Oryx and Crake

How would you like to explore a post-apocalyptic world with genetically-engineered creatures, eccentric scientists, and a man who may or may not be the last human on Earth? If that sounds intriguing, then let's dive into Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003), a thrilling and thought-provoking novel that will leave you questioning the limits of science and the human condition.

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Table of contents
    Oryx and Crake, Content Warning, StudySmarter

    Oryx Crake: Margaret Atwood

    Born in Ottawa, Margaret Atwood (1939-present) is a prolific poet and novelist. She attended Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, with minors in Philosophy and French. She then attended Harvard University, where she gained her MA in 1962.

    Atwood is known for writing across various genres, in which she explores and develops her ideas on feminism, environmentalism, class and religion. Oryx and Crake in particular fits the genre of 'speculative fiction' which contains dystopian themes.

    Speculative fiction is a broad term that encompasses any work of fiction that explores a hypothetical or alternative reality, often using elements of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. In speculative fiction, authors imagine worlds that are different from our own, whether that means a future version of our own world, an alternate universe, or a completely imaginary setting.

    Dystopian fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction that focuses on a hypothetical future society that is characterized by negative or oppressive qualities. Dystopian fiction often explores themes of authoritarianism, mass surveillance, social control, and the loss of individual freedom, and usually presents a bleak view of the future.

    Dystopian works often serve as a warning or commentary on contemporary society, highlighting the dangers of certain political or cultural trends if left unchecked.

    Attwood's most successful novel is The Handmaids Tale (1985), which was succeeded by The Testaments (2019). Like Oryx and Crake, these two novels deal with the implications of widespread infertility and feature a deteriorating societal structure due to excessive authoritarian control.

    Atwood has won the Brooker Prize twice: once in 2000 for The Blind Assassin and again in 2019 for The Testaments. Oryx and Crake was shortlisted for the Booker in 2003.

    Oryx and Crake: summary

    Overview: Oryx and Crake

    Author of Oryx and CrakeMargaret Atwood
    GenreScience fiction, Dystopian fiction, Speculative fiction
    Literary PeriodPostmodernism
    First published2003
    Brief Summary of Oryx and Crake
    • The novel tells the story of Snowman, who appears to be the last human on Earth, as he navigates a post-apocalyptic world overrun by genetically modified creatures.
    • Through a series of flashbacks, Snowman recalls his former life as Jimmy, a brilliant but disillusioned scientist who worked for a corrupt biotech corporation.
    List of main charactersJimmy/Snowman, Crake, Oryx, Crakers, and Jimmy's parents.
    ThemesUnchecked corporate greed, the fragility of humanity, scientific progress, power and desire, and the decline of the arts.
    SettingA post-apocalyptic society where humanity has been decimated by a man-made pandemic, and the few remaining survivors live in a bleak and desolate world somewhere in the United States.
    • The novel explores the dangers of genetic engineering, the impact of corporate greed and capitalism on society, and the relationship between humans and the natural world.
    Oryx and Crake's characters and setting often drive home the message that the line between progress and destruction is often thinner than we think.

    The novel Oryx and Crake is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and follows the story of Snowman, a survivor of a man-made pandemic that has wiped out most of humanity. The novel alternates between Snowman's current life as the last human survivor, and his memories of his childhood and the events that led to the pandemic. He is known as Jimmy in his previous life.

    Through Jimmy's memories, we learn that he grew up in a world that was heavily controlled by corporations, and that his father worked for a company called HelthWyzer, which was involved in genetic engineering and biotechnology. The corporation is involved in the creation of the products BlyssPluss and Paradice.

    BlyssPluss is a drug that is designed to enhance pleasure and eliminate negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and sadness. It is marketed as a cure for the 'paradise fatigue' that many people experience in a world that is increasingly controlled by corporations and technology. The drug is heavily advertised and widely used in the novel, and it is portrayed as one of the ways in which people have become disconnected from reality and their own emotions. It also causes sterilisation to address overpopulation.

    Paradice, on the other hand, is a luxury resort that is built on a remote island and marketed as a utopia. It is a place where the wealthy can escape from the problems of the world and indulge in their every desire. The resort is equipped with advanced technology, such as genetically modified animals and artificial intelligence, and is presented as the ultimate expression of human progress and achievement.

    However, both BlyssPluss and Paradice have a dark side. BlyssPluss is shown to be addictive and capable of causing severe physical and psychological side effects. The drug is heavily implicated in the pandemic that wipes out most of humanity. Paradice, meanwhile, is revealed to be a place where terrible crimes and atrocities are committed, and it is linked to the dangerous and unethical scientific experiments that Crake conducts

    As a child, Jimmy is a lonely and isolated boy who longs for connection and friendship. As he grows older, Jimmy develops a close friendship with a brilliant but socially awkward boy named Glenn, who later renames himself Crake. Crake is a genius who is heavily involved in biotechnology and genetic engineering, and he becomes increasingly disillusioned with human society and its problems.

    Crake attends a prestigious university, where he becomes involved in a dangerous research project aimed at creating new life forms that can replace humanity. Jimmy attends a university that focuses on the arts, moving to work writing ad copy. Crake ultimately succeeds in creating a new species, the Crakers, who are designed to be a perfect, peaceful and environmentally-friendly form of life.

    While working with Crake to help market BlyssPluss, Jimmy meets Oryx at the Rejoov compound. Despite being in a sexual relationship with Crake, Oryx and Jimmy become romantically involved. Jimmy remembers her from the child pornography he and Crake used to watch when they hung out as students.

    Meanwhile, the creation of the Crakers is also linked to the global pandemic that ultimately destroys humanity. Crake releases a deadly virus that was specifically designed to target and kill the human population, with the intention of creating a world in which the Crakers can flourish. Crake and Jimmy are immune to this virus.

    Fearful of Crake, Jimmy grabs a gun to confront him only for Crake to kill an unconscious Oryx. Jimmy then kills Crake and becomes Snowman, left to fulfil his promise to Oryx and Crake that he would take care of the Crakers.

    The ending of Oryx and Crake

    Snowman meets a group of humans who have survived the pandemic and are trying to rebuild society. They are initially hostile to him, but he is eventually able to earn their trust and join their community.

    The novel ends with Snowman deciding to share his memories of the past with the surviving humans, in the hope that they can learn from the mistakes of the past and build a better future. The novel's ambiguous ending leaves open the possibility that humanity may be able to create a better world but also suggests that the dangers of scientific progress and unchecked corporate power are not easy to overcome.

    Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake join several of her novels that explore the effect of science and capitalism on the environment.

    Oryx and Crake: characters

    Atwood's characters play an important role in the novel's exploration of genetic engineering, corporate greed, and the potential consequences of unchecked technological advancement.

    Oryx and Crake charactersDescription
    Jimmy/SnowmanThe protagonist and narrator. He provides perspective on the events leading up to the apocalypse and the aftermath.
    CrakeJimmy's brilliant best friend turned genetic engineer and creator of the virus that wipes out most of humanity. He represents the dangers of unbridled technological advancement.
    OryxA woman brought into Jimmy and Crake's lives through sex trafficking. Her past is shrouded in mystery and she represents the exploitation of vulnerable individuals.
    Jimmy's parentsEmployees of a biotech corporation. They represent the corporate greed and the desire for progress at any cost.
    The MaddAddamitesSurvivors of the apocalypse who are dedicated to preserving knowledge and culture. They represent the human desire for connection and continuity in a world that has been drastically changed.

    The Crakers in Oryx and Crake

    The Crakers are a genetically engineered humanoid species created by Crake. They are designed to be a new, improved version of humanity, free from the flaws and vices of their human creators.

    The Crakers are described as peaceful, innocent, and naive beings with childlike curiosity and a limited understanding of human culture and history. They are also notable for their unique physical characteristics, such as blue genitals that change colour to indicate their emotional state and the ability to photosynthesize like plants, which eliminates the need for food.

    In the novel, the Crakers serve several purposes:

    • They represent the ultimate goal of Crake's genetic engineering project, which was to create a more perfect version of humanity. Their existence calls into question the value and purpose of traditional human society, highlighting its flaws and limitations.
    • The Crakers also serve as a symbol of hope for the future, representing the possibility of a new, more harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world.

    The Crakers challenge traditional assumptions about human nature, culture, and society. The novel also uses the Crakers to explore the ethical and moral implications of creating a new species, as well as the potential dangers of playing God with genetic engineering. Additionally, the Crakers could be analyzed as a metaphor for the relationship between humans and nature, highlighting the destructive consequences of environmental degradation and the potential for a more sustainable way of life.

    Through his interactions with the Crakers, Snowman begins to see hope for a new future for humanity, even as he grapples with the guilt and regret of his own past.

    Oryx and Crake: themes and analysis

    The novel employs a non-linear narrative structure, with flashbacks and fragmented memories that challenge readers to piece together the events that led to the apocalypse. Jimmy's flashbacks take place in a variety of locations, including the American South, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. The novel explores a range of different settings, from sprawling corporate compounds and gated communities to desolate wastelands and dangerous urban slums.

    Atwood's use of language and imagery creates a vivid and unsettling vision of a world in which the lines between humanity and the natural world have been blurred and twisted beyond recognition.

    The themes of the novel include:

    • The dangers of unchecked corporate greed
    • Environmental destruction
    • The fragility of humanity in the face of new technologies
    • The complex interplay between power and desire

    Scientific progress

    The novel explores the dangers and unintended consequences of scientific progress, especially in the field of genetic engineering. Crake, the brilliant scientist who creates a new race of genetically modified humans called the Crakers, believes that science can improve human life and eliminate suffering.

    However, his experiments lead to the creation of a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity.

    One example of the novel's critique of scientific progress is the creation of the pigoons by Jimmy's father. These are genetically modified pigs that have been engineered to grow human organs for transplant. These creatures suffer from deformities and health problems, and their existence raises questions about the ethical implications of genetic engineering.


    The novel explores the complexities of human relationships, particularly those between friends, lovers, and family members. The protagonist, Jimmy/Snowman, has complex relationships with both Oryx and Crake, his childhood friends and lovers.


    The two are childhood friends, but their friendship becomes strained as Crake becomes increasingly isolated and withdrawn. However, Crake ultimately entrusts Snowman with the task of caring for the Crakers, the new race of genetically modified humans that Crake has created.


    Oryx represents both the exploitation and commodification of women in the modern world, as well as the importance of human connection and empathy. Oryx is sold into sexual slavery as a child and forced to work in the sex trade, becoming a symbol of the dehumanization and exploitation of vulnerable populations.

    However, she is also depicted as a source of comfort and love for Jimmy/Snowman, and as a beacon of hope in a world that has been destroyed by greed and scientific progress.

    Extinction and evolution

    Oryx and Crake explores the themes of extinction and evolution, as the novel's world is one where humanity has been all but wiped out by a pandemic. The Crakers are also considered the next step of human evolution since they are a new race of genetically modified humans designed to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

    The portrayal of the natural world, which has been devastated by human activity, also emphasises the theme of extinction. Animals have also been made extinct, and genetically engineered hybrid animals have become feral in the post-apocalyptic world.

    Corporate power

    The novel is also critical of the power of large corporations, which are depicted as having immense power and influence over the world's governments and economies. OrganInc is responsible for many of the scientific advances that have led to the world's current state.

    The portrayal of the corporate compound where Crake works also critiques corporate power over scientific progress. The compound is a high-security facility where scientists work in isolation, shielded from the outside world. The novel suggests that the power of corporations allows them to operate without accountability or oversight, leading to dangerous and unethical scientific practices.

    Oryx and Crake: quotes

    The following quotes from Oryx and Crake emphasise the futility of human existence in a dystopian environment.

    Strange to think of the endless labour, the digging, the hammering, the carving, the lifting, the drilling, day by day, year by year, century by century; and now the endless crumbling that must be going on everywhere. Sandcastles in the wind.

    (Chapter 3)

    This quote reflects on the fleeting nature of human existence and the futility of our efforts to build and create lasting monuments. Atwood suggests that everything we construct is ultimately subject to decay and collapse, and she uses the metaphor of sandcastles in the wind to underscore this point.

    Nature is to zoos as God is to churches.

    (Chapter 8)

    This quote suggests that the natural world is to be revered and respected, much like a deity in a religious setting. Atwood implies that we should not seek to control or dominate nature, but rather appreciate it for its inherent value and complexity. Atwood's works are known for their eco-criticism and the preservation of the natural world.

    "Immortality," said Crake, "is a concept. If you take 'mortality' as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then 'immortality' is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal.”

    (Chapter 3)

    This quote reflects on the human desire for immortality and the lengths to which we will go to avoid facing our own mortality. Atwood suggests that the fear of death is what makes people know they are mortal, and that true immortality lies in the absence of this fear. Crake's observation that babies are immortal is a comment on the innocence and lack of awareness that characterize early life before humans fully grasp the inevitability of their own mortality.

    Oryx and Crake - Key takeaways

    • Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel published in 2003. It was written by Margaret Atwood, an author who has written dystopian fiction such as The Handmaids Tale.
    • Oryx and Crake is the first in the MaddAddam trilogy.
    • It follows Snowman in a post-apocalyptic world, where he cares for the crackers.
    • The novel changes between Snowman's narrative and the pre-apocalyptic narrative of Jimmy, who is also friends with Crake.
    • The novel explores themes of evolution, extinction, scientific progress, and the way that relationships can affect actions.


    1. Fig. 1 - Margaret Atwood (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Margaret_Atwood_-_Foire_du_Livre_de_Francfort_(37735253561).jpg) by ActuaLitte (https://www.flickr.com/people/88964830@N08) is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Oryx and Crake

    What is the message of Oryx and Crake?

    Oryx and Crake offers a critique of modern society, focusing on themes like the dangers of scientific progress, the impact of unchecked corporate power, and the importance of relationships and human connection. The novel encourages readers to reflect on the ways in which human activity can have negative consequences for both ourselves and the natural world. 

    What is Oryx and Crake about?

    Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel that explores a future world in which humanity has been all but wiped out by a man-made pandemic. The novel follows Snowman, as he navigates a desolate and dangerous world, haunted by memories of his childhood friend Crake and his lover, Oryx. 

    The novel explores themes like the impact of scientific progress on human society, the dangers of unchecked corporate power, and the importance of human relationships in a world where everything has been destroyed. 

    What does Oryx represent in Oryx and Crake?

    Oryx is a complex character in Oryx and Crake representing both the exploitation and commodification of women in the modern world, as well as the importance of human connection and empathy. Oryx is sold into sexual slavery as a child and forced to work in the sex trade, becoming a symbol of the dehumanization and exploitation of vulnerable populations. 

    However, she is also depicted as a source of comfort and love for Jimmy/Snowman, and as a beacon of hope in a world that has been destroyed by greed and scientific progress. 

    How many pages is Oryx and Crake?

    The length of Oryx and Crake depends on the edition and format of the book. The original hardcover edition of the novel has 376 pages, while the paperback edition has 400 pages. The audiobook version of the novel is approximately 10 hours and 30 minutes long. 

    How is Oryx and Crake a dystopia?

    Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel because it portrays a future world that is bleak, desolate, and oppressive. The novel describes a society that has been decimated by a man-made pandemic, with few survivors living in constant fear and danger. 

    The world of Oryx and Crake is also characterized by extreme wealth inequality, corporate power, and the dangers of unchecked scientific progress. 

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