Study Guide

The Wagstaffs in Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

The Wagstaffs

Or Should It Be Wagstaves?

Adam Ewing meets Mr. Wagstaff in Bethlehem Bay, near the end of his journey. Even by 19th-century standards, this family is a hot mess. Mr. Wagstaff pretty much hates it in Bethlehem Bay. The slaves—er... savages—er... natives of the town are totally ungrateful to the whites who want to come in and take over. "You'd think the savages'd be grateful, I mean, we school them, heal them, bring employment & eternal life! Oh, they say 'Please, sir,' an' 'Thank you, sir' prettily enough, but you feel nothing" (11.2.2). We guess being a slave driver isn't spiritually fulfilling. Who'da thunk it?

On top of that, Mr. Wagstaff was pretty much forced into an arranged marriage with Eliza Mapple, a widow who already had a son, Daniel. Their marriage is a nightmare. They call each other Mr. and Mrs. Wagstaff (how romantic), and Mr. Wagstaff always refers to Daniel as Mrs. Wagstaff's son. We'd feel bad, but they're both equally repugnant, so we don't. Like Adam Ewing, we're glad we don't have to spend any more time with them than we have to.