This exam requires you to write a short (600-800 words) essay that provides an analysis of one of the following quotations and shows how it relates to important themes in the novels. In your answer:
a. very briefly (no more than 2 sentences) provide a context for the quotation (what is happening, who the focalizing character is, etc). I do not want a plot summary.
b. tie the quotation directly to other themes or ideas within the novels (quote directly from at least two novels). How does it illustrate a specific problem or issue? How does it contribute to understanding one or more characters or situations in the novels? Be sure to focus on specific words and phrases in the quotation.
You MUST use no sources other than Atwood’s 3 novels and a dictionary (if needed).
Quote directly from at least 2 of the novels in your answer.
Choose one of the following quotations. Please be sure to indicate which quotation you are responding to.
- She’d burned her identity and didn’t have the cash to buy a new one – not even a cheap one, without the DNA infusion or the skin-colour change – so she couldn’t get a legitimate job: those were mostly controlled by the Corporations. But if you sank deep down – down where names disappeared and no histories were true – the CorpSeCorps wouldn’t bother with you.
She rented a tiny room – she had enough money left from her cafeteria savings for that. A room of her own, which might save her few possessions from theft by some dubious roommate. It was on the top floor of a fire-trap commercial building in one of the worst pleebs – Willow Acres was its name, though the locals called it the Sewage Lagoon because a lot of shit ended up in it. She shared the bathroom with six illegal Thai immigrants, who kept very quiet. It was said that the CorpSeCorps had decided that expelling illegals was too expensive, so they’d resorted to the method used by farmers who found a diseased cow in the herd: shoot, shovel, and shut up.
On the floor below her there was an endangered-species luxury couture operation called Slink. They sold Halloween costumes over the counter to fool the animal-righter extremists and cured the skins in the backrooms. The fumes came up through the ventilations system: though Toby tried stuffing pillows into the vent, her cubicle stank of chemicals and rancid fat. Sometimes there was roaring and bleating as well – they killed the animals on the premises because the customers didn’t want goat dressed up as oryx or dyed wolf instead of wolverine. They wanted their bragging rights to be genuine.
2. The Pigoons have levelled the meadow, all the way around the spa building, wherever there were tall weeds or shrubs. Five of the larger ones are still at work, trampling and rolling on anything higher than an ankle.
“Nobody’s going to be sneaking up on them, that’s for sure,” says Zeb. “Clever buggers, they know about cover.” They’ve left one tuft of foliage in the middle distance, Toby notes. She peers at it with the binoculars. It must mark the remains of that boar she’d killed, back when there was a turf war between her and the Pigoons over the subject of the AnooYoo garden. Oddly enough they hadn’t devoured the carcass, though they’d seemed willing enough to eat their dead piglet. Was there a hierarchy in such matters, among them? Sows eat their farrow, but nobody eats the boars? What next, commemorative statues?
“Too bad about the lumiroses,” she says.
“Yeah, planted them myself. But they’ll grow back. Darn things are as hard to kill as kudzu, once they get going.”
“What will the Crakers have for breakfast, though?” says Toby. “Now that the foliage is gone. We can’t have them wandering over there, close to the forest.”
“The Pigoons thought of that too,” says Zeb. “Look beside the swimming pool.”
Sure enough, there’s a heap of fresh fodder. The Pigoons must have gathered it, since there’s no one else around.
“That’s considerate,” says Toby.
“Crap, they’re smart,” says Zeb. “Speaking of which.” He points.
Toby lifts the binoculars. Three medium-sized Pigoons, two spotted ones and a third that’s mostly black, are approaching from the north at a brisk trot. The squad of huge bulldozing Pigoons assiduously levelling the meadow roll themselves upright and lollop out to meet them. There’s some grunting, some nuzzling. All ears are forward, all tails are curled and twirling: they’re not frightened or angry, anyway.
“I wonder what they’re saying? Toby asks.
“We’ll find out,” says Zeb, “when they’re damn ready to tell us. We’re just the infantry as far as they’re concerned. Dumb as a stump, they must think, though we can work the sprayguns. But they’re the generals. I’d bet they’ve got their strategy all worked out.”
3. We’d feed them drinks and pills, with a shovel if we could. There was something new they’d started using just after I went into the Sticky Zone – BlyssPluss, it was called. Hassle-free sex, total satisfaction, blow you right out of your skin, plus 100 percent protection – that was the word on it. Scales girls weren’t allowed to do drugs on the job – we weren’t paid to enjoy ourselves, said Mordis – but this was different, because if you took it you didn’t need a Biofilm Bodyglove, and a lot of customers would pay extra that way. Scales was testing the BlyssPluss for the ReJoov Corp, so they weren’t handing it out like candy – it was mostly for the top customers – but I could hardly wait to try it.
We always got huge tips on Painball nights, though none of us regular Scales girls had to do plank duty with the new vets because we were skilled artists and any damage to us would be pricey. For the basic bristle work they brought in the temporaries – smuggled Eurotrash or Tex-Mexicans or Asian Fusion and Redfish minors scooped off the streets because the Painball guys wanted membrance, and after they were finished you’d be judged contaminated until proved otherwise, and Scales didn’t want to spend Sticky Zone money either testing these girls or fixing them up. I never saw them twice. They walked in the door, but I don’t think they walked out.
You may want to use this example as a guideline for writing your essay.
“Toby’s new job was with a chain called SecretBurgers. The secret of SecretBurgers was that no one knew what sort of animal protein was actually in them: the counter girls wore T-shirts and baseball caps with the sloganSecretBurgers! Because Everyone Loves a Secret! The job paid rock-bottom wages, but you got two free SecretBurgers a day. Once she was with the Gardeners and had taken the Vegivows, Toby suppressed the memory of eating these burgers; but as Adam One used to say, hunger is a powerful reorganizer of the conscience. The meat grinders weren’t 100 per cent efficient; you might find a swatch of cat fur in your burger or a fragment of mouse tail. Was there a human fingernail, once?
It was possible. The local pleebmobs paid the CorpSeCorpsMen to turn a blind eye. In return, the CorpSeCorps let the pleebmobs run the low-level kidnappings and assassinations, the skunkweed gro- ops, the crack labs and street-drug retailing, and the plank shops that were their stock-in-trade. They also ran corpse disposals, harvesting organs for transplant, then running the gutted carcasses through the SecretBurgers grinders. So went the worst rumours. During the glory days of Secret-Burgers, there were very few bodies found in vacant lots”(Year of the Flood 33)
Sample Response (note that the writer could have chosen other topics introduced by the passage):
In this passage from The Year of the Flood, Toby recalls her difficulties in finding work after her parents die and she has to leave Martha Graham. Having had to destroy her official identity after concealing her father’s suicide, Toby must resort to the seedier pleeblands where IDs are not checked. This passage illustrates several important themes from the trilogy including corporate cannibalism, the role of the CorpSeCorps, and the diminishing food supplies in both pre-apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds.
In Oryx and Crake, corporate cannibalism is a metaphor introduced when Jimmy’s father is “headhunted” by NooSkins (53). In The Year of the Flood, Atwood makes this metaphor literal–corporations are actually consuming people. Toby notes that the CorpSeCorps “ran corpse disposals, harvesting organs for transplant, then running the gutted carcasses through the SecretBurgers grinders” (33). Headhunting has also moved from metaphorical to literal in the second novel.Burt’s body is dumped in a vacant lot after he disobeyed the Corps, but the next day the body is gone; presumably he has been “garboiled” and is now “doubtless fuelling some Corps employee’s cityvan” (191). In MaddAddam, Zeb recalls posters at HelthWyzer warning the staff, “FOLLOW THE SAFETY RULES AND KEEP YOUR HEAD! AND ITS CONTENTS! Or: YOUR MEMORY IS OUR IP, SO WE’LL PROTECT IT FOR YOU!” (233). Ren’s father is kidnapped for his brain and after a “cost-benefit analysis,” the corporation decides to let the kidnappers keep him (Flood 293). Blanco yells “You’re meat!” at Toby on the Edencliff Rooftop, effectively erasing her as a person.The literalization of the metaphor of cannibalism represents the ultimate result of a culture that commodifies everything, even humans.
Secondly, this passage demonstrates the CorpSeCorps’ power. In Oryx and Crake, we think they only control the compounds, but in the later novels, they control everything. Zeb notes that “officially they were a private Corporation Security Corps employed by the brand-name Corporations,” who want to “be perceived as honest and trustworthy, friendly as daisies” (266). The pleeblanders know this is not the case. Toby has to disappearbecause her father killed himself with an illegal rifle (the Corps has outlawed weapons for citizens so they cannot rebel against the Corps). Toby keeps the rifle, which helps her survive after the apocalypse. We see that the pleeblands are entirely under the CorpSeCorps, who use thepleebmobs to provide”the low-level kidnappings and assassinations, the skunkweed gro- ops, the crack labs and street-drug retailing, and the plank shops that were their stock-in-trade” (33) (and profit from them). Burt runs a gro-op for the Corps, but is killed for skimming profits from the operation.
By demonstrating the power of the Corps, Atwood warns against privatizaation of police and military functions as is now happening in parts of our world with the development of PMFs (Private Military Firms) that corporations use to protect their economic interests.Through the CorpSeCorps, the corporations now control everyone. Atwood warns against the weakening of governments as multinational corporations become more powerful. We already see large corporations such as Google and Facebook that can challenge government regulations or create safe compounds for their employees, while the executives of corporations like Amazon make huge profits from the labour of poorly paid warehouse and factory workers.
Finally, the passage opens up the issue of food supplies. The contrast between the cheap food at Martha Graham and the “real” food at Watson-Crick demonstrates the class distinction between the values placed on art versus science. While Crake can take Jimmy out to ply him with “real Japanese beef, rare as diamonds” (Oryx and Crake 289) and the wealthy can eat rare animals at “Rarity” below Toby’s apartment, the poor have to eat at SecretBurgers where “you might find a swatch of cat fur in your burger” (Flood33). However, the scarcity of food, especially meat, has begun to affect even the compounds. InOryx and Crake, when Jimmy’s father still works at OrganInc, as “meat became harder to come by” (24) due to climate change, the staff suspect that the cafeteria servespigoon meat. One of Crake’s reasons for destroying humans is overpopulation, which exhausts the earth to provide food for everyone.He creates the Crakers as vegetarians who can even eat their own excrement. Foodsupply becomes especially important in MaddAddam, where the survivors ultimately decide to stop eating meat after making an alliance with the modified pigs which requires that they “must no longer make holes in them, with blood, and cook them in a smelly bone soup, or hang them in the smoke, or fry them and then eat them” (270). This is one of the most difficult decisions the survivors make, which shows how dependent humans have become on meat. Toby and Rebecca even suspect something addictive was added to SecretBurgers, as they occasionally crave them. Many food providers today enhance foods with ingredients like salt that increase consumption.
In conclusion, this passage introduces various important themes and ideas woven through all three novels. They all deal with problems of consumption: the corporations both literally and metaphorically consume individuals while also having the best foodduring the pre-apocalyptic period. They enforce their will through the CorpSeCorps to maintain their control of resources, including people. This overconsumption is a major contributor to the apocalypse.
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