When I first read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake I did not quite grasp every concept and detail Atwood so carefully included. It was only once we started analyzing it in class that everything sort of fell into place. I finally understood how the Crakers were made and became aware of all the reasons as to why they were created in such a manner. It made me think of a concept I had learned in high school, but I could not remember the word for it. I couldn’t recall the concept and it took a few days before it finally came back to me: eugenics. Atwood’s post-apocalyptic novel reflects the basic goal of eugenics as well as its modern-day implications.
The term “eugenics” is of Greek origin, meaning “well-born”, and was established by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s half-cousin. Created in the late nineteenth century, eugenics had the goal of improving the human race by making it smarter, healthier and more resilient. This improvement was hoped to be accomplished through positive eugenics, which promoted procreation amongst fit people, and negative eugenics, which prevented those who had either physical or mental restrictions from reproducing (Norrgard).
Yes, basic eugenics were first developed two centuries ago, but scientists are still actively working on this concept. Technology has allowed this field of science to evolve and has even led to the idea of “designer babies”, which can be described as the eugenics of today. In 2001, Wired Magazine stated that “researchers ha[d] genetically-altered humans for the first time” and that “experts question[ed] the moral implications of tinkering with the unborn” (Taylor). The short video below quickly explains the process of modifying genes and mentions the controversy in its regards.
As I further analyzed Atwood’s novel and I read through its pages a second time, I realized the Crakers stem from the concept of eugenics. Crake wanted to get rid of all the disadvantages of human genetics and alter the genes so that only the efficient, necessary, and useful characteristics remain. He tells Jimmy he “had to alter ordinary human embryos” and that once the research goes public and becomes a market, “they’d be able to create totally chosen babies that would incorporate any feature, physical or mental or spiritual, that the buyer might wish to select” (303-4). This definitely resembles the concept of designer babies.
And even more interesting is the fact that Atwood’s novel was published only two years after the first modification of human genes was reported. Perhaps Atwood recognized and acknowledged how alarming modern-day eugenics are and chose to include it in her writing to illustrate its serious implications? Could it be that Crake’s innovative idea of eliminating genetic traits was a simple and clever medium to demonstrate the impressive yet disturbing things we are becoming capable of doing in our world? Is the issue coming from the evolution of technology or from the way we use this technology? After reading the first novel of her MaddAddam Trilogy, I am finding myself wondering whether Atwood’s goal is to inform of to frighten…