Margaret Atwood’s settler subject: Lee Frew, ‘”A Whole New Take on Indigenous”: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake as Wild Animal Story’, Studies in Canadian Literature, 2019


Excerpt: ORYX AND CRAKE, the first novel of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, presents the social order of the relatively near future as suffering from the effects of environmental degradation and dehumanization caused by a rapacious, globalized capitalism. In the novel, what Greg Garrard describes as the “corrosive power of modernity” (239) has not been productively resisted because democratic protections have been supplanted by neoliberal, transnational corporations. This system of domination is overthrown, however, once a brilliant geneticist nicknamed Crake engineers and unleashes a virus to exterminate humanity. In salvaging what remains of the earth’s biosphere from flagrant abuses, Crake’s “supreme act of bioterrorism” (Glover 56) aims to make way for the “Crakers” or “Children of Crake,” a transgenic, humanoid species that Crake has created as a replacement for humans. After “zero hour” has passed and most of the people on earth have been murdered, the novel’s central character, Jimmy/Snowman, leads the Crakers from their corporate compound to a “lethal transgenic-infested environment” (Garrard 238), in which numerous other genetically modified animal species reside. Although Oryx and Crake speculates in such a way on a post-national and postnatural future, the novel’s representation of human-animal interactions nevertheless resonates with a tradition of animal writing established first in Canada in the late nineteenth century. As I will elucidate in what follows, Oryx and Crake largely conforms to the conventions of the wild animal story, which Atwood was instrumental in identifying as a genre in her contentious 1972 study Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. As such, Atwood’s novel inevitably rehearses the expedient disavowal of Second World cultural nationalism: ongoing colonizing acts are obscured by the text’s privileging of a settler subject-position imagined as beset by the imperium of modernity.

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