Apocalypse and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas

Kermode’s ‘apocalyptic types’:-
-Decadence and renovation
-Progress and catastrophe

Cloud Atlas
Empire – Ewing’s colonial themed nineteenth-century narrative.
Decadence – Frobisher’s richly indulgent narrative (pre WW-II).
Renovation – Lusia Rey’s period of industrial growth/change in 1970s America.
Progress – Sonmi’s Nea So Copros is an example of progress at its very peak.
Catastrophe – Zachry’s island has been cannibalised, both literally, and as a result of some kind of implied nuclear (or similar) disaster.

Further Comments

There is a somewhat linear progression and build up across chronological eras and narratives. There is however, the cyclical nature of the narrative to remember, in which the cannibalistic catastrophe of Zachry’s era both has the potential to be fixed, if we correct the wrongs that the protagonists later confront as the narratives fold back in on themselves; and has already potentially existed, whereby Goose refers to the cannibals that had inhabited the, now colonised, islands, prior to Ewing’s era. Both the novel’s narratives and movements in time (and apocalypse(s), are thus cyclical.

It would also be wrong to categorise these narrative segments as wholly ‘one type’ of apocalypse. In the same way that these narratives are embedded within and between one another, and share motifs, themes etc., they also, to some extent, share apocalypses. Thus, Ewing’s narrative, as I’ve already addressed, is suggested to have followed an ‘epoch’ (as Kermode calls it) of Catastrophe; Frobisher writes on the eve of a catastrophic war; Sonmi’s period of progress is also one of ample consumerism and decadence; Swannekke Island in Luisa’s narrative makes precarious and dangerous progress; and so on, and so forth.

There is also one glaring absence to these considerations: Timothy Cavendish; and deliberately so. Cavendish somewhat serves to disrupt the narrative cycle that can be observed above, but isn’t that the nature of this very time that be live in, for that is Cavendish’s time also? In the now we cannot identify a common theme as you can with the past, or fictitious futures, for it is a moment that has not yet finished.

cloud atlas


Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of  Fiction (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University  Press, 1967), p.29, pp.101-2

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (London: Sceptre, 2004)

About Rachel Fox

I am currently a PhD candidate at Lancaster University, having completed a BA in English Literature and an MA in Contemporary Literary Studies. My provisional thesis title is: Voicing and Visualising Identity: The Discursive Figure of ‘Woman’ in Contemporary Poetical and Polemical works of Literature arising from Western Asia
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