Snowman begins telling the story of his past-- he used to be Jimmy. Snowman recalls Jimmy's earliest memories from when Jimmy was five or six. There was a huge bonfire. After seeing it, he had to walk through some disinfectant in his rubber boots. Jimmy was told not to splash through the liquid because the disinfectant was dangerous. After hearing this, Jimmy was worried about the poisonous fluid getting into the eyes of ducks. Someone told him that ducks had no feelings. He did not really believe what they said.
Snowman is unsure of when the bonfire happened, as it could have been October or November. The smell of burning flesh filled the air, similar to that of barbecue but much stronger. It also smelled like a gas station and burning hair. He knew what burning hair smelled like because he had once burned his own hair with his mother's cigarette lighter. His father found his burning of hair funny, citing Jimmy's intelligence at having cut the hair off his head before burning it. Jimmy's mother had not been amused. She was worried that he could have burned down the house. Jimmy's mother thought that, deep down, all children were arsonists.
Jimmy's parents fought over his use of the lighter. Once his parents had started arguing, he felt relieved. Attention had been drawn away from him and he would not be punished for his actions. He felt a bit guilty about giving them something about which to fight. His mother eventually left the room, slamming the door on the way out. Jimmy's father consoled him, telling him, "Women always get hot under the collar." His father provided some comfort in the form of a bowl of ice cream served in handmade bowls.
The next day Jimmy's father took him to a barbershop. The barber placed a black cape on Jimmy but he did not like it because he thought it looked too much like a baby's bib. The barber laughed at him. Jimmy's hair was cut short all around to mask the jaggedly short parts resulting from his experiment.
Returning to his memories of the bonfire, he remembers how he was worried about the animals around the bonfire. Jimmy's father explains to him that the animals are dead, meat with its skin still on. Jimmy was unconvinced because steaks did not have heads. He was convinced that the animals were eyeing him with reproach. Jimmy felt guilty because he did not try to save them. Although he felt bad, he had to admit to himself that he found the fire beautiful, like a Christmas tree. Jimmy's father has a short conversation with a man standing next to them. Jimmy does not understand what they mean by "this is where it ends up." Jimmy turns to his father and asks if he can have one of the cow horns. His father says no. Jimmy's father continues his conversation with the neighboring man. They discuss who caused the fire and how they could have broken past the tight security that was in place, paid for by people like Jimmy's dad.
The next day Jimmy asks his father why the animals were on fire. Jimmy's father responds by explaining that the animals had to be burned to prevent the spreading of disease. Jimmy asks what a disease is. His mother explains that a disease is like having a cough. Trying to understand the logic of the bonfire, Jimmy asks if he will be burned if he gets a cough. His father answers affirmatively. Jimmy becomes frightened because he had a cough the week before. He began to envision himself burning in the fire and cried. Jimmy's mother chastised Jimmy's father for being insensitive to Jimmy's young age. Jimmy's dad turns to Jimmy to assure him that it was only a joke. Through sniffles, Jimmy says that he did know it was a joke.
Jimmy's mother then tells Jimmy to leave his father alone because his father is busy with work. At hearing this mandate, Jimmy's father becomes exasperated. Jimmy's mother takes Jimmy outside for a walk. Wearing only her dressing gown and slippers, she tenderly takes Jimmy by the hand out into the chilly yard. In a quiet, strained voice, she explained to Jimmy that a disease was invisible because of its size. Diseases could be anywhere-- in the air, in water, or on the dirty fingers of a child. She tells Jimmy that this is why he should not stick his fingers in his mouth. Jimmy asks to go inside because he is cold. His mother ignores him and continues. She informs him that disease change a person, cell by cell. Jimmy interrupts her by stating that he could get a cough at that very moment and coughs. Discouraged by his lack of attention she stops talking. Jimmy feels disappointed in himself and tries to get his mother to continue her lesson. She desists and they go inside.
Jimmy's father, a genographer, worked for OrganInc Farms. He had been one of the most important contributors to the creation of the pigoon project. The pigoon project was started with the intention of providing human organs for transplantation. By using an animal that had several of each organ, the animal could be harvested several times. In addition, the pigoons had been programmed to regrow organs. The details of the project his father worked on were explained to Jimmy when he was "old enough."
Snowman looks back at these memories and wonders if he was ever old enough. He ponders what old enough even means. He decides that nobody would ever be old enough for anything that happened in the past. Snowman pushes these thoughts out of his head, along with the involuntary intrusion of wisdom from a long-ago read self-help book.
Pigoon organs were customizable to the genetic make-up of the individual seeking out the replacement organ. By drawing a few cells from the interested party, a pigoon-generated organ could be made, frozen, and then harvested when needed. OrganInc brochures explained all of the health benefits of the procedure. Included in the informational packets was an assurance that defunct pigoons were not made into food products. This was specified to help assuage the concerns of those who would be disgusted by the prospect of eating flesh genetically identical to their own. However, as time went on and the environment turned unsuitable for animal husbandry, people began to doubt these proclamations. Some noticed that bacon and pork products were frequently featured on the menu of the OrganInc Farms cafeteria. Jokes would be exchanged between employees about the various "pigoon" platters of the day.
Ramona, one of the lab technicians for Jimmy's father, always assured Jimmy that they were just making fun. Pigoon was not really being served. Ramona was much younger than Jimmy's father was. She smiled a lot and inquired about Jimmy's mom, Sharon. Jimmy's father admitted that his wife was not doing well. Ramona suggested that she see someone to get help. Jimmy's father admits that he has already suggested this to his wife but she was not interested in seeing anyone. Ramona and Jimmy's father stared at each other, trying to find the words to explain Sharon's current disposition. Eventually, they noticed Jimmy's attentiveness to their conversation, and they would change the subject.
Pigoons were larger than regular pigs. Kept separate from the rest of the compound, they were highly guarded. OrganInc Farms feared that a competitor would steal a pigoon in order to gain access to the genetic information used in the animal's formation. When Jimmy visited the pigoons, he had to wear a biosuit. He was rather fond of the baby pigoons but afraid of the adults. Jimmy wished that he could interact with the pigoons because he felt that they spent too much time lying stagnantly in the mud.
When Jimmy was very young, his family had lived in a Cape Cod-style house in a Module. Later, they moved to a Georgian house that had an indoor swimming pool and gym. The house was full of reproduction furniture. The house belonged to the OrganInc Farms compound, where the most important members of the company lived. Jimmy had never visited the city because of this isolation from the outside world. He had seen the outside world only on the television. People from the compound did not travel to the city unless they had to. If they were obliged to travel into the city, also called the pleeblands, they were always accompanied. The world outside of the compound walls was one filled with crime. Jimmy's mother constantly criticized the false-safety of compound life. She likened it to a theme park-- a mere fabrication of the real world. The CorpSeCorps men, the security of the compound, were always looking out for signs of trouble. Compounds, in many ways, were like old medieval castles. They protected those on the inside and kept the undesirables on the outside.
Jimmy's mother had also worked for OrganInc Farms at one point in her life. That is how his parents had met, while working on the same project. His mother had been a microbiologist. Her primary job was to study disease in pigoons. She would explain her job to Jimmy in terms that he could understand. Jimmy always thought that the pictures of the germs looked like candy. After she stopped working for the company, Jimmy would ask her why she still was not working to protect the pigoons. She would reply that she wanted to stay home with him. Jimmy worried about the health of the pigoons but his mother assured him that other people were watching out for their well fare. She had stopped working when Jimmy entered school full-time, sending away his full-time nanny Dolores. He missed Dolores because she made his favorite foods and called him Jim-Jim. Jimmy's mother explained that Dolores had to go because there was no need to have two mothers. Snowman disagrees.
Snowman can recall his mother's image. Sitting at a table in the bathrobe, she would hover over a cup of coffee in a magenta bathrobe. His lunch was never prepared for him so he had to follow his mother's verbal directions in order to feed himself. Jimmy did not understand why she was so distant. He thought she might be sick so one day he asked her if she was infected. Initially his mother said that she was not sick but then after a pause said that perhaps she was. Jimmy only wanted to make her laugh. His attempts at entertaining her only seemed to irritate her.
Every now and then, there would be a real lunch prepared for him at the table when he returned from school. If he were lucky, it would be an open-face peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the jelly in the shape of a happy face. His mother would be dressed nicely, with lipstick and neatly coiffed hair. Jimmy knew that he was supposed to act extra appreciative of her efforts. His words of praise and excitement elicited laughter from his mother. As he grew older, he would use these rare occasions as an opportunity to get a response out of his mother. Sometimes, he would ask for a pet. When his mother rejected each suggestion for an appropriate animal, he would ask for a baby sister. Sometimes his mother would run out of the room in tears. Other times she would yell at him. Jimmy would try to console her by patting her back and softly uttering, "I'm sorry." He did feel sorry, but he was also secretly proud that he had managed to create such a reaction. Jimmy often wondered if he had gone too far.
In the second chapter Snowman begins to tell the story of his younger self, a little boy named Jimmy. Recalling a large bonfire that he saw when he was five, Snowman remembers how he was told that animals did not have feelings. Snowman demonstrates how Jimmy was a sensitive, highly empathetic boy. This persona stands in sharp contrast to the man Snowman is today. Snowman’s recounting of the events of his childhood provide the reader a way to connect with some of the main themes of Oryx and Crake, namely those of the importance of names in the marking of shifting identities, disease, and the nature of nature.
Snowman’s childhood memories demonstrate the slow loss of innocence that he has progressively experienced throughout his life. Jimmy’s fear of being killed to prevent the spread of the disease provides an example of his level of innocence. It also marks the first time that he is introduced to the subject, one that ultimately permeates every aspect of his life.
An empathetic child, he was discouraged from being emotionally connected to animals by his father. Despite his father’s strictly scientific approach to animals, Jimmy feels a connection to them. When he goes to visit his father at work, he feels bad for the pigoons that have nothing to do other than grow replacement organs for humans. Jimmy’s discomfort with the way animals are treated in his world resonates with the theme of the nature of nature.
The introduction to OrganInc labs lays the groundwork for the environment in which Jimmy grew up. “Natural” animals have been genetically modified, a type of extreme domestication, to serve the biological needs of humankind. The tension regarding the pigoons’ status in society is felt when jokes are made about their flesh being used as meat during times of meat shortages. The mingling of animal and human genes in a single creature blurs the line of where exactly the pigoons lie in the hierarchy that exists between man and beast.
Snowman’s problematic relationship with his mother Sharon is also touched upon in this chapter. His mother seems largely displeased with day-to-day life in the compound. She has increasingly become more withdrawn with the passing of time. His mother’s stoic existence bothers Jimmy to the point where he feels like he needs to act out in order to get a reaction out of her. Jimmy’s problematic relationship with women is foreshadowed in his superficial and frustrating interactions with his mother.