Thoughts on Ecocriticism and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

From Walt Whitman to Japanese poetry and Native American oral traditions, people around the globe have always had a habit of expressing their concern and articulating their inescapable relationship with their natural environment through literature. Whether they spoke of the environment with a delicate love, or expressed an anxiety for nature’s hostile interaction with them, they felt the need to communicate it to others — both people like and unlike them. This human tendency has not disappeared despite humanity’s growing dependency on urbanization; however, the way authors regard the modern natural environment has morphed. Recent fiction that fixates on humans’ relationship with nature, commonly called ecocritical literature, tends to focus on the negative impacts humanity has, can, or will have on their environment. It also addresses the unsettling idea of succession: of nature reclaiming what has been taken from it.

A great example of such fiction is Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Oryx and Crake is an exemplary piece of fiction when discussing the idea of the uncanny and its repeated occurrence in ecocriticism. The story is narrated from the perspective of Snowman, previously known as Jimmy in the time before he becomes the last surviving human (or so he thinks). Chapter to chapter, the story flip-flops between narration of Snowman’s present condition — in which he is struggling to cope with his isolated state — and his past self which recounts of both his childhood and young adulthood.

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While Atwood must be commended for her beautifully scripted plot, which is embellished with hints of mysticism, and her ability to force the reader into a contradiction with themselves, her capacity to aptly describe the consequences of human interaction with the environment must be the focal point of analysis. Atwood crafts a scenario that while extreme, is probable and based in science. Her inclusion of small details in order to build a more impressive whole demands the reader to pay careful attention to nature’s interaction with the characters and vice versa. In this talent lies the genius of the novel: it has the ability to open readers’ eyes to the importance of mindfulness in regards to human-nature interactions. Spotted on the shelf, Oryx and Crake cannot be immediately identified as an ecocritical novel; thus, it attracts a broader audience and consequently invokes more readers to think about humanity’s current relationship with the earth. This — the ability to be a vehicle for thought — is literature’s purpose. For a thoughtful and entertaining read, pick up a copy of Oryx and Crake!

Written by Shelby Job

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