety of incidents of bioterrorism. Jimmy warned Crake how dangerous it could be to get involved, but Crake shrugged off Jimmy’s concern and said he was just curious.

Analysis: Chapter 8

As Crake and Jimmy part ways for college, the narrative begins to stage a symbolic conflict between the sciences and the arts. This symbolic conflict comes into focus through the significant differences separating the institutions each young man attended. Crake went to an elite and well-funded science academy with energetic and engaged students and faculty. Students there had ample opportunities to work on top-level, state-of-the-art research for government as well as private contracts. Jimmy, by contrast, attended a poorly funded arts and humanities academy where everything—including the faculty, students, campus, and security—seemed lackluster and disengaged. The differences between Watson-Crick Institute and Martha Graham Academy reflect a social and cultural hierarchy that systematically privileges the sciences over the arts. In a world so completely dominated by the sciences, Jimmy, whose gifts and talents tended toward the arts, felt devalued and struggled to see what he had to offer. Jimmy’s choice to major in Problematics so that he could pursue a career in advertising demonstrates his belief that the only way to make himself valuable would be to exploit his talents in the service of profitable science and tech industries.

Unlike Crake, who was too busy for romantic relationships, Jimmy had a lot of time to explore intimacy, and his various relationships with women introduce some troubling patterns. Jimmy had a melancholic personality that attracted women who wanted to tend his emotional wounds. Jimmy imagined these women found a sense of purpose in working on him, and he amplified his melancholy demeanor to keep them interested. The story of his mother made an especially strong impression. Though Jimmy employed emotionally manipulative behavior in his relationships with women, he also believed that he loved them. Jimmy’s emotional confusion about his love for these women echoes the emotional confusion related to his feelings about his mother. Recall that when he was a young boy, Jimmy strongly desired to alleviate his mother’s sadness, and he considered this desire a form of love. In his college years, when Jimmy sought women to tend his emotional wounds, he symbolically took the place of his own mother as the wounded love object.