Summary: Chapter 8
The narrative returns to when Jimmy and Crake graduated from HelthWyzer High and various universities participated in a Student Auction to bid on pupils they wanted to recruit. Whereas the prestigious Watson-Crick won Crake for a high price, the less prestigious Martha Graham Academy claimed Jimmy in a half-hearted bidding war. Jimmy’s father greeted the news with lukewarm praise. Ramona, who had since officially become Jimmy’s stepmother, was more exuberant with her approval. Even so, Jimmy hated her “new matronly air.”
Crake’s mother had died a month before Crake and Jimmy’s graduation. The circumstances of her death remained unclear, but somehow she’d come into contact with a dangerous “bioform” that quickly infected and killed her by dissolving her flesh. Crake had to watch her die, and, much to Jimmy’s dismay, Crake recounted the experience with more curiosity than horror.
In the summer after Jimmy and Crake graduated from high school, global tensions escalated over a genetically modified coffee bush produced by the Happicuppa coffee company. The new type of bush threatened to put small local farms out of business and consolidate the global coffee industry into a monopoly. One night, while watching the news, Jimmy spotted a glimpse of his mother in a crowd of activists protesting Happicuppa.
Crake noticed her too, and he tried to connect with Jimmy by recounting the story of how his father “buggered off” and fell off a pleebland overpass during rush hour. In contrast to the general opinion that he committed suicide, Crake remained suspicious about the circumstances of the event. In the present time Snowman scolds himself for having missed the underlying message of Crake’s story.
Jimmy began his studies at Martha Graham Academy, a fading school for the arts and humanities that he found disappointing. Although Jimmy thought it was “pleasant to contemplate” the arts and humanities, he recognized that they were “no longer central to anything.” He enrolled in a program called Problematics, which he believed would lead to a career in advertising.
At first Jimmy shared a dorm suite with a fundamentalist vegan named Bernice, who terrorized him for both his eating habits and his sexual activity. He complained to Student Services and moved to a new room, where he felt freer to pursue relationships with women.
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.
The account of Jimmy’s visit to Watson-Crick introduces additional thematic material related to genetic engineering, this time specifically related to the blurry distinction between what is natural versus unnatural, “real” versus “fake.” When Jimmy saw massive butterflies flapping around the Watson-Crick campus, he suspected that they were created in a lab and assumed that this meant that they were in some way fake. For Crake, however, the distinction between “real” and “fake” is false. Despite being created by humans, these butterflies actually existed in the material world. They lived, died, and bred, just like every other species and hence must be considered real. The issue of distinguishing between real and fake returned near the end of the visit, when Jimmy expressed his feeling that the wolvogs were unnatural, since they reversed the centuries of breeding that had transformed wild wolves into domesticated dogs. Here, too, Crake dismissed Jimmy’s language of natural versus unnatural. Crake implied that the very concept of “Nature” (with a capital N) is bogus. He implied that genetic engineering represents a natural activity because it was developed by humans, who are themselves a part of nature.
Crake’s hypothesis about HelthWyzer, which he explained to Jimmy on the second-to-last night of their visit, introduces an important theme related to the immorality of corporate power. According to Crake, HelthWyzer had a fundamentally contradictory business model. On the one hand, the company sought to cure ill people and eliminate disease. And yet, if the company really achieved its aim and eliminated all diseases, then there would be no way for the company to make money. Thus, to ensure its own profitability, the company had to invent its own diseases and distribute them among the public at large. Crake’s hypothesis brings to light the contradictory logic of corporate power, which subdues the very people it relies on for revenue. Whereas Crake’s father sought to expose the immorality of corporate power, Crake himself would later capitalize on this logic to advance his own agenda, as later chapters in the novel demonstrate.