Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Memory and the Past

By David Mitchell

Memory and the Past

Remember that night we were all sitting around playing Apples to Apples and eating miracle fruit so that lemons tasted like sugar? We totally kicked your butt at that game. Wait, what? You remember it differently? Do you, huh? You say we were playing Clue, and you won, and we were noshing on chocolate oranges? Hmm, we guess that's what could have happened. It was so long ago (okay, it was last Thursday, but it's been a busy week) that we have trouble remembering exactly what happened.

Memory is fluid and strange like that. You can rewrite history in your head in the flash of a neuron. Cloud Atlas explores the malleability of memory and even what happens when you have memories that aren't quite your own. You know, we don't think we were even there on game night! What were we thinking...?

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How do characters' memories from past lives affect their decisions?
  2. Cavendish's stroke affects his memories. Does this make you wary of his trustworthiness as a narrator?

Chew on This

During Cavendish's journey to Hull, he relives a lot of old memories, almost as if his life is flashing before his eyes. Living in the past is a way for him to escape the problems he's going through in the present.

A storyteller can change the past during the course of a story. Zachry, in particular, often mentions trying to change the past, which makes us wonder how trustworthy he is.