Oryx and Crake begins with a pair of epigraphs from literary sources. The first epigraph comes from Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels . In this passage, Swift’s narrator claims that he will not astonish his reader with “strange improbable tales,” but rather relate his story “in the simplest manner and style.” The second epigraph comes from Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse . This passage consists of three questions, each of which asks about how to navigate through the dangerous “ways of the world.”
The novel proper opens with a man named Snowman waking up just before dawn. He can hear the rhythms of waves, which are crashing into large piles of rusting cars and rubble that have accumulated on the beach. Snowman climbs down from the tree and walks to a hidden cache where he stores food and other supplies. Before eating his last mango, he recites a quote to himself. He doesn’t know where the words come from, but they make him think of European colonialism.
Later that morning, Snowman observes a group of naked people playing on the beach, collecting pieces of flotsam that have washed up on shore. Although Snowman refers to these people as the Children of Crake, they are, in fact, mostly adults. Snowman reflects on the differences between these “children” and himself. For example, they are resistant to UV light, whereas he must hide from the sun. Snowman wonders whether his attitude toward the Children of Crake is one of envy or nostalgia.
Snowman reflects on his name, which he based on the “Abominable Snowman.” The name brings him pleasure for the way it violates a rule that a person named Crake once made about selecting a name. Crake said that “no name could be chosen for which a physical equivalent . . . could not be demonstrated.”
Some of the Children of Crake come to Snowman and ask about his beard. Snowman replies that he’s growing feathers. Unlike him, the Children of Crake have bare faces.
Later, on the beach, Snowman speaks aloud to himself: “All, all alone. Alone on a wide, wide sea.” Snowman reflects on his desire to hear another human voice, and soon thereafter he hears the voice of a woman in his ear, an echo from his past. He can’t figure out which woman the voice belongs to, but he suspects it might belong to a prostitute, since she’s commenting on his “nice abs.” This isn’t the voice Snowman wants to hear. He begins to cry, and his chest feels tight. He screams at the ocean, cursing Crake and blaming him for the current state of the world: “You did this!” Snowman waits for an answer that doesn’t come. He wipes tears from his face and tells himself, “Get a life.”