Crake: creator of the Crakers; top of his high school class; genius scientist; the mastermind behind the BlyssPluss Pill; and exterminator of humanity. Now, as readers, we all know the who, what, where, when, and how of this awful—yet brilliantly crafted—crime in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. However, the key piece of information that has been left out, and has had readers conspiring since its release, is why. Why did Crake make the BlyssPluss Pill? Why did he hire all those scientists? And most importantly, why did he try to wipe out the human race? All who have read the thrilling tale of Crake and his master plan have come to their conclusions as to what they believe is the motive behind his desire to restart the planet, the most common and obvious being: Crake is a psychopath. Plain and simple. From his childhood to his final moments, Crake displays all possible traits and characteristics of what a psychotic murderer would possess. But what if it’s not that simple? What if there are small details hidden within the context of the story that reveals a new side of Crake and his reasoning for the mass extinction of the human race? Ultimately, Crake does show obvious signs of being a psychopath, with his motivation being his psychotic desires to cause pain; however, Crake also has the potential of being an avenger with a plan to harm the people who killed his father.
So what are psychopaths? Criminologist Xanthe Mallett’s article “The Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath,” defines them as people with “a lack of remorse or empathy for others, a lack of guilt or ability to take responsibility for their actions, a disregard for laws or social conventions, and an inclination to violence” (Mallett). Owning these characteristics is the causation of little to no neuron activity in the brain’s amygdala (the emotion center) and prefrontal cortex (the regulator of emotions and judgment), while its limbic system (reward center) is hypersensitive. Dr. Mike Koenigs, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, performed MRI scans on the brains of regular people and compared them to those of psychopaths in prisons. Doc Zone, a Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) documentary series, aired an episode entitled “The Psychopath Next Door,” in which Koenigs shares his discoveries on. He explains how some brains are “hypersensitive to rewards [and some] brains that seem to be under sensitive to the suffering of others,” which creates the basic “picture of psychopathy” (“The Psychopath Next Door”). The key trait to remember is this: “Psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made” (Mallett).
Professor Robert Hare of the University of British Columbia invented what is known today as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: a “diagnostic checklist [that] measures 20 key personality characteristics which reveal psychopathic traits,” each psychopath receiving a rank between 1-40 for each trait and averaged out (“The Psychopath Next Door”). The top five traits that are ranked are: egocentric; lack of remorse, empathy, or guilt; deceitfulness; glib; and shallowness. Crake exhibits four out of the five characteristics at some point in the novel, his lack of empathy or emotion being his most repetitive feature. In his early years, Crake develops a fascination for the dark web and all its contents—live executions, child porn, assisted suicides, and various other things—all while sporting either a demented smile or no reaction at all. As he gets older, Crake has no interest in dating or sex like Jimmy does and brushes questions like “you got a girlfriend?” aside (Atwood 207). His mother’s death also sparks suspicion when his initial response to her death is not to be sad or angry like a normal person, but to say how the whole event was “impressive” (Atwood 177).
Glibness, conceitedness, and deceitfulness all go hand in hand when it comes to Crake; using the ability to “smooth talk” his way to manipulating people to do this dirty work. As Crake explains how he conducts his master plan to Jimmy, he—evidently—leaves out the whole ‘wiping out the human race’ part and tells Jimmy with upmost confidence how the BlyssPluss Pill will be a “huge money spinner. It would be the must have pill, in every country, in every society of the world” (Atwood 295). In addition to the confidence of his plan, he uses Oryx as a tool by promoting her to “‘a more official position…[with] triple the pay she’d been getting” to go around and sell the pills as she had done as a child (Atwood 310). What’s most diabolical is that by controlling Oryx, Crake also controls Jimmy. Jimmy has been in love with Oryx since he first watched her on the child porn site, HottTotts, with Crake, and with this information, Crake uses it to his advantage. Psychopaths have various methods to play with the emotions of their victims, from sex to money to power. In Oryx and Jimmy’s case, sex is Crake’s main weapon. From basic evidence, Crake is what is known as a “Puppet Master” Psychopath; “an individual who has the wide repertoire of psychopathic traits…[and gets] other people to do their dirty work” (“The Psychopath Next Door”). Oryx and Crake’s sexual relationship is boring, to say the least; “direct and simple, according to Oryx” (Atwood 314). Yet, Oryx and Jimmy are both borderline sex addicts, so naturally, they are pulled to each other to satisfy their sexual needs, and wordlessly convincing the other to stay under Crake’s employment to continue to do so. Also using his egocentric nature, Crake angers Jimmy with the comment, “if I’m not around, Oryx won’t be either,” making Jimmy feel guilty and angry in a sense knowing Crake also sleeps with the woman he loves, yet feeling powerless knowing that if he wants to be with Oryx, he’ll have to stay within Crake’s Paradise facility (Atwood 321).
Though Crake manifests common symptoms and traits of a psychotic mind, he also has the potential motive of avenging his father’s mysterious death. However, according to English Professor Shuli Barzilai, Crake doesn’t believe it to be so mysterious. Her literary journal, ‘“Tell My Story’: Remembrance and Revenge in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” Crake “knows that neither suicide nor accident was the cause,” but rather a corporate group of people: his father’s company (Barzilai 100). Once Jimmy and Crake spot Jimmy’s mother— who had disappeared when Jimmy was younger—on T.V with a group of protestors, Crake tells him, ‘“my dad was the same…he bugged off too’” (Atwood 182). A peculiar pattern appears between the two missing parents: they both work for a company, start acting strange, run away, and then are tracked down and killed. Jimmy’s mother had been executed on a live stream while Crake’s father “went off a pleebland overpass,” though whether he jumped or was pushed remains unclear (Atwood 182). Either way, Crake doesn’t talk about it much with Jimmy.
Because Jimmy knows so little about Crake’s father and how he died, he is considered an ‘unreliable narrator’; on top of that, his memory is unstable since Crake released the disease to kill humanity. Barzilai mentions how Jimmy concludes that “Crake didn’t seem too worked up about” his father’s death, the focal point of this statement being the word, “seem” (Atwood 182). “Seem” is a word used to suggest something with caution in case the prime inference is wrong—it is not a permanent deduction. Keeping this in mind, it is clear Jimmy assumes how Crake feels without truly understanding what is going through his mind. Meanwhile, saddened by the sudden loss of his father, with the knowledge of who murdered him, Crake could have been planning his revenge all along.
The planning process of revenge is similar to that of a psychopath. With a conscious mind, psychopaths “will plan their crimes down to the smallest detail, taking calculated risks to avoid detection,” which may lead to life-long preparation (Mallett). As for a revenge-seeker, the same applies. The idea of revenge when another mistreats us is known to be psychologically pleasing, as the University of Waterloo Professor, Karina Schumann, and real-life serial killer turned author, Michael Ross, confer in their shared journal: “The Benefits, Costs, and Paradox of Revenge.” After experiencing “penalizing wrongdoing,” the victim of such an act can develop stress and anxiety, which “revenge may enable [them] to reduce…by restoring equity with the transgressor” (Schumann and Ross, 99). Eric Jaffe, author of “The Complicated Psychology of Revenge,” informs us that when revenge becomes an option to ensure, “the decision [causes] a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards” (Jaffe). It is not until this desire for revenge is sated that the neural activity will dissipate. "It’s a natural urge"—Dr. Kevin Carlsmith of Colgate University tells the American Psychological Association’s Michael Price—that is “to keep societies working smoothly…You're willing to sacrifice your well-being in order to punish someone who misbehaved” (Price).
Revenge can be categorized as either: violent or socially harmful. Social harm intends to defame a person or their position by, for example, framing them for a crime. Remembering the theory that a corporate business killed Crake’s father, we can piece together why Crake decides to release the pill from a corporate company: to make the lone survivors hate them. Crake purposely programs the pill to kill people in a sequence—with certain countries dying before others. The remaining few will know where the pill came from and blame them for causing the disease.
With this concept kept in our back pocket, we can now pick up on all the cases where Crake shows the one thing psychopaths are not supposed to have: emotions. The key detail about psychopaths that is very clear is that they don’t have an emotional attachment to anyone or anything, yet Crake does. As he remembers his father, Crake “[smiles] in an odd way” when he remembers his lack of coordination, a memory and a fact that shouldn’t cause such a reaction (Atwood 182). On top of that, when Jimmy does ask about Crake’s love life, he gets a sense that “Crake might be jealous” of the fact that he is unable to get as much action as Jimmy is (Atwood 207). Finally, Crake checks on Jimmy after he finds out his mother was executed, saying he wanted to ‘“see if [Jimmy was] alright”’ (Atwood 287). After such a traumatic experience, a psychopath would have been thriving off of Jimmy’s pain, not asking him how he was feeling.
With Crake’s tendency to display both sets of characteristics, it is clear that he fits the bill of both a psychotic murder and a vengeful son. His backward and forward attitude on certain concepts makes it difficult to fully close the case on what the deadly motive for this homicide was. At first glance, it is normal to presume him to be a psychopath or some form of it. For me, I considered him a misunderstood villain; someone who believes he is doing good by doing something wrong, a mindset a large range of psychopaths have. But after careful consideration and research, it is clear that is not the whole story; there is more to Crake than meets to eye. It goes to show how quick we are to point fingers and judge a person without taking the time to sit down and fully understand what is going on in their head. Even psychopaths, though we rather not deal with them, are human beings with a mental disease. Once further research is conducted, we can eventually cure the psychotic sickness that infects their minds and causes them to act the way they do and the reason why they do.
Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam Trilogy. Oryx and Crake: a Novel. Anchor Books, 2004.
Barzilai, Shuli. “Tell My Story”: Remembrance and Revenge in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Shakespeare’s
Hamlet, vol. 50, no. 1, 2008, pp. 87–127.
Jaffe, Eric. “The Complicated Psychology of Revenge.” Association for Psychological Science - APS, 4 Oct.
Price, Michael. Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, June 2009,
Mallett, Xanthe. “How to Tell the Difference between a Psychopath and a Sociopath.” The Independent,
Independent Digital News and Media, 1 May 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health
“The Psychopath Next Door.” Banjavich, Geoff, director. Doc Zone, Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Schumann, Karina, and Michael Ross. “The Benefits, Costs, and Paradox of Revenge.” Social and Personality
Psychology Compass, vol. 4, no. 12, 2010, pp. 1193–1205., doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00322.x.
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A Journal of the Arts
The Murderous Motives within
Oryx and Crake
By: Sophie Moore