Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1



The novel opens with Snowman waking just before dawn. Lying still, he listens to the sounds of the ocean. From his vantage point, he watches the sunrise in the distance. He looks at his broken watch out of habit. The lack of official time scares him as he notes that no one anywhere knows what the exact time is. Snowman calms himself down with a few deep breaths and scratches his bug-bitten legs. He scans the ground beneath him for animals and when he sees that all is clear he puts on his bed sheet as a toga, places his Red Sox cap on his head, and hops down.

After urinating in a nearby bush, he checks his rations: a bag of mangoes, a half-bottle of Scotch, a can of Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages, and a chocolate flavored energy bar. He opens the bag of mangoes and is surprised to see that only one remains as he remembered there being more. Ants crawl up his arms from out of the bag, biting him as they explore his arms. Snowman recites a few lines of incomplete bits from almost forgotten books. He searches his mind for the meaning of words that he used to know. After realizing that he cannot remember that which he has forgotten, he sits and eats his last mango.


Children are walking along the beach. Snowman worries that they might catch something from swimming in the lagoon. He watches them as they walk along and ponders his feelings. He is confused as toward whether he feels envy or nostalgia. He continues to suck on his mango under the tree, waiting for the children to approach him. With chants of "Snowman, oh Snowman," they approach him without getting too close. Snowman wonders if their distance is due to his offensive odor.

The children open up a sack full of trinkets and ask Snowman to tell them what they are. The empty containers, hubcap, piano key, and other items almost bring Snowman to tears. He cannot find the words to explain to them what these objects represent. He simply tells them that the objects are from "before." The children ask Snowman if the objects are dangerous. He confirms that the items are innocuous. Snowman knows that their visit is simply an excuse for them to gawk at him because his form is disparate from theirs.

The children begin to sing Snowman's name. Snowman reflects on Crake's rules for naming. Nothing could be named after an object that did not exist. Unicorns, griffins, and basilisks did not exist in this new world. The Abominable Snowman does not exist either. Nevertheless, he does, as this is what Snowman has named himself after. The children eventually squat down in a half-circle. Snowman admires their attractiveness, their spectrum of skin colors, and their green eyes. The children look at Snowman hoping that he will tell them a story.

Eventually, they inquire about his facial hair. Snowman tells them that his facial hair, which the children call moss, is feathers. Snowman tries to remember his invented mythology that explains his feathered face. One of the children asks if he can have feathers as well. Exasperated, Snowman pretends to ask Crake by holding up his broken watch to his ear. He proclaims that Crake says they cannot have feathers and then shoos the children away with a flap of his sheet. The children, unsure of whether or not they should be afraid of him, scatter away.


After the children leave, Snowman proclaims to no one that he is alone. He wishes that he could hear another human voice-- a voice like his. Sometimes, Snowman cries out like an animal. Other times, he cries out as if he thinks he remembers an animal sounds. He recalls watching TV programs on wild animals. Sometimes Snowman throws rocks at the ocean while screaming obscenities as a form of catharsis.

As he stands up his sheet falls to the ground and he stares at his body. The numerous bug bites, graying hair, and yellow toenails make him reflect on all of the things that happen to people without their knowledge-- birth and death are two of these things. Snowman remembers how he used to take care of his body. He hears a female voice in his ear. It is not the voice of Oryx but the voice of another woman. He begs Oryx to speak to him, but she does not. Instead, the voice of the unknown woman returns-- complementing him on his body. Snowman attributes these as echoes. He believes that soon he will begin to hallucinate creatures or old girlfriends descending upon him. He looks around through his one-eyed sunglasses. There is no one around. He yells "Crake! Asshole! Shit-for-brains!" and listens. He begins to panic as he screams at the ocean. There is no answer. Snowman wipes tears, snot, and dirt off his face and tells himself to get a life.


In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to a trouble protagonist who goes by the name Snowman. Living in a place seemingly deserted of contact with other humans, Snowman does his best to survive both physically and mentally. Having created a makeshift abode on the beach, he describes his living environment and diet. The reality of his living conditions is expressed through the raw descriptions of his surroundings.

The somber mood stems from the sadness that is inherent in Snowman's isolation. His few interactions with the Craker children only further his desperation for dialogue with his own kind, as they are largely unfamiliar with the world from which Snowman comes.

It is clear from Snowman's interactions with the children that he wishes to protect them from the harsh reality of a life with which they are unfamiliar. As they pick up scattered objects from the beach and present them to him, he is faced with the task of reinventing the past. Through rose-colored glasses, he presents an imaginary world--one that satisfies the budding curiosity of the children.

In the process of fabricating the past for the children, Snowman realizes that he himself has become a part of his invented myth. The name he has chosen for himself, Abominable Snowman, speaks both to his self-disgust and fleeting sense of existence. In some ways, his nickname has become a metonym, a constant reminder of his physical and social state.

The first chapter also demonstrates that Snowman is experiencing something of an existential crisis due to his constant search for meaning. By gazing at his worn, bug-bitten body, Snowman becomes hyper-aware of the profound changes that have taken place. In particular, he realizes how many of these changes have taken place without his conscious knowing, similar to birth and death. He hallucinates voices of past girlfriends, perhaps subconsciously to ease his loneliness. In the end, it only makes Snowman pity himself more.