A common criticism of poor literature is that it fails to evoke in the reader an emotional understanding for the protagonist’s struggles. In effect, the reader reads through countless pages of bland writing that doesn’t incite them to feel sympathy for the characters. However, in the case of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Tracks by Erhlich, the authors effectively uses the motif of isolation, characterization, and plot chronology to evoke sympathy for Oryx and Fleur facing society’s injustice.
Firstly, the motif of isolation of Oryx, is one way that Atwood evokes sympathy. By separating Oryx from her family, Atwood severs the emotional bonds that bond Oryx to her mother. The mother who is commonly regarded as the safe haven for the helpless child, symbolizes love. When Oryx was taken away from her mother, it is as if she no longer has someone to love her. Furthermore, when Oryx is separated from her brother, her emotional ties with her family are again severed, this time absolutely.
The progressing isolation of Oryx from her family causes the reader to notice the vulnerability and mental trauma that effects Oryx during her life with Mr. En. Mr. En forces her to strip, flirt, and succumb to pedophiles so that he can catch them in the act, and blackmail the pedophile into giving Mr. En all his money. Her dependence on someone who uses her mainly for profit is disgusting because it degrades her into a physical object used for sex. She is controlled by others who don’t love her. As a result, isolation from loved ones show vulnerability and helplessness which evokes sympathy in the reader.
Similarly, the motif of isolation is also used in Tracks to cause the same effect. Fleur’s family dies in a plague at the beginning of her childhood. This is a severing of her emotional ties with her family. Furthermore, she is an outcast in her own race – the Indians, who view her as a witch. To be despised by one’s own race is like losing one’s identity. Just like how Oryx lost her identity as a human, and gradually began viewed as a physical object, Fleur became viewed as a curse to her society.
However, unlike Oryx, Fleur is more prone to resist her problems despite being alone. When she plays a game of poker with the men, she is strong and opposes the men despite being intimidated by them. Unlike Oryx, Fleur develops a fatherly-daughter relationship with Nanapush who doesn’t use her for selfish purposes. These differences make Fleur less sympathetic in the reader’s eyes than Oryx because Fleur is not completely isolated from loved ones and is portrayed as less helpless. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of the characters due to their isolation, enhances the sympathy the reader feels for both Oryx and Fleur.
Secondly, Oryx is characterized as a victim of society injustices and a symbol of sex. Oryx is brainwashed into thinking that child pornography is acceptable. She claims that she had a “nice owner” and “nice job.” The problem is that Oryx does not have the cognitive ability to determine whether she wants to engage in sex or not. She is influenced by society to believe that it is acceptable, and she is pressured to do so, in order to survive.
Furthermore, Oryx is a victim of Jimmy’s and Crake’s obsession of sex. Her eyes in the reoccuring picture that Jimmy and Crake keeps, stare into the reader and make the reader feel sympathy for her vulnerability. She is characterized as a sexual object that is helpless to escape the forces of the unjust society. Being characterized as a symbol of sex appeals to the reader’s sense of morals. Because sex is considered taboo in our society, the reader has a strong emotional feeling against the characterization of Oryx as a sexual object.
Likewise, Fleur in tracks is characterized as a victim and a symbol of Indian resistance against the whites. She is considered strange, mysterious and dangerous because she has “witch eyes.” Her fellow tribe members believe that she has magical relations with the sea monster and shun her. Her differences cause her to be ridiculed by the Morrisseys and Lazarres. The reader sympathizes with Fleur since the reader can relate to the negative feelings of being an outcast in our society, especially as modern society promotes equality and accepting people who are different.
Moreover, she characterizes resistance against western colonizers. She is raped and cheated by white settlers who take away her land. Despite this, she uses her powers to attack the logging company. She refuses to baptize her child into Christianity. Her struggles act as a symbol of Indian resistance, which makes the reader reminisce about the injustices faced by the Indians during 1920-1940 due to Western colonization and exploitation of the Indians. The characterization of Fleur as a victim, though a different type of victim as Oryx, leads to the reader to feel sympathy.
Lastly, the chronological order in which Oryx appears in the novel helps contribute to the sympathy the reader feels for Oryx. Her first appearance is in the “Kiddieporn” video as a mysterious woman. The reader doesn’t know how she is relevant to the plot, except that she is likely coerced into doing child pornography. Her second appearance of being sold to Mr. En and being separated from her mother adds to the sympathy the reader feels for her because the reader learns of the tragic childhood that caused her to become dependent on child pornography producers. Oryx next appears to be working for Mr. En and the studio owner.
The detailed work that she performs like being forced to strip for pedophiles, reinforces the initial feelings of contempt the reader has towards the child pornography producers. Lastly, her final appearance is her unjust death when she is killed by Crake. From seeing her as a victim of child pornography, to the tragic childhood she has faced, to her unjust death at the end, she always appears as an innocent victim. Instead of having a prosperous life after a difficult childhood, she is unjustly murdered. This leads the reader to feel that there is no justice in the novel’s society, and feels pathos for Oryx.
In the same manner, the chronological order of Tracks, enhances the sympathy the reader feels for Fleur. At first, Fleur is portrayed as a starving and helpless girl whose family died in a plague. This immediately makes the reader feel apologetic for Fleur’s losses. Next, Fleur is raped by the white settlers and loses her baby while giving birth. These losses one after the other seems to foreshadow a miserable end for Fleur and indeed, at the end, Fleur loses her home to the white lumber companies. As much as the unending series of adversities that Fleur faces enhances the sympathy the reader feels for Fleur, the order in which Fleur faces these problems are also important.
The death of Fleur’s family when she is a child isolates her and makes her vulnerable. Then as she is raped and loses her child, the reader sees that Fleur tries to retaliate against her misfortune by cursing the whites and despising Pauline for not helping her. Finally, Fleurs uses her magic to attack the lumber company by felling trees to hit them. The chronological progression of events helps to explain why Fleur retaliates at the end.
Fleur is frustrated because she cannot control the injustices that happen to her. The reader shares her frustrations because they would likely find ways to retaliate if they were continually faced with injustices themselves. As sympathy is the reader’s attempt to understand and side with one character, the chronological order of events make the reader understand Fleur’s actions. Fleur’s actions are different compared to Oryx who seems to be more submissive to the negative things that happen to her. Nevertheless, the chronological order is important in enhancing the sympathy the reader feels for Fleur.
As the reader reads the novels, these three techniques – isolating the character, characterizing the character as a victim, and using plot chronology to enhance the reader’s understanding of the characters, help evoke in the reader sympathy. The combination of these techniques work together to make the character become vulnerable, victimized, while the chronological order allows for telescoping time and flashbacks that helps the reader understand the actions and background of the characters, thus being able to relate to their distresses and sympathize with them. Through careful analysis, the novels seems to be skillfully written, and contains many more literary techniques that are at work even without the reader noticing.