This content is from Wikipedia. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it. GradeSaver also offers a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors.
The novel begins after the collapse of civilization by an event that is not immediately identified. The protagonist is Snowman, who is a post-apocalyptic hermit character. He resides near a group of what he refers to as Crakers—strange human-like creatures. They bring Snowman food and consult him on matters that surpass their understanding. In addition, strange hybrid beasts such as wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks roam freely. As the story develops, these assorted lifeforms are revealed to be the products of genetic engineering.
In flashbacks, we learn that Snowman was once a young boy named Jimmy, who grew up in the near, yet undefined past. His world was dominated by multinational corporations which kept their employees' families in privileged compounds separated from a global lower moiety of pleeblands. Shortly after Jimmy's family moved to the HelthWyzer corporate compound (where his father worked as a genographer) Jimmy met and befriended Glenn (referred to throughout the novel as Crake), a brilliant science student.
Jimmy and Crake spend a lot of their leisure time playing online computer games such as Kwiktime Osama (a reference to Osama bin Laden) and Blood and Roses, smoking "skunkweed", or watching live executions, Noodie News, frog squashing, graphic surgery and child pornography.
One of Crake's favourite pastimes is an online game called Extinctathon, a trivia game which requires immense knowledge of extinct animal and plant species. Using the codenames "Thickney" (Jimmy) and "Crake" (Glenn), they both play as teenagers. It is not until they are both in university that Jimmy discovers that Crake has advanced through the game to become a Grandmaster of Extinctathon.
On another trip through the dark underbelly of the Web, they come across an Asian child pornography website, where Jimmy is struck and haunted by the eyes of a young girl.
The two male characters pursue different educational paths: Crake attends the highly respected Watson-Crick Institute where he studies advanced bioengineering, but Jimmy ends up at the loathed Martha Graham Academy, where students study literature and the humanities, which are not valued fields of study except for their commercial and/or propaganda applications. After finishing school, Jimmy ends up writing ad copy, while Crake becomes a bioengineer.
Crake uses his prominent position at the biotechnology corporation to launch a project to create the Crakers. His goal is to create a peaceful society where people will live harmoniously with each other and nature. These genetically engineered humans are leaf and grass-eating herbivores who only have sexual intercourse during limited breeding seasons when they are polyandrous.
Crake eventually finds the girl from the child pornography website (or a woman who could be her) and hires her, as both a prostitute for himself, and a teacher for the Crakers.
She takes the pseudonym Oryx, derived from the entry for Oryx beisa in Extinctathon. Jimmy identifies the haunting memory of the young girl with Oryx, though it is never made clear whether the two are the same person. Oryx eventually becomes intimately involved in the lives of Jimmy and Crake, and both fall in love with her. Oryx, however, views their relationship as strictly professional and only admires Crake as a scientist and "great man". For fun and affection she turns to Jimmy, though her feelings for him are not as clear. The two hide their relationship from Crake, and Jimmy is often plagued with the thought of Crake finding out about his betrayal.
At the same time, Crake creates a virulent genetic pandemic disguised as a prophylactic agent that, apparently, killed off most humans except for Jimmy. Jimmy was unknowingly vaccinated by Crake with the intention of acting as a guardian for the Crakers. Crake's rationale is that he is heroically saving intelligent life from an inevitably dying society. In the story's climax, Crake's perfected "hot bioform", present in one of his company's products, is activated and spreads throughout the world. During the chaos, Crake presents himself to Jimmy, then kills Oryx by slitting her throat. Jimmy shoots Crake, resulting in his being left to obsess over his vanished world and unanswered questions.
Jimmy contemplates abandoning the Crakers but is constantly haunted by the voice of Oryx, and reminded of his promise to her to watch over them. Snowman instills the Crakers with his own invented religion revolving around Crake and Oryx. Oryx becomes the guardian of the animals and Crake the creator god.
During Snowman's journey to scavenge supplies, he is uncomfortable wearing shoes now that his feet have become toughened without them. He cuts his foot on a tiny sliver of glass. Infected by some descendant of transgenic experiments, his body cannot fight back, and his foot becomes inflamed.
Returning to the Crakers, he learns that three ragged true humans have camped nearby. He follows the smoke from the fire and watches as they cook a rakunk. Uncertain of how he should approach them (Blast them to bits to protect the Crakers? Approach with open arms?) he checks his now not-working watch and thinks, "Time to go," leaving the reader to speculate as to what his actions and future will be.
- Plot summary
- Main characters
- Beginnings of Oryx and Crake
- Allusions/references to other works
- Allusions/references to popular culture
- Critical reception
- Cultural References