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Teacher’s Guide to Oryx & Crake Essay

1. Oryx and Crake is a novel of human catastrophe and potential. At the center of the story is Snowman/Jimmy, who finds himself wearing nothing more than a bed sheet, sleeping in a tree, and facing starvation. The question is why? What events have caused Jimmy to become the Snowman and to find himself in such devastating circumstances? In a narrative that shifts in time, Atwood unravels Jimmy’s life before and after the moment we meet him, and in doing so creates a world that is an uncanny vision of what could be weirdly feasible and perhaps all too possible. The Building Blocks/Structure:

1. Oryx and Crake is set sometime in the near future. Geographically, the story takes place somewhere along the shoreline of the northeast coast of the United States. The ordinary (people) live in the Pleeblands while the chosen or the extraordinary inhabit extravagant Compounds designed to meet every conceivable human need. In Oryx and Crake is geography of any real significance? What indication is there that it matters where the story occurs? Does it matter where the Compounds actually are? 2. What does Atwood do to demonstrate that time is very consequential to the events? How far into the future do you think this story is taking place? Plot/Narrative:

1. Oryx and Crake is structured on two parallel narratives which inevitably collide at one climactic point. One narrative begins with Jimmy’s early life and his first encounter with Crake, and the second begins with Jimmy’s metamorphosis into the Snowman. Trace the two story lines (Jimmy forward and Snowman backward) and highlight the intersection or climax of the two story lines. 2. Does Atwood’s framework of two intersecting narratives work, or does the reader find the short sections and constant change confusing and/or distracting? Explain why or why not you like the construction of the novel? Character(s):

3. As the story distills and sets in, it becomes evident that there are three players in Oryx and Crake: Jimmy/Snowman, Oryx and Crake. In order of
importance describe each of the characters using language which will demonstrate each individual’s purpose and role in the narrative. Indicate if you think any of the three are archetypes or if they represent some kind of caricature. 4. In your opinion, which character is the most evolved and why? What human limitations do Jimmy, Crake, and Oryx each demonstrate? 5. When Jimmy is finally employed, why is he considered the “lowest of the low” in the Compound social hierarchy? What does Jimmy value above all else that puts him at odds with the rest of population of the Compounds? Language/Voice:

1. Margaret Atwood has an unending love affair with words and plays with them constantly. She has not only created a new vocabulary for her vision of the future, but has also incorporated double meanings into many of the words she has created. Expand on the double takes in the following words: PARADICE, PLEEBLANDS, CorpSeCorps, NOOSKINS. How can her word creations be regarded as private jokes? 2. Jimmy/Snowman has an unwavering attachment to words that have been deemed archaic and that lack a meaningful application (e.g. Lodestone). Find three of these words, define them and tell whether you would agree with the assessment of their usefulness. 3. One of Margaret Atwood’s favorite devices in her writing is to satirize various aspects of current society. In Oryx and Crake, she takes direct aim at our current fascination with technology and genetic manipulation. Give some specific examples of her attitude towards what humans are able to accomplish by current scientific activity. Author/POV:

1. Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most acclaimed and accomplished novelists, with more than 30 works to her credit. She has won numerous awards both nationally and internationally. Do you think Oryx and Crake is a prizewinning novel? Explain why or why not. 2. Oryx and Crake is categorized as speculative fiction. Discuss and speculate on why you think Margaret Atwood has chosen to tell such an apocalyptic story. After you have provided your response, go to www.oryxandcrake.com (Essay) and see if your hunch tallies with the author’s stated reason for writing the book. Comment on what she has revealed. Contemporary Relevance/Importance:

1. Olivia Chow, a Toronto city councilor and an immigrant to Canada, has selected Oryx and Crake to champion. She is the second politician on CANADA READS to choose a futuristic novel by Margaret Atwood. What reasons might politicians have in common for proposing Atwood’s speculative fiction as the book they want all Canadians to read? 2. Oryx and Crake contains many historical references as well as contemporary details about life in the late 20 th century. How did this wealth of reference points render the book difficult (or not) to read? If you found the references difficult, what would make the book easier for you to understand? 3. Atwood pokes fun at or takes a swipe at many facets of our own society in Oryx and Crake. One example is Jimmy’s choice of term paper for his Applied Rhetoric Course: “Self-Help Books for the 20th Century: Exploiting Help and Fear”.

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