Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Power

By David Mitchell


Power comes in all forms—influence, money, strength, weird alien medallions that summon giant dinosaurs to fight your battles for you. If you work hard enough, you can probably achieve any or all of these forms of power. (Okay, we're not sure if you can be a Power Ranger... unlike us.) And you're not alone. If this were Nietzsche 101, we'd be talking about mankind's will to power—see our "Symbolism" section for more of that. (No Nietzsche discussion is complete without a Power Rangers reference.)

The desire for power is in our genes, or so they say. Is that a bad thing? Cloud Atlas places power in the same context as greed, slavery, and prejudice, making it seem pretty despicable. Is power always despicable, or does it depend on our individual choices?

Questions About Power

  1. Do any of the six main characters have any kind of power? If so, what kind of power, and what do they do with it?
  2. Luisa Rey fights the powerful Seaboard Corporation in The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Does she succeed in taking away Seaboard's power?
  3. Compare and contrast the power of Seaboard Corporation in the Luisa Rey sections with the power of Unanimity in the Sonmi-451 sections. How are they similar? How do they differ?

Chew on This

Cloud Atlas ties the theme of Power to the themes of Slavery and Greed. Someone cannot be powerful unless she or he has power over someone else. Both the people in power and the people being overpowered crave more power.

None of the characters in Cloud Atlas have physical power. All their powers come from having money, resources, weapons, or connections.