“Egg Full of Words”: Language & Power in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

Barbara Leigh Byrd

Abstract


Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction novel Oryx and Crake, published in 2003, examines complex issues of environmentalism, genetic engineering, social inequality, gender and violence through a near-future, post-apocalyptic narrative. Oryx and Crake is often read through the lens of these themes, but a more nuanced reading considers the role of language and communication in the novel. Specifically, the novel addresses both the power and impotence of words in their capacity to enlighten as well as to deceive. Although the novel is a work of speculative fiction, the world Atwood creates is firmly grounded in many cultural and scientific developments found in current society. Against this dystopic backdrop, Atwood presents a culture in which science is unfettered and the arts and humanities are ignored. By critiquing elements of modern life, Oryx and Crake can be regarded as a cautionary tale against a possible bleak future. Through alternating flashbacks between the past and the post-apocalyptic world, the novel follows the story of Jimmy, also called Snowman, as he tries to survive and protect a genetically engineered race of humans called Crakers. Before the apocalyptic events portrayed, Snowman is a wordsmith, charged with finding ways to communicate in order to sell products, but later uses this same skill in order to maintain order and sanity. Atwood portrays a world in which language is twisted to suit the interests of those in power as well as the dissolution of language in the absence of others to communicate with. Despite these binary aspects, she emphasizes the importance of language and communication as an intrinsic part of the human experience and a means to avoid the dystopic future represented in the novel. This work suggests that the trivialization of words precedes the insignificance of humanity.


Keywords


Language, Power, Dystopia, Semiotics

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