Frankenstein's Gaze in Atwood's Oryx and Crake
Sharon Rose Wilson.
As early as the rare book, Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein (1966) and her untitled watercolors published as Frankenstein I and II (1970) (Plates 6 and 7, Wilson), Margaret Atwood has been concerned with creation parables like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Wilson 48). In her most recent and alarming novel, Oryx and Crake (2003), most readers overlook the extent to which the Frankenstein gaze contributes to the body politics and human folly depicted in this book. As most noticeably in Life Before Man, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride, and The Blind Assassin, male as well as female bodies, and even the newly gendered bodies of this Frankenstein’s created species, are in jeopardy.
In their childhood and adolescence, Jimmy and Crake spend much of their time on pornographic websites, including Hot Totts, Tart of the Day, Superswallowers, and Noodie News, that commodify women’s and sometimes men’s bodies. Significantly, we first see Oryx, the beautiful woman who captures Jimmy’s heart, in the same voyeuristic way that Jimmy and Crake do, as the object of a scopophiliac gaze on a kiddie porn show.
Although Oryx and Crake is characteristically unresolved, unlike Atwood’s other fiction, this novel seems to offer no rebirth for either male or female bodies, this time literally dismembered and eaten. One of the profoundly ironic possible endings we are offered is a wild-west shoot-out in which the created beings are unlikely to survive precisely because they are innocent of violence. As in Bodily Harm, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Robber Bride, body politics is not only a metaphor of global disaster, but one of its major causes. Still, this novel that awakens us from our blindness and warns us about our Dr. Frankensteins leaves us in a double bind: continuing on our current path insures extinction, but attempting to eradicate aggression could insure the same thing.
Sharon Rose Wilson (United States)
Professor of English and Women's Studies
University of Northern Colorado
Sharon R. Wilson has published articles, on Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Samuel Beckett, E.R. Eddison, the film Citizen Kane, and a book: Margaret Atwood's Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics (Jackson and Toronto: U Press of Mississippi and ECW, 1993). She was Founding Co-President, with Arnold Davidson, of the Margaret Atwood Society in 1983. She edited Margaret Atwood’s Textual Assassinations (Columbus: Ohio SUP, 2003) and, with Thomas B. Friedman and Shannon Hengen, she co-edited Approaches to Teaching Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Other Works (NY: MLA, 1996). She is currently working on Contemporary Women's Metafiction.
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)