The Genetic Plot

The first five sections of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas showcase an eclectic formats. Readers are enveloped into a close first person journal, privy to letter correspondences and interview transcriptions, and pulled along in suspense-filled mysteries. Some formats allow more insight into a characters motives than others. Across the styles, characters are mercilessly driven to their fates. Even from the furthest distance, other options are apparent. Why don’t these characters choose something else?

Luisa Rey becomes entangled in a mystery by continuously asking questions and fabricating lies. This is a tactic she learned from her father, Lester. She is strongly discouraged to pursue the case and yet she pushes forward till her death.
A band of brothers seeks out Timothy Cavendish and threatens him until he must turn to his own brother for help. Brotherly tricks combined with old age get him trapped in a nursing home. However, along the way the train breaks down and Timothy is distracted by childhood memories. The current against his fate seems almost stronger than the one towards it. Sonmi – 451 takes the passiveness to the most explicit level: genetic programming. Before ascension, she doesn’t even have the vocabulary to make decisions. Afterwards, she is an experiment steered into seclusion by racism. Mitchell’s message finally becomes clear when we are provided with Sonmi’s account of stumbling up the double helix staircase – We are all stumbling up the double helix to our fate.

Familial tensions steer Frobisher, Luisa Rey, and Cavendish. In addition, sexual tensions and connections propel Ewing, Frobisher, and Luisa Rey through their story. All of these components are tied through procreation and genetics. The message may not be clear until the genetic engineering of Sonmi – 451 spells it out, but the coding is clear. Genetics, one way or another, are leading these characters to their fates. Attempts at free will (Yoona – 939) are fruitless, but following the predetermined path is not much better.

I wonder if we will find a balance in future chapters. Is there a such thing as just enough genetic engineering to create a story in which all characters make it out alive, and alive happily? The stories reflect negatively on promiscuity, greed, and violence. Can these be removed, or is that too far? Mitchell has set up several interesting issues, and I hope to seeing a character jump off that double-helix staircase… and live.
– M. Charles

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~ by melissascharles on February 23, 2014.

One Response to “The Genetic Plot”

  1. wow, I don’t know why I haven’t considered this before, but I think the different formats for which we see each tale work for the plot exactly like DNA and genes do for the characters. After reading your post, this totally just became clear to me. Each format or style has limitations because of their particular structures, and this sort of controls each story–very similar to how genetics control each character’s fate.

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