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Religious Metaphors In Atwoods Literature English Literature Essay

1280 words (5 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

There are many religious and Christian metaphors in both “The Year of the Flood” and “Oryx and Crake”. What is most interesting to consider, though, is the idea of Snowman as the only human, as a survivor, and most importantly as a representation of the biblical `serpent’. Snowman finds himself recreating the Genesis story from the perspective of his current predicament: Crake and Oryx are the gods who have created them, he says, and sacrificed themselves so that their children might live. There are also metaphors for The Garden of Eden. The Crakers-nude, innocent, and sculpted-might be seen as leaving the Garden of Eden, but in being nude and innocent, refers to Adam and Eve and being born without original sin. Also, in these novels, Jimmy can be compared to the serpent and the fruit from the story of Adam and Eve; leading the Crakers away from Paradice, which actually saved them in the end. Atwood is trying to stress that the serpent in the Garden of Eden saved us instead of led to our downfall.

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Atwood’s primary goal is not only to describe the global horror of a devastated environment and its implications for mankind. Using current environmental and scientific experimentation as her starting points, she extrapolates into apocalyptic fantasy, creating an eerie world which is still recognizably close to our own. Alternating between the unnamed disaster in which Snowman finds himself at the outset of the novel and his flashbacks to his youth and early adulthood with Crake, she brings a dismal future-world to life, saving the explanation of the catastrophe which wrought this devastation till the end.

It is in these representations of Snowman that I believe Atwood is making a definitive statement as to whether God created man or whether man creates God. Undoubtedly Atwood is suggesting that man inevitably, despite of himself, creates God, with or without outside assistance. It seems that throughout the novel there is an extended metaphor of Snowman as various figures from the Christian bible. The first figure that Snowman can be said to represent is that of Adam, the first man, though the similarities between the two characters do not follow the same chronology. Just as Adam is given the animals as companions to look over, similarly Crake has ensured that the Crakers and Jimmy are both left in the newly re-created world as companions.

Another strong resemblance and play on words can be observed in the Christian story of original sin and Crake’s mass destruction of humanity. In Genesis, God sets aside one fruit tree and commands Adam not to touch or eat from it, as a result of Adam’s betrayal, God casts him out of paradise, and forces hardship on him for the rest of his days. Likewise, Jimmy is fully cognizant the first time he meets Oryx that she is off limits to him, yet his betrayal of Crake ultimately results in his leaving Paradice and forces various hardships on him. Lastly, in the Snowman-as-Adam device, there is a realization that the companions which have been assigned by a higher power are insufficient, and the following desperate need for companions that are closer on the evolutionary chain. For Adam, this companion was Eve. Throughout Atwood’s novel Snowman is absolutely desperate for some companion, someone more understanding than the Crakers, or better than his own deteriorating mind to keep him company. And though Snowman eventually does find people of his own species, he cannot decide whether to risk their friendship.

Atwood’s portrayal of Snowman as the last survivor of Homosapiens, compelled by his promise to take care of the Paradice project in Crake’s absence, has significant similarities to the Christian myth of Noah and the Ark. The catalyst of events in the Christian myth is man’s injustice to fellow man and god, and likewise in Oryx and Crake the catalyst is Jimmy’s betrayal to Crake, which broken down, shows both man’s transgression against man and god. As one of the elite, elegant minds of society, Crake undoubtedly has godlike qualities. Through the technological advances made by him and his peers, Crake is able to control and alter creation, .”..to create totally chosen babies that would incorporate any feature, physical or mental or spiritual, that the buyer might wish to select.” (Atwood, 304) This godlike context parallels not only man’s (Jimmy’s) transgression against god (Crake) but also god’s command that man ensure the continuance of creation. Just as Noah marched all the animals in twos into the ark, so Snowman leads the Crakers, .”..the women and children, with a file of men to either side” to the seashore (350).

Perhaps the most easily seen similarity between Snowman and the patriarch Noah is that each has been specially selected by a higher power to survive the devastation that follows: Noah tucked safely in the ark, and Snowman completely immune to the JUVE virus due to the vaccine he had been taking all the while. Lastly, the ending of the novel reaffirms the end result of the Great Flood myth, that through the devastation of one world, and the selection of a survivor to ensure the continuance of some portion of creation, a new world is created.

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Lastly and most importantly is the convincing metaphor of Snowman playing the part of the biblical serpent. Throughout the novel Crake has repeatedly mentioned, and not unintentionally, that any form of symbolic thinking will ultimately lead to the downfall of the Crakers. In Crake’s version of paradise there is no room for art, religion, organized government, or sexual frustration. It seems that no sooner does Snowman makes initial contact with the Crakers that he is already introducing ideas which Crake would find questionable, ideas which the Crakers may in time come to question, as we question religious dogma today. He starts by hiding the truth of what really happened and why the Crakers must leave Paradice. It is also very interesting to note in this context that Snowman is leading the Crakers out of Paradice and into a world which is a wasteland. He deifies both Oryx and Crake, and in the meantime has kept his lies congruent. But what will happen when he inevitably trips over his own lies and the Crakers begin to question him as a false prophet?

As I previously stated I believe that Atwood is suggesting that man inevitably creates God with or without outside assistance. Even after Crake has all but wiped the slate clean of humanity and its ideas, Snowman still manages to ruin Crake’s vision swiftly, sowing the seeds of religion amongst the Crakers. Yet this leads to a rather interesting debate: whether or not the Crakers would have eventually created religion or at the very least art themselves, regardless of Snowman’s interference.

I believe that Atwood is commenting on the fact that it is man’s nature to be existential, to wonder where he came from, and who created creation, and that it is natural to invent possible answers to these questions when none are evident. For example, as Snowman returns after his foray back into the Compound he finds that the Crakers have created an idol of him and are chanting his name in a way which sounds like ‘Amen’, “next they’d be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin…”(361). Either way you look at Snowman, as a religious patriarch or a representation of the biblical serpent, he is still corrupting the Crakers with his false dogma.


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