CN: Spoilers for Oryx and Crake, Mentions of abuse and infertility,
Sometimes when I’ve read a book multiple times, enough to know it really well, and I need something to read for a short period of time, I will pick up a book and read it at random spots. For a while now, Oryx and Crake has been in the bathroom, and every once in a while, I’ve picked it up and read certain parts.
While doing so lately, something has been jumping out at me and I have a new suspicion about something that I think is going on in the background of the story.
I believe that Jimmy’s mom suffered some sort of illness that resulted in her becoming infertile after she gave birth to Jimmy.
It’s always been obvious to me that Jimmy’s parents were abusive towards him. For a long time I figured it has to do with two highly academic people being disappointed when their child doesn’t show the same aptitude or interest in their areas. The disappointment when their child is more of an artist than an academic, for all that he never finds the creative outlet he needs to fulfil his artistic potential. They resent him for failing to live up to their expectations of him. The resentment exists for sure, but I believe that the impetus for this resentment is not really Jimmy’s abilities themselves, but rather the weight of being forced to carry all of their expectations at once since he is both parents only chance at progeny.
Jimmy’s description of his mother makes it clear that she is struggling with depression. The fact that he comes home from school to find her frequently in her bathrobe. The mood-swings and the attempts to make it seem like everything is ok that even to a child feels transparent and staged.
I’ve wondered for a long time what lead to her depression. How was it tied to what was happening at her work? How was it related to her quitting and ending up hating the compounds enough to risk her life by protesting what the corporations are doing? How did it relate to the information she destroyed on her computer.
In the background of everything there is this incidental story about procreation. Ultimately what leads to the events of the story was funded by the two big things surrounding contraception – preventing it and controlling it. The BlyssePlus pill is a universal contraceptive in addition to being a sexual enhancer. The Crakers are prototypes for people who want to engineer the perfect baby. Jimmy’s father tells him about his and his new wife’s attempts at having a new baby, something that appears to be a near obsession for both of them as they go shopping for fertility aids.
Jimmy, in his recollections of himself as a child mentions trying to get a reaction out of his mother by mentioning acquiring a cat or other pet. He continues to pester her until he brings up the potential for having a brother or a sister which causes his mother to run out of the room in tears.
It was reading this scene that made me think that Jimmy’s mother was struggling with infertility. I recognized those tears. I see them on my own face whenever the prospect of my own reproductive potential comes to mind. When I sing a lullaby and realize I may never get the chance to sing one to my own child. Whenever something makes me think about the fact that because of everything that is going on with my body, I might never get to experience pregnancy and birth. When I think about the fact that if nothing changes about our financial circumstances, I might not get to adopt a child. I might never get to be a mother at all.
Here is what I think happened:
Jimmy’s mother, Sharon, came down with an illness, one of the side effects of which was that she lost her fertility. Perhaps she even experienced a miscarriage. This sent her into a spiral of depression and possible resentment at the corporations for not figuring out a solution fast enough to prevent it from happening.
In her anger, she fixates on blaming the corporations. Perhaps she thinks that they were somehow negligent. That it was through some fault of theirs, that she became sick. Maybe she was exposed at work while working with microbes. Maybe she thinks that they were somehow lax in the security allowing a bioform to get through.
She might have stopped thinking that way, but during her time at home she discovers information about corporations creating new diseases in order to make money. Perhaps she is even told this by Crake whom she respects as being “intellectually honest”. After all, Jimmy wonders when she would have had the chance to discover that.
In the meantime there is his dad. A rising star within the compounds. He gets headhunted by another company who makes him a Vice something. On the outside he is a man who should be happy. He is moving up in his job, he is married, has a son. But his wife is depressed and increasingly cynical, making being home with her a chore, and his son is nothing outstanding.
He can’t leave his wife because that would make him the monster who left his wife who was grieving after losing a child, or losing the ability to have any more children. Jimmy seems like the only child he will ever have because of this illness his wife has or had, but he is failing to live up to the expectations of a man who sees himself as an achiever. Perhaps he even blames Jimmy for his wife’s depression, believing that if he had been just a little more exceptional, maybe his mother wouldn’t be so devastated by the loss of her ability to have more children. If only Jimmy was good enough then he could be “enough” and maybe it would be ok for him to leave.
Jimmy struggles with the anxiety and depression that comes from psychological abuse at the hands of his parents. He doesn’t know about what is going on with his parents. He doesn’t know about what happened to his mother. He knows that he is a disappointment to his parents. He doesn’t know why his mother left, he doesn’t know why she is so angry at the corporations that she is willing to leave him behind. He thinks it’s because he wasn’t good enough. He perpetuates this idea of himself as a failure in his relationships, taking on the mantel of martyrdom claiming that he is too damaged and would only drag them down. He preys on their emotional labour by feeding on their sympathy and pity and desire to “fix him” but leaves as soon as he knows that his pity routine is about to grow old and he has to see the disappointment and disgust in their faces when he once again fails to be enough.
Only Oryx refuses to let him see her as something that needs to be fixed and only she doesn’t immediately give in to his emotional blackmail of trying to use his mother to get sympathy. Only Oryx points out that she might have had a good reason for leaving. Jimmy’s love of Oryx may well been motivated by two reasons: meeting someone whose childhood was so demonstratively worse than his and who had somehow moved past it, and the fact that she forced him to face the possibility that his mother’s defection had nothing to do with him. A child not being the smartest in the class is not a reason to face eventual execution.