Re-Reading Cloud Atlas Part III
By Kim Hollis
October 31, 2012
Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
Whereas all of the previous stories were told in “written” format, Zachry’s story is simple: He is telling his tale to a group of children who surround him, listening in rapt attention. Set in a time well past Sonmi~451’s future, Zachry’s world is primitive, mainly because mankind has more or less consumed itself in exactly the ways that previous characters in the book have foretold. Only a few habitable locations remain.
The language in this particular section of the book is fascinating. The characters speak in a pidgin English that can be challenging and sometimes difficult to understand. The heavy reliance on dialect reminds me of Mark Twain, though the storytelling itself has a unique quality and feel to it. As with all of the other novellas, Mitchell fully inhabits his characters with a voice that is consistent and rings true.
We get to the smallest of the Russian dolls with this portion of the book, as Zachry’s people not only worship Sonmi~451, but he eventually sees her interview on a device (an orison) carried by Meronym. “Sloosha’s Crossin’” is the only novella that is told in full all in one sitting; from there, we go in reverse through the other stories until we reach the end, with Adam Ewing.
Zachry is an interesting character. He’s intensely likable, but deeply flawed. His story begins with an act of extreme cowardice, but like Sonmi~451, he thirsts for knowledge. As Meronym teaches him more about the outside world, his bravery increases, and he is eventually key in helping a society find a new home.
He’s also unique amongst the protagonists of the novel in that Zachry is not the character who has the comet birthmark. Instead, Meronym is revealed to have the birthmark, showing her to be the connection to the past.
Just as our protagonist is unique, so is our villain. Zachry’s constant fight is against Old Georgie, who is the equivalent of Satan. Old Georgie is constantly tempting Zachry to do the wrong thing, whether it is to hide when his family is being attacked or to kill Meronym because she is “deceiving” the Valleysmen. Although Zachry’s people believe in Old Georgie, he can actually be viewed as a manifestation of all Zachry’s worst qualities, his constant battle with himself between his higher purpose and his baser instincts. “Zachry the Cowardy, they said, you was born to be mine, see, why even fight me?” Old Georgie asks him.
Along with Old Georgie, we also have the larger evil in the form of the Kona, a violent tribe that mirrors the Maori in Adam Ewing’s story (while Zachry’s Valleysmen are similarly peace-loving as the Moriori). The Kona enslave people from the Valley, or kill them if they are too old to assimilate.
Religious questions continue throughout Zachry’s story. The Valleysmen worship Sonmi, praying to her and heeding her “word.” “Valleysmen only had one god an’ her name it was Sonmi…She lived ‘mongst us, minderin’ the Nine Folded Valleys.” Ultimately, her manifesto has made its way in some form to a people who follow her teachings. As a pacifist society, perhaps they are the ideal that Sonmi~451 might have hoped for.
On the opposite side of things is the aforementioned Old Georgie, who plays the role of the devil for Zachry’s people. He is believed to inhabit a mountain in the area, causing the people to be terrified of ascending it. This makes Zachry’s willingness to accompany Meronym to its peak all the more impressive, though he already believes himself to be cursed and therefore has nothing to lose.
As Zachry and Meronym talk, he learns not only that she and the other Prescients do not believe in Sonmi or Old Georgie, but a device she carries reveals Sonmi~451’s orison, proving to Zachry that she was a real person who may not match the idealized version the Valleysmen carry of her. Meronym tells him that she’s unconcerned about Old Georgie’s presence on the mountain as well, that she doesn’t even believe in him. Zachry is blown away by this possibility. What I particularly like about the treatment of religion in Zachry’s story is that we can see the inherent value both in Zachry’s point of view as well as Meronym’s. Zachry’s people lack science, but they have a strong moral core. Meronym and the Precients have an abundance of knowledge, and their code is uplifting and well-intentioned as well. No one is positioned as right or wrong here, and they can coexist peacefully.