Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood
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Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

Why did Jimmy rename himself Snowman, and what is the significance of his new name?

Jimmy renamed himself Snowman because he felt the need to adopt a new persona for the new world in which he lived. Crake’s plague decimated the majority of the planet, including the only two people who still meant something to Jimmy. When Oryx and Crake died, a part of Jimmy died as well. Thus, just before Jimmy introduced himself to the Children of Crake, he adopted his new name. Now radically transformed, Snowman led the Crakers out of Paradice and into a world that was itself radically transformed. Thus, his new name prepared him symbolically and psychologically for his new life in a post-apocalyptic world.

But why did he change his name to Snowman, and what does that particular name mean? As the narrator explains in chapter 1, Snowman is short for Abominable Snowman, which refers to the ape-like Yeti creature said to live in the Himalayas. Symbolically, Snowman’s new name both links him to and differentiates him from Crake and Oryx. It links his to his friends, since both of them were known by adopted names. Crake’s original name was Glenn, but Snowman never found out Oryx’s original name. Yet Snowman’s name also differentiates him from Crake and Oryx, since his friends chose names of extinct species that really used to exist. By contrast, Snowman named himself after a mythical creature, at once “existing and not existing, flickering at the edges of blizzards.” On the one hand, Snowman’s new name represents an intentional offense against Crake, who made a rule that no one at Paradice could choose a name “for which a physical equivalent . . . could not be demonstrated.” On the other hand, Snowman’s new name reflects his current existential status, in which he feels like he’s flickering between past and present, possibly the last member of an endangered species on the brink of extinction.

Does Snowman hate his mother?

At several points in the novel Snowman reflects on how much he hates his mother, who abandoned him when he was a young boy and added insult to injury by taking his beloved pet rakunk with her. Snowman certainly felt angry about her departure, and he harbored deep feelings of resentment toward her throughout his youth. However, when considered carefully, it is clear that Snowman has a much more complex attitude toward his mother than simple hatred. When he was very young, Snowman loved his mother intensely, but the intensity of his love also caused confusion. Confusion arose particularly when his mother fell into a deepening depression that prevented her from giving Snowman the attention he craved. Snowman desperately wanted to cheer her up, and he tried to counter her mood swings with amusing antics, but to no avail. At times Snowman’s desire to cure his mother’s depression left him wondering whether the sadness belonged to him or to her.

All of these confusing emotions became further mixed up and intensified when Snowman’s mother chose to run away. Outwardly Snowman pretended that his mother’s departure didn’t bother him. He told Crake as much and stopped going to therapy almost as soon as he started. Inwardly, however, he felt torn up, and a sense of hatred grew. Over the course of his youth, Snowman continued to feel resentment toward his mother, especially since he had to undergo frequent CorpSeCorps interrogations about her participation in activist organizations. Yet for all the negative feelings he had for his mother, Snowman also never stopped mourning her absence, which becomes clear in chapter 10, when CorpSeCorps agents show him a video of his mother’s execution. The news of his mother’s death devastated him, and in the weeks following the Corpsmen’s visit, he spiraled into depression. The profound sadness Snowman experienced upon learning of her death suggests that, far from simply hating his mother, Snowman retained a complicated love for her.

What is the significance of the name “Paradice”?

Paradice is the secret facility where Crake developed his genetically modified breed of humans, and the name references the biblical Paradise, also known as the Garden of Eden. According to the biblical account, God placed Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, in the Garden of Eden, where they would have everything they needed to live in perfect harmony and comfort. The only restriction God placed on Adam and Eve was that they could not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. But Adam and Eve defied the taboo, and God cast them out of Eden, leaving them to wander alone in exile. In the Christian tradition, the fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace and their subsequent loss of Paradise represents the “fallen” condition of humankind, which must attempt to regain Paradise by purging itself of sin.

Crake’s Paradice echoes the biblical Paradise in the sense that it’s the place where the first members of a new human race live in perfect harmony with each other and their environment, just like Adam and Eve. The choice of the name Paradice also casts Crake as God, which is ironic given Crake’s resolute atheism. However, this sense of irony gives the name Paradice an additional twist of meaning that revises biblical tradition. Whereas the Bible frames Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden as a banishment into exile, Crake actually meant for his new humans to leave Paradice. Furthermore, instead of seeking redemption for their own souls, as the Christian tradition calls for, Crake intended for his new humans to be the agents of redemption. That is, he wanted them to go out and redeem the world stained by human civilization. The full significance of the name Paradice therefore stems from the way it both echoes and revises biblical tradition.