Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Slavery

By David Mitchell


You might think that we were done with slavery after the Civil War. But it really depends on your definition of the word. Slavery isn't just about whips and chains, it's about hard work without fair pay.

If we look at it that way, slavery still exists not just in the world, but in our own backyards. Cloud Atlas shows us snapshots of slavery throughout time, from tribesmen enslaved in the South Pacific to a neon vision of the future where we're all at the whims of our corporate masters. This novel ties—or maybe we should say shackles?—the theme of slavery to the themes of greed, power, and injustice.

Questions About Slavery

  1. Who are the slaves in each story of Cloud Atlas? Is the protagonist a slave, or is he or she fighting against slavery? Or neither?
  2. Compare and contrast the Abolitionist movement from the Adam Ewing sections with the Sonmi-451 sections. How are they similar and different?
  3. How are Zachry's people and the Kona from the Sloosha's Crossin' section similar to the Maori and the enslaved Moriori in the Adam Ewing sections?

Chew on This

Sonmi and the fabricants are the natural evolution of a system that forces millions of people to work for below-poverty wages without benefits and healthcare.

Slavery is inseparable from greed. In the earliest account of slavery in Cloud Atlas, the Moriori are enslaved by the Maori because the white traders see so much monetary benefit that they refrain from intervening.