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Moral Philosophy in Oryx and Crake

Updated on April 24, 2011
Oryx and Crake First Edition Cover
Oryx and Crake First Edition Cover | Source

The Cautionary Tale of Oryx and Crake

Aristotle theorized that maintaining good ethics is a matter of finding the “golden mean.” He believed that virtue lies in between two extremes. If one requires six pounds of food and eats ten that person is bad for eating too much. If they eat four pounds of food then that is also bad because they are not eating enough.

Questions such as “How much is too much,” or “How little is too little,” are some of the most important we must ask ourselves in order maintain a stable society. Without considering these questions, answering them, and making sure that our answers are correct, people will fail on both a personal level and as a whole society.

Oryx and Crake shows us exactly how a lifestyle of excess will lead to disaster. In the novel, Margaret Atwood focuses on the excess of scientific freedom and the lack of moral responsibility, showing that as much as science can help us, it can also destroy us if we do not have appropriate limitations.

Corporate Sovereignty: Excess of Control

In Oryx and Crake we can clearly see that the world is not like our own. While not explicitly mentioned, one can infer that corporations are the number one power in the world. Evidence of this is presented in references to the locations throughout the book. Jimmy spends his life living in corporate compounds. Each one is self-contained and independent much like a country is. This allows them to make the rules for themselves and do what they please.

Compounds house the upper class/”civilized” members of society, while the pleeblands is merely everyone else. The pleeblanders are essentially the larger customer base for the corporations. Assuming that this world is an extrapolation of our own, we are currently pleeblanders and sometime in between now and then we give corporations the power to become the controlling members of our society. The pleeblanders keep giving the corporations more money, and with their money they are able to maintain their status at the top of society. Corporations have too much control (as opposed to having an appropriate amount), and everyone else suffers. The power distribution does not fall on the golden mean. Disaster.

Snowman: Lack of Support, Healthy Upbringing, and Self-fulfillment

The character of Snowman is the anti-hero. There really isn’t anything likeable about the guy aside from his sense of humour. One can look at Snowman as a failure of a person. Despite his strengths he is still mostly a bag of neurotic weaknesses. One could go so far to say that the sole reason for him coming out the way he did was the lack of proper social interaction.

From the beginning of the novel, we can see that Jimmy did not have a very good relationship with his parents, nor did he have any friends. Instead of forming lasting connections with anyone he merely sought temporary solace and attention. This later manifested itself in the form of his sex addiction. Instead of quality partners he had a quantity of merely satisfactory lovers. If his parents had been more active in his childhood this probably would have guided him in a more mentally healthy direction.

Another important aspect of Jimmy’s childhood is his singular friendship with Crake. He and Crake spent their time doing things that wouldn’t help normal development at all. Non-stop drugs and pornography and violence most likely played a role in making people desensitized to things they should otherwise be distressed about.

Later in life Jimmy became depressed and dissatisfied with life because he realised he didn’t really have one. Why? Because he wasted it all doing things that didn’t really mean much, even to him. After everyone is gone, Jimmy is truly alone and all he has is his disappointing life memories.

Lack of Scientific Morals

Jimmy’s visit to see Crake in the Watson-Crick Institute provides a spectacular example of the social disparities between the compounds and scientific lifestyle to that of the pleeblandrs and non-scientists. Jimmy, who was attending Martha Graham, a school for the arts, was witness to what life was like for people that weren’t doing science. Martha Graham wasn’t as bad as the pleeblands per se, but he saw just how much better the quality of life could bewhen he visited Crake.

Watson-Crick was the top school. People who went there were on the cutting edge of scientific advancement. The school had patented several inventions and it is here that we get a taste that these students and scientists had little to no moral responsibility. From the outset they boast about the spoat/gider, a splice of a spider and a goat in order to make use of the spider silk filaments in the larger sized animal’s milk. This splice proved to be useful, however one can see that genetic splicing and experiments don’t really have limits as long as the splice might be useful to humans.

The ChickieNobs, for example, probably wouldn’t be allowed in today’s world but are allowed in the world of Oryx and Crake because the corporations are only in it for the money. Instead of valuing food grown naturally and the spread of wealth throughout a population, everyone is concerned with getting cheap stuff in bulk. Another similar example is the Happicuppa beans, which made the coffee cheaper but took away a lot of jobs for the workers. Scientific freedom was creating as much problems as it seemed to solve, on one hand making a lot of neat products such as Rockulators, and on the other hand causing a lot of civil unrest when people protested radical consequences of company decisions.

Aside from the riots and civil protest, the freedom the corporations had made the human genocide possible. The practice of creating diseases and then offering cures is unethical, but there was no one to stop them so HelthWyzer got away with it. If there were limits or some form of policing of corporate research the end of the human race could have been averted.

In Conclusion...

I’ve analysed the corporate society, the broken personality of Jimmy/Snowman, and the end of humanity. These, the largest and most important calamities of this book, can be easily attributed to a lack of something or the excess of something, leading me to believe that Oryx and Crake is at its core, a cautionary tale, much like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein , warning us of the dangers of scientific overindulgence and moral deficiency.


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