“He need to forget the past – the distant past, the immediate past, the past in any form” (p. 348)
One of the most important themes in Oryx and Crake is knowledge of the past. Losing such knowledge, as Crake points out, is detrimental to society. Because the Crakers are supposed to inherit the earth, they have a lot to learn about the world. In order to speed line this process, Crake doesn’t want them to be taught about anything that does not have a real-life equivalent, i.e. a basilisk. Crake orders this because we only wants the Crakers to learn about what is real, or what was real. However, there is so much information that the Crakers don’t possess that many things might as well be mythical. Snowman realizes this when he considers explaining toast to the Crakers. Of the context he would have to provide in order to explain toast to them, one of the most problematic would undoubtedly be electricity. Such a concept would come off as magical to the Crakers. In essence, the divide between real and unreal elements (myths, fiction, advertisements) becomes blurred because so much has become lost after societal collapse. Electricity is just as mythical to the Crakers as dragons.
One interpretation of Atwood’s many allusions to past myths is that they are just as real as whatever inspired them. Though the sea serpents of lore never actually existed, they had a role in society – they had an effect upon people in that sailors tried to avoid areas that these creatures allegedly dwelled in. In this sense, the sea serpent was just as real an actual marine creature. What Atwood seems to be implying is that ideas, stories, myths have as much an impact on reality as physical forces.
Importantly, the past has extremely different implication for Snowman than for the Crakers. Snowman is haunted by the past, constricted by it. The Crakers, who technically have a past, are in a way free from it. Crake made a blank slate for them. Even with a blank slate handed to him, Snowman is still a slave to the events before. So what does this mean? The inescapability of the past is certainly not a new topic. But what can one gather from a man who is given a blank slate but is unable to capitalize on it? Perhaps Atwood is demonstrating that humans are an inherently past-oriented species. That people cannot escape what they have done. That even when given the change to start over, they cannot. Or maybe that people place too much emphasis on the past. The idea that people should focus on the present is not novel, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.