Pick Your Ending: Understanding Atwood’s Ending to Oryx and Crake

        Jimmy (Snowman) has a decision to make.  He had suspected that he might be the only human still alive on earth after Crake unleashed the apocalyptic virus.  Jimmy had doubted the existence of other humans, but it was utterly unthinkable for another human to have arrived in his little corner of the world.


       At the end of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Snowman stands behind the last covered position in the woods, contemplating how to handle the two human men and one human woman that had unexpectedly entered his territory.  The intruders had just met the Children of Crake.  They were probably scared and confused by the group of man-looking creatures with glowing eyes and blue penises.  They, like Snowman, had probably been fighting to stay alive in the post-apocalypse wasteland.  The Children of Crake, strong and immune, were a threat to the ignorant humans confronting Snowman beyond the trees.  They had a gun and had just fled from the Children of Crake, after a disturbing sexual advance on the woman in their group.


      Snowman had been entrusted with the care of the Crakers.  Whether he liked it or not they were his companions on this world ever since the virus had been unleashed.   He had a great deal to gain and loose in the interaction with the intruders.  They could kill him and the The Children of Crake, ending his life and possibly the future of a peaceful species suited for the destroyed earth.  Or they could embrace him, mend his foot, and possibly repopulate the world with humans.

         Atwood builds the novel’s entire ending around Snowman’s decision, and then leaves the reader with an enigma.  The novel ends with Snowman contemplating:


            “What do you want me to do?” he whispers into the empty air.

It’s hard to know.

Oh Jimmy, you were so funny.

Don’t let me down.

From habit he lifts his watch; it shows him its blank face.

Zero hour, Snowman thinks. Time to go.


Atwood surely had an ending in mind.  What and who is Snowman remembering when thinks to himself?  In class it was suggested that Jimmy was remembering a note from an old girlfriend and something his mother told him as she died.  How do we make sense of this?

Snowman is worried about the Children of Crake and his future.  I believe that he is thinking about what the women in his life would have wanted.   He whispers into the air for their advice, as if they were actually looking over him from above.  I don’t know exactly what Snowman decides, but we can better understand Atwood’s ending if we understand what he was thinking as the novel ends. 

Here’s the evidence: 

 Oh Jimmy you were so funny.

On page 291 of the novel, Jimmy remembers one of his various lovers ending an email to him with, “Oh Jimmy, you were so funny.”   This is exactly what Atwood writes Snowman is thinking at the end of the novel.  Jimmy thinks about what his girlfriend wrote. Were?   He is disturbed that his lover described his being funny in the past tense, as if he were already dead.


Without telling Jimmy, Crake had taken it upon himself to contact his past lovers and tell them that he was moving on to better things at RejoovenEsense.  Crake wanted to make sure that Jimmy had no reservations and could commit his entire life to his project (The Children of Crake).   

Jimmy certainly didn’t like that his lover’s describing him as if he were a thing of the past or that Crake was trying to control his life.


Did Snowman think of his lover’s comment at the end in resentment of Crake’s need to control him and severe his ties with the past.  Was he looking to rebel against what Crake would have wanted and prove that he was still relevant?


Don’t let me down.


Here Snowman is thinking of his mother.  Jimmy was forced to watch his mother’s execution on video.  Before the firing squad begin to shoot, Jimmy’s mother says into the camera, “Goodbye.  Remember.  I love you Killer.  Don’t let me down” (258).   Jimmy’s mother had taken his pet rakunk Killer as she ran away when he was a boy.  She wanted to liberate the animal like she wanted to liberate humanity.  Jimmy’s mother thought that genetic manipulations were immoral and died trying to fight against it.


Snowman remembers his mother last words to him right as the novel ends.  Maybe Atwood wants to represent Snowman finally siding with his mother.  Who is Snowman trying to liberate?   His mother would have probably wanted him to protect humanity.


What do you think Snowman decided?


-Alec Petersen


~ by anonymous on April 2, 2008.

6 Responses to “Pick Your Ending: Understanding Atwood’s Ending to Oryx and Crake”

  1. When I finished the novel, my immediate thoughts were that Snowman killed the human intruders. I reflected on these passages in the same way and with similar understanding. Jimmy looks to some of the most important people to him at this critical point in his life, but the last two lines are the most telling to my interpretation. Jimmy lifts his watch to his face, which throughout the novel symbolized his communication with Crake. Afterwards, my opinion is that he killed the other homo sapiens to protect the Children of Crake.

  2. Very useful post.

  3. I bookmarked this post right after reading the novel, but got down to actually reading it now, so my memory may not be that fresh :)

    A while before the ending I also thought that Jimmy would kill the humans and stay with the crakers. But the last sentence sounded to me pretty literal, like “time to go with these people, the Crakers can now take care of themselves”.

    For me the ending was way too open, but maybe you are right, and it was the writer’s intention for it to be so.

  4. I read Oryx and Crake nearly a decade ago, and my interpretation has always been that he simply shot himself. His foot is likely so infected, that the only way of it not killing him would be to cut it off, which would probably be worse than simply shooting himself; remember that he states that he’s like a horse. He needs to be mobile, to be able to walk, or he’s dog food.

    Of course, Year of the Flood made a specific ending, but I simply didn’t think much of it, so decided to ignore its version of events.

  5. I believe that he actually killed himself. Following Crakes orders would make him in a position which he played “God” kinda like Crake did. The most logical expaination for me is that he watched the time at 00:00, he was sick with fever knowing that he would die soon.. and he couldn’t bring himself to actually carry out the task. Suicide is the most logical explaination.

  6. […] https://geneticsandliterature.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/pick-your-ending-understanding-atwoods-ending… […]

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