In Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature(1972) Atwood argues that there ‘are no longer obstacles to physical survival but obstacles to what we may call spiritual survival, to life as anything more than a minimally human being’ (28), thereby implying a dualist representation of the human being, which pervades much of her subsequent work. Descartes (1596-1650) was first to put forth the view of the mind and body as two different components: the mind as an immaterial substance which is distinct from the material body. Although the Cartesian model has been largely refuted in the light of neuroscientific developments, suggesting that human consciousness is a result of, and therefore reducible to processes of the brain, Atwood’s fiction continues to explore a dualist approach.
This article focuses on survival in two of Atwood’s recent novels: Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. In both Atwood conveys a world in which a materialistic view pervades, yet the protagonists in these novels retain a dualist conception of themselves. This results in two distinct issues where ‘survival’ is concerned: survival of the mind and survival of the body. As the characters struggle to live ‘as anything more than a minimally human being’ within their post-apocalyptic setting, fundamental questions arise as to what exactly is necessary for the survival of both the individual and the human race.
Keywords: Atwood, Survival, The Year of the Flood, Oryx and Crake, Dualism, Art, Science.
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