Thoughts from the front lines

Qualified Life vs. Bare Life: Searching for Truth in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

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By having a look at the Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, one can recall famous Giorgio Agamben’s concept of “bare life.” The characters represent bioforms that simply go with the flow. One of the heroes, Jimmy (a.k.a. “Snowman”) is rejected when Crake points to the genetically engineered ChickieNobs. All they can do is exist without any brain and heart. All of their functions are associated with digestion, assimilation, and growth (Atwood 202-3).


Jimmy then wonders what thinking is. This question motivates the lab tech to discuss the difference between qualified and instrumentalized life.


Although many consumers see Oryx’s body as another commodity, she is not a ChickieNob. The problem of sex-trafficking is compared to the problem of breeding animals just to kill them for food one day. Both animals and people can sometimes be treated as commodities. In the case of Oryx, it’s even worse as she can think and feel. That is why Oryx survives decades of global sex-trafficking and slavery. At the same time, she conducts her own mistakes like seducing Jimmy for pleasure, turning into a primary teacher of the Crakers, and rejecting to explore her true nature as it can damage her comfortable life.

It is interesting to watch after Snowman’s narrative based on two different views on Oryx. From one side, she is treated as a subject; from the other side, he talks about her as she was an object. They first meet when Oryx portrays a porn model on webcam, but she changes throughout the novel. He believes she is the only one to understand him when she says “I know what you want” (Atwood 90-91).


Thus, Oryx and Jimmy are acting like those ChickieNobs. They try to feed their animal hunger by playing with their hidden desires no matter how unethical or immoral they are. Jimmy’s selfish fantasy does not allow him to understand Oryx life drama. The main idea is that Oryx, in fact, has a bare life, but only Jimmy’s narrative makes it precarious and flattened. So, is it better to live a bare life without realizing the selfishness of people around instead of having a qualified life full of injustice and despair?

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Paperback, US, 2003. Print.


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