Thoughts from the front lines

The Scent of Life


One thing that seems to reoccur once in awhile in the Oryx and Crake as well as The Year of the Flood is the mention of a particular sense: the smell. I know what you are thinking… Smell? Seriously? With all the facts about fake food, modified animals, and perfectionist humans, our olfactory senses seem less than meaningful, but in these two books, I found that smell can mean attraction, predation, and even comfort.

When Snowman described the Crakers, he said that they smelled of citrus, a smell that makes him go limp. There may actually be a reason for this loss of attraction: pheromones. Researches haven’t found this kind chemical compounds in humans, but it has in other species. What happens is that the pheromones released of one will affect the behaviour of others. For example, the sex pheromones released by a boar will arouse another boar, which lead to reproduction. Perhaps Crake programmed the Crakers to start their reproducing ritual from a whiff of that citrus scent they release. Though humans’ olfaction is not as prominent as our other senses such as sight, studies have shown that each have a preference in smell amongst us. In fact, a study in which women had to smell odours of men showed that each preferred the scent of the man who had the most different immune system DNA than her. The possible explanations may include natural selection since it leads to offsprings with better immune systems.

Although pheromones has the power attract a specie towards something, it can equally be used as an attack or defense mechanism. For instance, the Crakers’ purring kept them safe from wolvogs and bobkittens due of the chemicals released from their urine. The stench plays a role in keeping the predators away because their receptors and stimuli detect smells like these as harmful. Basically, a bad odour can warn us of possible danger around us, which is great because we can stay alarmed on things we can see such as gas leaks.

Now, I can’t end this post without talking about the Compounds and their lifestyle, can I?. When Ren first came back to the Compounds, she found the smell of this fenced community to be too artificial, too chemically scented. Well, I found a video on TedTalks in which explains the use of our sense of smell to shape our behaviour and our personality. It explains how commercial scents have so much power on us because they can use it to play with our brains.

We’ve all had a memory rushing back to us at the catch of a whiff of Elmer’s glue that we all thought was part of the wallpaper of our kindergarten walls. However, knowing the motives behind  corporations, I can’t help but think about the person I turned out due to the smell I was surrounded by. Could it be possible that our senses have turned against us, and  we can’t see it because all our lives corporations built us to be great consumers and avid technology lovers?


“Danger! – Fifth Sense.” Fifth Sense. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.
Kubota, Taylor. “The Connection between Scent and Sexual Attraction.” Men’s Journal. Men’s Journal, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.
Nordqvist, Christian. “What Are Pheromones? Do Humans Have Pheromones?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.


2 thoughts on “The Scent of Life

  1. This was very interesting. I had not realized the big presence of smell in the books prior to your post. I really liked that you talked about the science behind pheromones and how it hasn’t been proven that humans possess them yet. I’ll definitely be looking more into it. Your post really intrigued me and made me super curious about the importance of smell and how our brain reacts to certain smells differently. The two videos you attached were also very educational and interesting. The second one particularly intrigued me since it talked about how smell triggers so many memories. I’m sure we have all had a moment when we smelled something in particular and immediately attributed that smell to a person we know of have known in the past. It’s incredible how the simple action of smelling something could bring back so many memories! I had never realized this until now. I’m definitely going to start paying more attention to smell now since it seems that it really does affect us in ways we didn’t even know. I’ll also like to add that the thought of society controlling us through the things we smell is quite scary, but does make a lot of sense. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading this! I think we as a society are so brainwashed by material objects and needing stuff, that we automatically associate scents with certain things or people. I don’t think our senses have turned against us, but that we have just begun to walk through life in a routine-like way, not realizing that we are associating smells with objects, or being brainwashed by the media and consumerism. I think it would be quite hard to change this, but it would be interesting to see if we could! I think we just need to become more aware of our surroundings and take a moment to actually focus on smell once in a while.


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