Theme in Mendel’s Dwarf and Oryx and Crake
At its most basic level, Mendel’s Dwarf is thematically identical to Oryx and Crake. Both novels portray human (or more accurately, masculine) desire as a destructive force that, far from being an evolutionary advantage, is something capable of generating a “worst case possible” scenario—one where reproduction does not occur, and genetic continuity is severed.
Oryx and Crake is particularly thematically set against the idea of human desire as an agent of positive change. The two main male characters, Jimmy and Crake, compete for the affections of Oryx, and wind up with the worst possible outcome—Oryx dead, the ability to reproduce gone. The entire dystopian nature of the novel, a manifestation of human desire gone wrong, is basically a giant metaphor for this type of conflict.
Likewise, Mendel’s Dwarf portrays two males competing for the ability to reproduce with one woman. Their attempts end in disaster, as their competition is so fierce that neither is capable of reproducing successfully.
In economics, this outcome is called a market failure. Hesiod would call it the result of “Bad Strife.” Atwood envisions a solution (of sorts) for it—a complete, bottom-up species redesign—while Mawer is content to simply observe the consequences of its existence.
Interestingly enough, this male-male competition for a female has popped up in just about every book we’ve read, and it’s easy to see how this competition carries into other fields—substitute in a woman for deoxyribonucleic acid in The Double Helix and you’ve got the same love triangle situation that is present in Mendel’s Dwarf. One crucial difference, though, is that in the real life story, things worked out well; Watson and Crick got “the girl,” Linus Pauling continued his happy life in America, and no one had to die or suffer serious injury.
By the way, a belated happy birthday to James Watson.