Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Old Age

By David Mitchell

Old Age

As the median age in the United States increases, we've heard that 40 is the new 30. It used to be that 30 was the new 20. In the Dark Ages, 30 was the new dead. Plague and pestilence didn't exactly wait until folks were wrinkly.

Maybe that's why old people were respected back in those days. They had really achieved something. Now that millions more people get to live until their 80s and 90s, getting old isn't such an accomplishment. In fact, staying young is the valued accomplishment these days.

In Cloud Atlas, Timothy Cavendish has to deal with growing old. He wasn't always that way. He used to be young, just like everyone else. Someday you might join him in the world of the senior citizens, and old age will be whatever you make of it.

Questions About Old Age

  1. What makes Cavendish different from the other old residents of Aurora House?
  2. In what ways is Cavendish discriminated against during his trip to Hull? Are these incidents a result of his advanced age or of something else?
  3. How do old people fare in the different time periods depicted in the book (compare Cavendish's story with Zachry's, for instance)?
  4. In Sonmi's time, what methods exist to combat old age? Are they accessible to everyone?

Chew on This

The title "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" could refer to Cavendish's mad dash from the Hogginses and his imprisonment in Aurora House, but it could also simply refer to the fact that he's old, which is an ordeal in itself.

Perhaps to avoid the embarrassment and lack of dignity the elderly suffer in nursing homes in Timothy Cavendish's time, the people of Sonmi's time are advocates of euthanasia, allowing people to choose how and when they die.