Sonmi-451 v. Kathy: Who Has More Genetic Potential for Heart?

While reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, I was struck by the similarities and differences between Mitchell’s portrayal of clones and that which we read last week in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.  While Mitchell and Ishiguro share similarities in their telling of the stories (both create unique linguistic communities, for example – carer, donor, possible, etc. in Never Let Me Go  – and fabricants, purebloods, etc. even the elimination of “e” before “x” and the silent “gh,” in “An Orison of Sonmi-451”) each author portrays the clones themselves very differently.

When I first began reading “An Orison of Sonmi-451,” I felt that Sonmi-451’s narration was much less human compared to Kathy’s heartfelt prose about the emotional turmoil of childhood.  Sonmi-451’s first line, “Fabricants have no earliest memories, Archivist,” stood in stark contrast to Kathy’s “When did I know what I now know I always known?”  Compared to the desire of Kathy and the others to find their ‘possibles’ – Ishiguro’s nod to Kathy et al.’s obsession with possibilities and with hope – as well as the lifelong dream of running away for a few years to simply live and love, Sonmi-451’s response to her interviewer was cold and disappointing: Sonmi-451 agrees with her interviewer, “It is true, we rarely wonder about life on the surface.”

But as I continued reading, I realized the difference lay not in the clones themselves, but in their environments.  Sonmi-451 was raised in a world with “Soap” that repressed the expression of an innate personality, with amnesiads designed to deaden curiosity, with collars to relegate her and her fellow clones to the sphere of animals.  Kathy, on the other hand, was raised in a seemingly idyllic and progressive school, Hailsham, with delivery men who called her “sweetheart,” teachers who seemed to love her, and perhaps most importantly, encouraged her to create original art.   

I think both Kathy and Sonmi-451, at birth/creation, had the same genetic potential for “heart.”  Any innate variation is only the variation between two healthy humans.  Any further variation is a product of their environments.  And yet, while they both have heart and are both “human,” as Sonmi-451 so eloquently puts it, she and Kathy are “as singular as snow-flakes.”

Still, Mitchell seems to take a decidedly more sinister view of the world and mankind’s deepest emotions than Ishiguro.  While Kathy’s motivation to rebel is the product of a deep and lifelong love (for Tommy), Sonmi-451 explains her motivation this way: “Fury forges will.”  At one point, Sonmi-451 corrects his Archivist, “You underestimate humanity’s ability to bring such evil into being.”  The common denominator among the novels is, of course, humanity’s capacity for inhumanity, but Sonmi-451 seems to accept it with an inhuman calm: “Business is business.”

Nevertheless, I continue to believe that each clone is a product of her environment.  Sonmi-451’s world is cruelly calculated:  Even the verb remember – and the concept behind it, of course – is outside fabricants’ lexicons.  While Sonmi-451 is now, in a way, remembering events, the nature of the interview format – of someone else prodding these memories out of her, rather than a self-driven interest in analyzing them herself – suggests something unnatural, something forced.  Since Ishiguro’s novel is composed of memory itself, Somni-451 loses out against Kathy’s intense passion to organize, analyze, and preserve memories.  Furthermore, as far as memory goes, Sonmi-451 lacks the most important memories of all: those of childhood.

Ultimately, I sympathized most deeply with Kathy.  Maybe the moral of these two stories is that childhoods make us human?  Childhoods – whether unhappy, chaotic, happy, full of love, lacking love, etc. – provide us with the emotional foundations to sympathize, to love, to miss the past, to connect.  

– v2009

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~ by v2009 on April 9, 2009.

2 Responses to “Sonmi-451 v. Kathy: Who Has More Genetic Potential for Heart?”

  1. Childhood is the best

  2. A very interesting post and a valid and interesting conclusion which, although obvious, I didn’t draw. I guess mankind is coming out of it’s childhood and entering puberty and it is here, over the next century or two, where our fate shall be determined.

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