Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Man and the Natural World

By David Mitchell

Man and the Natural World

Drive for twenty miles in any direction, and you're bound to encounter more retail chains than parks. Are strip malls the new natural? Cloud Atlas shows us a huge span of time, from all the way back when Starbuck was just some dude who sailed with Captain Ahab, all the way up to a dystopian future where "starbuck" has become a common noun, replacing the boring term "coffee." In this ever-changing world, what is man's place? Are we in control or just along for the ride? And are we doing more harm than good?

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Throughout the novel, various characters say that mankind's nature is to destroy the world and consume itself (just check out the quotes if you don't believe us). Do you agree? Which characters (and real-life examples) back up this stance?
  2. If human nature is inherently destructive, which characters are fighting against their nature? Can they succeed?
  3. Things seem to come full circle from Adam Ewing's time to Zachry's time. Is human nature destined to repeat itself, or can the cycle be broken?

Chew on This

All our main characters are fighting against nature in some way. For example, Timothy Cavendish defies expectations people have for the elderly, and Adam Ewing decides not to enable slavery, even though slavery is totally in style.

The chronological timeline of Cloud Atlas shows us that mankind's greedy nature not only brings about the end of civilization as we know it, but as humans are trying to rebuild, it starts the cycle all over again with greed and slavery.