Information As The Heart Of Oryx And Crake And The Talented Mr. Ripley

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Information is at the heart of both Oryx and Crake (OC) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (TTMR). They are both, to a certain extent, crime novels, and, as such, they rely on the suspense and thrill from the ‘many crucial events [that] take place behind people’s backs’. Both authors use first person narratives to create this behind your back feeling. As our perspective is from the characters themselves, lots of information is hidden, and that which is given is very unreliable. How the authors balance the information they give and that they hide, and crucially, the reliability of said information, is subtly different. The obvious example is that Ripley is clearly the villain, he kills his friend in cold blood for money and thrill. The rest of the book tries to convince us that he is the ‘good guy’. However, Crake, who multiple critics suggest is the villain of OC, is arguably in the grey. We are told that he tries to end the human race not out of pleasure, but as he sees it as the only way to save ‘humanity’. The information we are given about the world he lives in over the course of the book make us sympathise with his actions, which when read in isolation, seem extreme to the point of insanity. We are also told all of this information by someone close to the project that caused this extinction, but is also Crake’s best friend, and murderer. This leaves the audience wondering if anything they know about it is true.

From the opening chapters of each novel the sanity of the main character is questioned. OC begins with an insane, hallucinating man on a beach. He is in a world where ‘nobody knows what time it is’ and the only constant factor is that he is ‘All, all alone’. Mr. Ripley is paranoid from the first line ‘Glanc[ing] behind him’ suspecting someone is after him. This places two thoughts in the audiences mind. First, what is he running from. After reading the whole novel it makes it seem that he has likely done something like this before, due to his lack of remorse. This also makes him seem like a criminal, perhaps on the run from the law or another family he has wronged. The other thought it puts into the audiences mind is that he is insane for thinking someone he, seemingly at random, saw behind him was after him. However, he is right, the man is following him. The author has made us think he is being paranoid, but made him correct. This means that, no matter how mentally unstable he really is, the audience is already conditioned to second guess themselves when they make a judgement on one of his actions. By making it obvious that their narrators are mentally unstable, and have guilty consciences, both authors cast doubt over the entirety of their novels from the first page. This has more effect in OC, where the story is presented through a series of flashbacks. This leaves the audience questioning whether the narrator has adapted the truth to put himself in a better light. However, it is arguable that Mr. Ripley is even sicker than Jimmy. He invents stories and believes them, at the beginning of chapter nine he says that he ‘let three days go by’ to avoid appearing desperate. However, he describes himself crawling around on the floor at patches of sunlight to avoid appearing ‘white next time he came down to the beach’. He has evented a false justification, that he is not being desperate for Dickie’s friendship, whilst straining himself as far as possible, whilst being ill, just to make himself look better for Dickie. This makes the reader question everything presented to them, as Mr. Ripley has already revealed that he is willing to contradict himself within the same paragraph, and therefore is willing to lie to his audience to suit his motives.

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TTMR is named after Mr. Ripley which instantly places him as the ‘hero’ of the story. The use of the positive adjective, ‘Talented’, in the title additionally reinforces this idea within the reader before they have even opened the book. This creates a large amount of empathy in the audience as readers are so used to the ‘hero’ being good. At the beginning he appears to be a nervous and suspicious admirer of Dickie’s. It is not until far into the book that the reader realises that Mr. Ripley is talented in manipulation and has been manipulating them throughout. The build-up over the first 115 pages only hints at Mr. Ripley’s true self, as he hides and sugar coats his thoughts. However, when he murders Dickie, he is revealed as psychopath. Mental instability, however, has a completely different, sympathetic effect in OC. Despite the fact that Jimmy also murders his best friend, the context couldn’t be any different. Jimmy sees Crake murder his lover, Oryx, and shoots him as an impulse. The two most important people to Jimmy, so much so that the book is named after them and their names are revealed before his, die within seconds of each other. This, combined with the fact that he is left locked in a room believing everyone but him is dead, causes the insanity present from the beginning. The surprising outcome is that the psychopathic murderer, Mr. Ripley, is presented as equally sympathetic as the trauma victim, Jimmy, due to how manipulative the text around him is.

The main female characters in each novel, Oryx and Marge, seem completely unbelievable. Marge is a very strange character. She is in love with Dickie and is very suspicious of Mr. Ripley. However, after Dickie and Mr. Ripley go off on a short trip and only Mr. Ripley comes back, she doesn’t accuse Mr. Ripley of murder, or, as it appears, even suspect him of doing so. This is extremely unrealistic and makes the audience question Marge’s character, and whether she has ulterior motives. Perhaps, she herself benefits from Dickie’s death, or at least thought she would through the will. This interpretation completely changes her character from the sweet and innocent front we are presented with. It is possible that the author is commenting on how the male gaze paints women as innocent people who are incapable of doing anything unsuspected, when they may also be act behind the scenes. Jimmy watches child pornography as a teenager and falls in love with one of the girls he sees, who he calls Oryx. He then is introduced to a woman by Crake, who calls herself Oryx. Oryx also appears to have been a child prostitute when she was younger. She describes a past of abandonment, exploitation and rape, where all figures that she even ‘come[s] close to lov[ing]’ is killed or otherwise removed from her. However, she retells the stories as if they are fine, and says things like ‘“We should think only of beautiful things”’. This unbelievable coincidence combined with its unbelievable telling makes the audience think she is lying. The author reinforces this by making her say ‘This girl had seen him. No, that was wrong – she hadn’t seen him, but she knew somebody who had. There was no doubt about who it was.’ The audience is being told to believe with ‘no doubt’ a fourth-hand story relying on two unnamed characters about something that happened a year ago. The author also tells us that Crake introduces Jimmy to her and spends the book indirectly setting up Jimmy as the leader of his new people. I feel it is clear that she is lying and has been told to say everything to Jimmy to try and shape him and prepare him for the atrocities that he will have to go through with in the future. This then, poses the question of how many of the other events in the book have been set up by Crake for this purpose, after all, Jimmy tells us that Crake knows ‘where I [and] what I wanted’.

Perhaps the only character even less believable than the major female characters is that of Dickie’s father. He sends Mr. Ripley to bring his son back to him. Mr. Ripley fails to do this, and Dickie’s father becomes angry with him. After learning of his son’s disappearance, and later that of his suicide, he is suspicious of Mr. Ripley. He later learns of Mr. Ripley’s fraudulent history. However, after Mr. Ripley presents him with a forged will which gives all of Dickie’s belongings to Mr. Ripley, someone who he had not had contact with for years, he decides to honour the will and doesn’t suspect him at all, even go so far as to ‘thank [him] for [his] assistance’. Mr. Ripley has been accused of forging several of Dickie’s signatures throughout the story by experts and the police. The acceptance of this signature is just one of the examples of Mr. Ripley’s huge amounts of luck. This luck perhaps shows us that Patricia Highsmith has even managed to manipulate herself into loving Mr. Ripley, after all she occasionally signed letters to friends with ‘love from Tom’.

The way in which Dickie and Marge are presented to the audience is extremely biased. Tom turns up on their doorstep and introduces him as someone Dickie ‘Met in the States several years ago’, who Dickie doesn’t even remember, and then tells him that he was sent by his father. We already know how overbearing Dickie’s father his, and that he left the states to escape his fathers grasp. Therefore, Mr. Ripley to him represents everything of his past life that he wants to escape. Despite this Dickie invites him for lunch and is very sociable with him. Tom, who has been mistreated in the past sees this as the first sign of friendship and decides that he wants to make Dickie like him ‘more than anything else in the world.’ From Mr. Ripley’s perspective this seems very sweet. From Dickie’s however, someone he doesn’t even remember turns up and tries at every opportunity to interfere with his life. The extent of his dedication to Dickie’s Friendship leads Marge to think that he is a homosexual in love with Dickie. It is no wonder then that Dickie eventually gets bored of being nice to Mr. Ripley and seeks space away from him. However, from Mr. Ripley’s perspective, the one the audience is given, it seems like Mr. Ripley is just being a good friend and he is excluded by Dickie and Marge. As Mr. Ripley was bullied and abused as a child, this reinforces his self-loathing, he has failed yet again. So, he decides to become the figure of his admiration, who he has been imitating for such a long time, the only way he sees how, by killing and impersonating him. However, his apparent innocence, and even whether he admires Dickie at all, is uncertain. We are manipulated into thinking he admires Dickie through the way his thoughts and actions are displayed to us. However, just before he kills Dickie, he tells us that he has ‘thought about it before’. This, combined with the fact that he has been imitating Dickie for a while before he kills him, makes the audience question whether he planned to kill Dickie even from before he met him.

To conclude, both authors manipulate their audiences through many similar and different methods for the same reason. They create characters that you should hate and make you root for them by only showing the world to you from their perspective. Both present you with extremely unreliable information and tell you that it is unreliable from the beginning. But, you choose to believe it all anyway, through this the true power of the manipulation is revealed, even though it is clear to the reader, they go along with it anyway. This is an extremely effective writing technique, as we are manipulated even by what the authors choose to leave out. This makes reading both novels create an extremely interesting internal dialogue when you realise half-way through that you are rooting for a psychopathic murderer, or someone who helped exterminate the human race. This makes both stories even more compelling and shows the true manipulative power of information.     


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