Towards 'Feminist Mothering: Oppositional Maternal Practice in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake

By Banerjee, Suparna | Journal of International Women's Studies, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Towards 'Feminist Mothering: Oppositional Maternal Practice in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake


Banerjee, Suparna, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

In the present article I focus on Margaret Atwood's presentation in Oryx and Crake (2003) of the patriarchal construct of motherhood, paying attention also to the way this theme here is linked up with the question of the woman's/mother's agency in personal life and in society. My exploration of this theme would bring out Atwood's critique of what has been identified as the patriarchal 'institution' of motherhood and her presentation of an instance of 'mothering' that both underlines the lacunae in the sexist ideology of motherhood and gestures toward an alternative.2 This alternative discourse of childrearing presents a counternarrative that both critiques and disrupts the patriarchal masternarrative of motherhood and indicates the potentiality of a gynocentric mothering that gives cognizance to the mother's needs as an individual and to the socio-political implication of motherwork.

Key Words: Motherwork, gynocentric, Margaret Atwood, feminist mothering

Introduction

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003) is a dystopic projection of sociocultural proclivities that mark life in much of today's connected world. Technoscientific trends like genetic engineering, specifically eugenics, the neo-imperialism of big capital, and the ethos of a materialistic-consumerist culture define a world that meets its end in a bio-engineered apocalypse. Although gender dynamics is apparently not one of Atwood's major concerns here the narrator does evince considerable incidental engagement with gender-issues, especially with prescriptive and deterministic male/societal attitudes toward women and with social construction of gender and motherhood.

Set in the backdrop of a near future that resembles contemporary USA, Oryx and Crake subtly but unmistakably critiques the fundamentalist, anti-feminist new-Right 'Motherhood religion' that has oppressed American women since the 1980s. l In the present article I focus on Atwood's presentation in this novel of the patriarchal construct of motherhood, paying attention also to the way this theme here is linked up with the question of the woman's/mother's agency in personal life and in society. My exploration of this theme would bring out Atwood's critique of what has been identified as the patriarchal 'institution' of motherhood and her presentation of an instance of 'mothering' that both underlines the lacunae in the sexist ideology of motherhood and gestures toward an alternative. (2)

To give a sense of the context, Jimmy is the protagonist, with whose childhood the novel begins. Jimmy's world--situated in the USA of the middle of the twenty-first century--is a dystopic one controlled in a totalitarian manner by giant biotechnology corporations that promote extreme materialism and consumerism on the one hand and contribute to rampant environmental degradation and exploitation of the poor on the other. The other main characters are Crake, Jimmy's super-intelligent childhood friend who grows up to be the chief bio-engineer at the leading biotech company called, 'RejoovEnesens', and Oryx, the child porn-star both friends come to love. Unable to put up with the ethically ambiguous work that her husband does at a biotech firm ('OrganInk') and frustrated with the artificiality and lack of liberty of her life in the gated 'Compound', Sharon, Jimmy's mother, leaves home when Jimmy is still a child. She, reportedly, tries to build subterranean resistance to the global biotechnology regime but is ultimately tracked down and killed by the 'CorpSeCorps, the ruthless police force maintained by the corporate empire. Another such figure is Crake's father, who, we hear, was killed in a fake accident because he protested against the regime's wrongdoings.

This world, wherein Jimmy grows up to young manhood, ends in a virus-caused apocalypse induced by the super-scientist Crake, the friend for whose high-profile, high-secret laboratory Jimmy for a time works along with Oryx. …

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