Study Guide

Bill Smoke in Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Bill Smoke

Smoke Monster

Yikes. If there's one character of pure evil in Cloud Atlas, it's Bill Smoke. He's a cartoonish villain straight out of the pages of bad suspense fiction—which The First Luisa Rey Mystery just might be. He loves killing people. The messier, the better. When he rams Luisa off a bridge, he laments, "Anonymous, faceless homicides [...] lack the thrill of human contact" (3.39.20). Oh, poor widdle Billy Boy, not getting to choke his innocent victim to death.

Smoke believes that he's just part of the system. "I'm just the instrument of my clients' will. If it wasn't me it'd be the next fixer in the Yellow Pages. Blame its user, blame its maker, but don't blame the gun" (3.18.1). This sounds a lot like the gun control debate in the United States. Who's to blame? The gun, the person pulling the trigger, or the system itself?

Just to complicate things, there is one scene that includes Bill Smoke entertaining some children at a party. At this time, he "wonders at the powers inside us that are not us" (9.48.6). Since Cloud Atlas often seems to make the case that human nature is inherently destructive, what are these foreign powers inside us that Bill Smoke is wondering about? Could he be talking about compassion as opposed to something sinister?