There are two major interconnected streams that concern the human animal relationship in MaddAddam, namely the challenges posed to the idea of meat in a dystopian world, and the doubtful bioethics in genetic engineering. The first issue that this paper explores is the genetic manipulation of species in order to provide living tissues, cells or organs to another species, i.e. xenotransplantation. In the trilogy, this issue is most notably introduced through the OrganInc Farms, where Jimmy’s father works as a genographer on the project of growing organs in genetically engineered pigs, which are officially called sus multiorganifer, but commonly referred to as pigoons (Atwood, Oryx 25). Later in the story, Jimmy’s father is headhunted by NooSkins, a subsidiary of the corporation called HealthWyzer, which also uses pigoons, though for the purposes of replacing the human worn-out skin by a genuine bioengineered skin transplanted from pigoons (Oryx 62).
As Warkentin notes, the phenomenon of naming the genetically engineered animals in biotech language, especially from bioethical perspective, constitutes a controversial problem (88). In MaddAddam, Atwood at least invents new names for the genetically modified animals, while in reality these modified animals usually retain their original names. This might have some unforeseen impacts on the workings of whole ecosystems should these genetically modified animals merge with the original populations. Moreover, Atwood’s use of hybrid names like pigoon, rakunk, wolvog, bobkitten, liobam, Craker, spoat/gider or snat, by itself “evokes feelings of curiosity, fear and horror” (Sanderson 221), thus carrying a warning that something is possibly wrong. One real-life example of introducing a name for a completely new and artefactual organism was the invention of the so-called oncomouse by Harvard University in the 1980s. Oncomouse was the first transgenic organism to be patented, defined by Leder as “a transgenic nonhuman animal whose germ cells and somatic cells contain an activated oncogene” (qtd. in Hanahan n.pag.). As the 2007 study on oncomice concludes, only time will show how these genetically modified mice, or “mouse cancer models”, can actually contribute to the anti-cancer research (Hanahan n.pag.). By renaming the organism, it loses its agency and becomes “an artefact, a trade-marked commodity” (Warkentin 89), and the bioethical implications only prod into further contemplation of the subject.
A Thin Line between Human and Animal
Jimmy’s father feels good about the work he is doing at OrganInc farms and later NooSkins, it is Jimmy’s mother through whom the bioethics of these projects is questioned. When the father triumphantly announces one day that they have finally been able to grow a genuine human neocortex tissue in the pigoons, she exclaims satirically: “That’s all we need… more people with the brains of pigs. Don’t we have enough of those already?” (Oryx 64). Jimmy’s mother also used to work for the OrganInc Farms as a microbiologist, her task was the study of bioforms potentially threating to pigoons and their modification in order not to get into the pigoon cells, or development of applicable vaccines (Oryx 32). Nevertheless, she withdrew from the project and tried to sabotage it later, as she considered “interfering with the building blocks of life … immoral and sacrilegious” (Oryx 64). Yet her dissenting voice is easily silenced, because the corporate dominance quenches any potential activist protests by providing people none or only a very limited access to the governing corporations or the broader policy process (Sanderson 235). Sanderson compares this fictional situation to the real-life consultation with the public over producing genetically engineered animals in the United States, and finds that public has a stronger voice than Atwood implies, and public meetings need to be held before any new engineered animal is approved (236).
Inserting human genetic material into other animals and the concept of transgenic organisms moots further concerns, especially it contests the definition and inviolability of species boundaries and the given line between humans and animals. As Becker and Buchanan claim, “the possibility to bridge the species barrier brings to the fore not only the very concept of the species itself but also its significance and function in the natural order of beings. It is noteworthy that in most cultures the crossing of species lines used to be the subject of taboos for humans…” (7). Thus, with the spread of transgenic organisms, the traditional beliefs of Western cultures that all organisms belong to a certain and constant species category might be shattered. Disturbingly, this issue touches also the human species – if we insert the human neocortex tissue into pigs and then implant it back to humans, where exactly is the dividing species line? How many human genes are necessary to consider a creature human? What is the status of these porcine-human hybrids and what legal rights do they have? According to Warkentin, all of these questions may challenge the traditionally accepted species-based morality, and as a result contest the idea of anthropocentrism (89). The traditionally accepted species hierarchy, where humans are superior to all nonhuman animals and the species boundaries are fixed, is simultaneously reinforced and contradicted by biotechnology. This paradox is caused by the necessity of similarities among the genetic material of different species in order to be able to function properly in genetic engineering (Warkentin 94), thus disproving the established line between humans and nonhumans. Ignoring this fact, as biotechnoscience tends to do, might represent the most serious threat to animal agency and welfare (Warkentin 94).
Atwood goes even further and implies that by consuming meat from animals, some of whose body cells might be the same as ours, we might be found guilty of cannibalism. Jimmy reflects on this ambiguous issue while dining at the OrganInc cafeteria, his father’s workplace, where they ensure the diners “that none of the defunct pigoons ended up as bacon or sausages”, yet “it was noticeable how often back bacon and ham sandwiches and pork pies” were served despite the impending scarcity of meat (Oryx 27). In this passage, Jimmy is still a child and is confused by the very idea of eating pigoons as he considers them to be his friends. Nevertheless, as he grows older and after the global catastrophe wipes out most of humanity, the feral pigoons become Jimmy’s most fatal enemies. Often, they use their cunning to hunt him down as he is the only living human in the vicinity, so in the end he is not squeamish to think about killing or eating them anymore.
Even those survivors from the ranks of God’s Gardeners, most of them formerly avowed vegetarians, do not hesitate to kill and eat pigoons. Nonetheless, their attitude changes at the point in MaddAddam where they gain the ability to communicate with the pigoons through the humanoid bioengineered Crakers, and form a mutual pact not to kill each other. This phenomenon of changing attitudes in meat-eating is discussed later in the second part of the analysis. As Berger’s input from Looking at Animals foreshadows in the introduction to this thesis, it is the complete lack of common language that creates the unbridgeable gap between humans and animals. MaddAddam thus offers hope for overcoming this abyss by finding means to communicate and create interspecies boundaries. The surviving humans and pigoons are even able to join forces against a common enemy in order to ensure peaceful living conditions for their kin.
Unforeseen Consequences: Animals as Agents
After the Crake-made virus is released, the pigoons and other animals that used to be kept in laboratories break free, and thus help create an entirely new concept of wilderness. The new dystopian predators include wolvogs, the splice that deceives by its friendly-dog look, originally bred to protect private property (Oryx 241). Another threat to the surviving humans is posed by the bobkittens who got out of control even before the lethal virus spread. Originally, they were intended to reduce the overpopulation of green rabbits and feral cats in order to preserve the wild bird population, yet soon they have extended the scope of their prey to babies, small dogs and even short joggers (Oryx 192). Through these examples, Atwood warns about the unforeseen consequences of introducing the genetically engineered organisms to the established order of things. While the purpose of bioengineering these creatures might have seemed justified, both of these splices do not come out as their creators intended. MaddAddam trilogy points out that the homo faber phenomenon, i.e. scientists playing God, can eventually lead to a global catastrophe.
The pigoons in particular become one of the most treacherous enemies to humans as they are very clever, which is due to the implant of human neocortex tissue in their brains, as many of the survivors believe. Here Atwood also points out the unimagined impacts of letting the genetically engineered creatures roam free and possibly breed with the original wild population. Since the pigoons have gone feral, they started to grow tusks even though they were not originally engineered to have those (Oryx 43). In addition to wolvogs and bobkittens, the pigoons also try to hunt down Jimmy, as he seems to be an easy prey, wounded, hungry and frail as he is. Resembling humans in the language that describes their behaviour, the pigoons look like having something in mind and make plans on how to entrap Jimmy, even working in relays. As Jimmy points out, the pigoons “were always escape artists… if they’d had fingers, they’d have ruled the world” (Oryx 314). When these lab-created animals are removed from their original context, there is no certainty about how they will develop, merge with the original population and fit into the existing natural scheme. As Warkentin suggests, when these transgenic animals regain the agency which they are very often denied, they might pose serious threat to their wider environment (Warkentin 94). This shift of agency can be also viewed from the juxtaposition of the hunter and the prey, where traditionally men were seen as hunters, thus confirming their dominance over the animal realm, and the animals were reduced to the idea of passive prey. By reversing these two roles, MaddAddam proposes that if we continue to ignore the agency of transgenic animals, we might hypothetically find ourselves in a world where the feral animals will regain their agency as hunters and humans will represent the prey (McHugh, “Real Artificial” 193).
In the terminology of John Berger, the liberated animals in MaddAddam are reinventing their capacity to observe, and thus the agency shifts from the man to the animal, and the predator-prey roles are swapped. In Canadian literature, animal writings constitute one of the defining features. According to Atwood, this genre “provides a key to an important facet of the Canadian psyche” (Survival 73). The aforementioned wild animal stories of Sir Charles G. D. Roberts and E. T. Seton basically do not deny animals their active role, yet when juxtaposed to man, they are always seen as the prey. Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy might then be perceived as a critical response to these stories while foreshadowing the consequences of this ignorance of animal agency in the twenty-first century biotechnoscientifically ruled world. At the same time, in Survival Atwood claims that the distinctive feature of Canadian literature is that it often identifies with the hunted animals, perceiving them as victims. She puts this in contrast to British animal stories, in which the animal characters are basically people put into animal disguise, while in American literature the hunter is at the forefront and successful killing of the animal is the ultimate objective (74). Never mind the level of realism that Canadian writers really put into their real animal stories, they are still stories told from the point of view of animals and that is the distinctive characteristic of Canadian literature. In MaddAddam trilogy, I believe Atwood is attempting to transgress even this boundary by foreshadowing the consequences of the human denial of animal agency. Nevertheless, the exploited animals are still sympathized with in accordance with the Canadian literary tradition, firstly through the character of Jimmy as a young boy; then by Oryx who refuses to eat meat; and finally by the God’s Gardeners group, who are avowed vegetarians and value literally every living creature’s life as equal to their own.
Memories of the Future
Significantly, Jimmy’s earliest memory has a symbolic connection to animals. It was of a huge bonfire made of heaps of dead cows, sheep and pigs, which had to be burnt in order to stop some potentially on-purpose induced disease from spreading among the rest of the factory-farmed animal population (Oryx 19-22). Jimmy wonders about the suffering of these animals and when his father tries to reassure him that they are already dead and compares them to steaks and sausages, Jimmy does not come to believe it and would like to rescue them and end their suffering somehow (Oryx 20). While this was Jimmy’s stance when he was about five years old, his compassionate attitude towards these factory-farmed animals and his love of pigoons fades away as he grows older. At one point he dreams about trapping a pigoon and butchering it (Oryx 177), a perfect example of how the circumstances can make even the previously accepted noble ideas about compassion towards animals blunt. A similar concept reoccurs with many of the God’s Gardeners survivors who had used to be avowed vegetarians before the waterless flood hit but then almost without thought started consuming meat.
The motives for the massive die out of factory-farmed animals that Atwood only hints at in the “Bonfire” chapter of Oryx and Crake is envisioned into the dreariest consequences by LePan in his 2006 novel Animals discussed earlier. His story, set in the early twenty-second century, is a very disturbing vision of the dystopian future awaiting humanity if they do not curb intensive farming and the potential threats it poses. Due to the farm animals’ developed resistance to antibiotics, a huge pandemic had spread and wiped out all species that humans used as their source of animal protein. Eager to find new sources and being warned against using soy as the substitute, the society chooses to put handicapped children in place of the extinct farm animals. The story is narrated from the point of view of one of these children, who are called mongrels or chattels, and academic notes by Broderick, an advocate of free range farming, are inserted to Sam’s story as expert commentary. LePan comments on other ambiguous animal-right advocates’ topics through Broderick’s notes, such as the ethics of keeping pets, treacherousness of law regarding the defining line of what is human and animal, and the terrible conditions that animals in the intensive farming have to survive only to be butchered later.
LePan’s afterword even offers a solution to this global problem and suggests measures to be taken. He proclaims that any small change is better than no change regarding consuming meat and other products from factory farms, and that a series of gradual small changes can lead to a vegan diet in the end, as he himself can attest to and predicts about his future (LePan 160). LePan’s provocative dystopian story resembles the ideas of Peter Singer in his Animal Liberation (1975), only using literary tropes to achieve a similar anxiety in readers. LePan’s prophesied future for factory farms and handicapped children supplements the story of Jimmy and his bioengineered virus-resistant pigoon friends in Atwood’s dystopian vision of the MaddAddam world. LePan did not take into account the undreamed of capabilities in the field of genetic engineering, which makes his view of the future a little less credible than that of Atwood in MaddAddam, yet it enables the readers to sympathize more with the plight of factory-farmed animals and has an even more nightmarish effect on the reader.
Biotechnology itself has taken steps to help prevent the environmental degradation caused by intensive farming. As McHugh mentions, in New Zealand genetically modified grasses are being developed for the purpose of reducing the production of methane in farm animals (“Real” 194). Apart from giving world Margaret Atwood, a great literary visionary dealing with bioethics and environmental problems, Canada has also contributed to inspire further moral instigations in the form of introducing the genetically modified EnviropigTM. The first example of a genetically modified animal in order to solve an environmental problem, this is a “genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs” bred for the purposes of reducing phosphorus in its manure, which in turn minimizes the problems of fish kills and water pollution (“Enviropig™”). Moreover, this new breed of pigs is farmer-friendly, because it reduces feed costs and as the motto goes, “if you know how to raise pigs, you know how to raise Enviropigs!” (“Enviropig™”). Even though they seemingly have no disadvantages, McHugh casts doubts upon the impact of these “eco-saviours” on the established functioning of the environment; as these engineered pigs are deprived of their agency, the bioethical contemplation suggests that artificial creatures like these might represent more of an ultimate destruction of the environment rather than its salvation (“Real” 196). Keeping score with the recent trends in agriculture, Atwood introduces an equivalent hybrid-meat animal into the food chain in MaddAddam, the kanga-lamb, “a new Australian splice that combined the placid character and high-protein yield of the sheep with the kangaroo’s resistance to disease and absence of methane-producing ozone-destroying flatulence” (Oryx 344).
All of the abovementioned technologies in genetic engineering, either the ones that have already been introduced or the ones that Atwood devises, invoke uneasiness not only about the possible future for humankind, but also about the established order of things. Atwood uses her master visionary skills to instigate a further debate on the bioethical implications of the extensive use of genetic modifications and genetic engineering of plants and animals. Disquietingly resembling today’s situation in Western societies, the possible risks of transforming not only the meat animals into menaces like pigoons, wolvogs or bobkittens once gone feral; the development of antibiotic resistance in intensively-farmed animals; the dangers of scientists playing god and taking chances in genetic engineering; all of these possible scenarios might result in a similar catastrophe as the one foreshadowed by MaddAddam.