While working with the idea of the mind-body-soul relation in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake last week, I started to think more about it in direct relation to the primary characters – Oryx, Crake, and Snowman. After playing with the thought for a bit, I’m pretty satisfied with correlating these three interrelated aspects of humanity with these three interrelated people.
I’ll begin with the last of the characters to be fully introduced: Oryx.
The story of Oryx’s childhood reads like a myth. Given her young age and her relatively short experience with the village of her birth, her memories are appropriately muddled. With the lack of detail, the lack of names for the early characters and forces in her life, the time spent in her past bears the same dreamlike surreality as the best legends and parables. Even the characters that are more fully fleshed out, like “Uncle En,” loom over her life as larger-than-life, mythic figures. Even her own imagination is spiritual, based in the tales of illness-inducing spirits and nameless creatures of the wilderness that permeated her culture, largely removed from the unfortunate physicality she’s eventually forced into. When Jimmy/Snowman demands gruesome specifics of her time as a child prostitute, Oryx provides only intimations – tales.
Interesting that her reactions to uncomfortable physicality are generally laughter. Wrinkled or large penises, any physical feature that would presumably be wrapped in layers of trauma, are gaily rejected – their concrete trivialities simply do not fit in her world of love and spirits. It’s almost as if she is beyond them, failing to intersect with them on an existential plane. The only acknowledgement of a fall from this cushioned, airy world is her discussion of children having a “money value” instead of love. Her world is one of love, but she concedes that children who cannot have love are at least better off with a “money value” instead of nothing. This concession is the underlying tragedy of all her youthful tragedies – that a being of spirit and love is instead forced into a world of money and carnality.
Ultimately, Oryx is aligned most closely with the soul. Where Crake is obsessed with the physical development of organisms and (up to, including, and finally beyond people), Oryx seems most concerned with their heart, their morals, their well-being. This leads, then, to the question of Snowman. The Snowman of the frame narrative is haunted by the specters of both Oryx and Crake – soul and body. He is constantly informed by them, coerced by them, enthralled by them. It strikes me that the mingling of one’s meaty body and otherwordly soul would result in the philosophical complex of the mind – where the physical and mental meet. The personality and predicament of Snowman (and thus the mind) is, in a sense, the bastard child of Oryx/soul and Crake/body.
Next week, I hope to look more closely at Snowman, his philosophical ruminations, and how thoroughly he can be shown to represent the mind, as opposed to brilliant but earth-bound Crake.
For the first part of this series on Oryx and Crake, you can start with Exploring the Mind-Body-Soul Relation here.