Re-Reading Cloud Atlas Part III
By Kim Hollis
October 31, 2012
Although it’s not as prevalent as in other sections of the book, Sonmi~451’s interview still has moments where the theme is revealed. As with previous characters, we learn that Sonmi~451 also has the comet birthmark, an oddity and an embarrassment for a fabricant since they are expected to be perfect specimens.
At a moment during her escape, Sonmi~451 has some unexpected memories. “The final drop shook free an earlier memory of blackness, inertia, gravity, of being trapped in another ford. Where was it? Who was it?” she wonders. This memory directly correlates to Luisa Rey’s car crash from the bridge. Then, while visiting with a peaceful society outside of the city, Sonmi~451 learns that that the people worship Siddhartha, who “taught about overcoming pain, and influencing one’s future reincarnations.” Avid readers will know that Siddhartha is a novel written by Herman Hesse in 1922, one that tells the story of a Nepali man’s quest for enlightenment. Every action and event that he takes throughout the story leads Siddhartha to a cumulative experience that brings him closer to Nirvana. The characters in Cloud Atlas are having a similar cumulative experience, though it expands over centuries rather than one brief lifetime.
If Eternal Recurrence is considered only slightly in Sonmi~451’s interview, the scales are tipped to the theme of predation, because this novella deals with the idea more than other portions of Cloud Atlas. As we have discussed here, Sonmi~451 is by her very nature designed to be a slave, because for the government and citizens of Neo So Copros, “To enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically.”
Just as Mitchell’s ideas on religion and its misuse are prescient, so are his thoughts on the rise of corporations. In Sonmi~451’s world, companies like McDonald’s, Sony and Ford rule the world – or what’s left of it. Those who are at the top of the heap financially own everything, and all laws and customs are put in place purely for the service of advancing corporate profits. Sonmi~451 recognizes the world’s evolution toward this point while she watches the Timothy Cavendish movie, noting, ““Corpocracy was emerging and social strata was demarked, based on dollars and, curiously, the quantity of melanin in one’s skin.”
Sonmi~451 also sees that the people in power enslave others through lack of knowledge, another keen observation. When she is given a device that allows her to read all kinds of books, novels, philosophy and histories, she says that she “[was] warned…never to let a pureblood catch me gathering knowledge, for the sight scares them, and there is nothing a scared pureblood will not do.” Sonmi~451 expands on this thought when she considers, “What if the differences between social strata stem not from genomics or inherent xcellence [sic] or even dollars, but merely differences in knowledge? Would this not mean the whole Pyramid is built on shifting sands?”
As with all of our stories, Sonmi~451 rises above the people who would enslave her. First, she does this by “ascending” and gaining more awareness and knowledge, and then by escaping and joining the cause of Union, which is rising up against Unanimity and the corpocracy. Readers of the book might wonder why, then, she is put to death and accepts her sentence with such grace. In fact, Sonmi~451 realizes that her entire arc has been carefully planned and arranged in a way that is intended to discourage anyone else who might consider following a similar path.
The archivist questions how her sacrifice could be considered a victory, and Sonmi~451 tells him, “All rising suns set, Archivist. Our corpocracy now smells of senility…“Why does any martyr cooperate with his judases? We see a game beyond the endgame…No matter how many of us you kill, you will never kill your successor.”
In fact, although her archivist is working in service of the government, we speculate whether her story hasn’t compelled him to try to change the world himself. Sonmi~451 tells us, “All revolutions are [fantasy, lunacy], until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.” Her death delivers her from slavery, and sets transformation in motion.