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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Chen

Women in Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crake’

Whilst Atwood may be best known for her dystopian novel ‘ The Handmaid’s Tale’, which got adapted into an award-winning TV series, Atwood also produces insights into women and society in her latest dystopian novel ‘Oryx and Crake’ but in a markedly different way. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is told from the perspective of a female protagonist primarily oppressed by men. ‘Oryx and Crake’ is told from the perspective of a male protagonist living in a male-dominated society that exploits the weak, including women. Atwood puts as much effort as she does focusing on the male perspective into exploring womanhood in ‘Oryx and Crake’; this is evidenced by the title, which features both the protagonist’s male best friend Crake as well as Oryx, the protagonist’s female lover.

Another thing that sets Crake and Oryx apart from gender is what is revealed about their identities. In the novel, Crake’s real name is known but Oryx’s real name is never revealed. In a similar way, Oryx’s backstory is just speculation on the main character Snowman’s part, neither confirmed nor denied, whilst Crake and Snowman’s past lives form an integral part of the novel. Even Snowman, who professes to love Oryx, never learns her true name and projects an identity onto Oryx just as Crake foisted the name of ‘Oryx’ onto her. Oryx’s lack of identity can make her seem like ‘an ambiguous figure who hovers between reality and fantasy’, the critic Natasha Walter says that ‘the effect is as bland as candy-floss’. However, from a feminist perspective, it could be argued that Oryx’s lack of identity is used by Atwood to highlight the lack of power women have in the novel’s society. Indeed, women in ‘Oryx and Crake’ mostly feature as sex objects to be used by men as well as victims of male exploitation.

Oryx also could also represent the maternal and feminine aspects of human nature missing in the society of ‘Oryx and Crake’. Indeed, Jimmy and Crake lose their mothers in their childhoods and the novel’s society is dominated by men who exploit consumers, animals and the poor to maximise profit. Oryx serves as a contrast to this behaviour as she nurtures and protects the weak instead of exploiting them: she is the only character who interacts with the Crakers and teaches them how to survive and later she is portrayed by Snowman as the protector of animals in his story to the Crakers. The Crakers are genetically modified creatures created by Crake. Oryx’s role as protector is significant because, in this society, animals are the group most vulnerable to mistreatment by corporations.

To conclude, Atwood uses the lack of female presence in ‘Oryx and Crake’ to highlight how detrimental it is for society. Indeed, the society and lives of the male characters in Oryx and Crake are dominated by traditionally masculine traits such as aggression and an obsession with material things, whilst traditionally feminine traits such as nurture and compassion are absent. The opposing roles of Crake and Oryx in the novel further serve to highlight this difference: the novel, Crake is a powerful scientist who uses his childhood trauma to destroy others and takes advantage of the protagonist to further his violent agenda. Meanwhile, Oryx is a sex worker who holds no grudges from her traumatic childhood and appears in the novel as a caregiver to Crake’s creations and a source of comfort for the main character.

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