I Teach AP Language, AP Literature, and Other English Courses at San Diego High School, CA. I'm completing a PH.D. with GWU in English. my research and writing is on Literary Animal Animal Studies of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century. 

Isn't it Ironic?

As we see July just around the corner, and a holiday break along with it, I hope you are finding some time to enjoy the reading. Over this past week and the next, you should be find yourself completing chapters four, five, and six. This will land you on page 144 and nearly half-way through the novel.

Over the course of these chapters, we encounter a lot ironic scenarios. Recall that irony is defined as follows:

  • the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect: “Don't go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony.
  • a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result: [with clause] : the irony is that I thought he could help me.
  • (also dramatic or tragic irony) a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.  

One such irony is Jimmy’s childhood pet. This is not an uncommon trope over the past century for coming-of-age stories, what we call Bildungsroman. Sometimes, these types of stories are lumped-in with Young Adult literature. Think of Harry Potter and his owl, Headwig. Jimmy’s pet is a bit different than the cat or dog we might have, or the magical owl of Harry Potter. Jimmy has a “rakunk,” a genetically engineered animal, the splicing together of a skunk and a raccoon. Jimmy’s “was a tiny one, smallest of the litter born from the second generation of rakunks, the offspring of the first pair that had been spliced,” and is a gift from his father for his birthday (51). The irony is that Jimmy’s beloved pet is not with him for long, the love he has for the animal is matched by the emotional scar of its loss.

Sharon, Jimmy’s mother, leaving her husband and son, takes Killer (the rakunk) with her after smashing the home computer with a hammer. An understandably upsetting experience for Jimmy and possibly for his father, the latter soon finds comfort with a new wife while Jimmy consoles himself with his friend, one of the titular characters, Crake née Glenn. Jimmy and Crake spend their time in less than admirable endeavors.

Then, in chapter six, we get our first sustained encounter with the other titular character, Oryx. Her life is the antithesis of Jimmy’s and Crake’s as she grew up in abject poverty, sold in human trafficking to first sell flowers, and then for even less appropriate endeavors. We get in this chapter a clear sense of key differences between Oryx and Jimmy through indirect characterization and moments of extreme irony. For example, Jimmy is frustrated by what he perceives as Oryx’s acceptance of what we would all agree was a horribly exploitive childhood. Frustrated by her calm tolerance of the past, Jimmy tells Oryx:

“I don’t buy it,” said Jimmy. ”Where was her rage, how far down was it buried, what did he have to do to dig it up?
“You don’t buy what?”
“Your whole fucking story. All this sweetness and acceptance and crap.”
“If you don’t want to buy that, Jimmy,” said Oryx, looking at him tenderly, “what is it that you would like to buy instead?” (142).

This tension between Jimmy’s outrage and Oryx’s acceptance continues throughout the novel and we might want to consider why Atwood would craft this novel, and these characters, in such a way. Jimmy’s outrage is highly ironic considering his inappropriate activities with Crake during his youth. So, what might Atwood wish us to consider by presenting such a scenario?

Respond to one of the options below and submit it as a comment.

  1. There are many examples of irony in addition to the one noted. Find one other example of irony from the novel and explain how it is ironic and what you might infer is the purpose of such irony.
  2. Atwood is rightly regarded as a feminist author, yet Jimmy/Snowman is far from a model we would want to follow. Using one example from the novel thus far, how might he be an ironic protagonist and why would Atwood choose to focus on him rather than, say, Oryx?

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