Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Fate and Free Will

By David Mitchell

Fate and Free Will

Why are we talking about fate? It must be destiny, just like you were destined to read this. As for Free Willy, there's a scene in Cloud Atlas where Adam Ewing watches some whales. Does that count?

Oh, wait: free will. That's the idea that our destinies are in our own hands and not preordained by some cosmic deck of cards. Got it. The characters in Cloud Atlas often wonder how much control they have of their own lives. After all, bajillions of people have come before us, each one doing their own small part in shaping (or misshaping) the world.

Sometimes all you can do is just look up at the sky and wonder. In this book, maybe, fate isn't in the stars; it's in the clouds.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Do you believe that the six main characters are reincarnations of each other? If so, how do the actions of their previous incarnations affect their fates? Can these characters change fate?
  2. Robert Frobisher seems fated to kill himself from the beginning. Do you think suicide was his fate, or could he have decided to continue living?
  3. Zachry believes he is fated to be "Zachry the Cowardy." How does this affect the decisions he makes? If he had been fated to be "Zachry the Brave," would he have acted differently?

Chew on This

If we assume Luisa Rey is an entirely fictional character, then she has no free will. Her "life" is dictated entirely by her author, the pseudonymous Hilary V. Hush.

The cloud atlas metaphor—about souls being clouds floating through the sky—implies that our lives are dictated by forces outside our control. We can only go with the flow of fate.