Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Teeth

By David Mitchell


Show Us Your Teeth

The first image we're introduced to in Cloud Atlas is Dr. Henry Goose digging on a beach for teeth. He explains that "these base molars [...] shall be transmuted to gold" (1.1.2). This small, strange event shows us that Henry Goose is not above profiting from a little human suffering: So what if these people were eaten by cannibals? I can make money from their teeth.

Making money off of dead people's teeth? That sounds a little like eating dead fabricants, right? Does that mean that greed is kind of like cannibalism?

Teeth show up a few more times in the narrative, too. One notable instance is when Jerry Nussbaum wonders aloud, "how to extract a little gold from the Fangs of Fate?" (3.14.1). He ends up writing a racist piece about "New Tribes" of the city. Again, here's someone capitalizing on the misfortune of others.

Another notable instance is when Johns Hotchkiss gets his teeth knocked out in a bar fight. This happens right after he utters a racist slur to a man. By the end of the book, bad actions finally start to have consequences. In this case, Hotchkiss ends up being the one suffering misfortune. How the tables have turned.

So, teeth. They're a big deal. Even though all animals have teeth, we humans put a lot of stock into them. Don't believe us? Look around you. How many people do you know have had braces?