Part 1: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (first half)
Part 2: Letters from Zedelghem (first half)
Part 3: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (first half)
Part 4: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (first half)
Part 5: An Orison of Sonmi~451 (first half)
Part 6: Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After (whole story)
Part 7: An Orison of Sonmi~451 (second half)
Part 8: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (second half)
Part 9: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (second half)
Part 10: Letters from Zedelghem (second half)
Part 11: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (second half)
The Story So Far . . .
Here we are, back where we started eleven weeks ago, back to the interrupted passage from Sunday, December 8th. The Prophetess lands at the isle of Raiatea, part of the Society Islands (the better known of which is Tahiti). There Adam Ewing and Dr. Henry Goose are invited by Captain Molyneux and first-mate Mr. Boerhaave ashore. Adam smells a rat but goes ahead. They’ve landed at a small settlement called Nazareth, in Bethlehem Bay, which at first seems deserted. Boerhaave suggests that with twenty men and twenty muskets, the island could be there’s. Adam feels “a loamy breathlessness” and compares his vigour on the Chatham Isles to the toll the Parasite has taken on him.
The people of Nazareth appear out of the church, and the captain is introduced to Preacher Horrox, the authority in the area. Molyneux plays up the God-fearing nature of his crew, and they are invited to the Horroxes’ home for lunch. Molyneux flatters him and asks how the Indians are kept in line. They work of their own free will, the preacher claims, and Molyneux intimates that a business proposition, bringing the fruits of this Eden to Adam’s San Francisco, could be in his interest.
Dr. Goose sets up temporary shop so that the ladies of Nazareth can be seen by a proper physician while Adam explores. He is shocked to come across the “Nazareth Smoking School,” a church-inspired lecture wherein the natives of the island are taught how to smoke. “An idea of Father Upward’s, at the Tahitian Mission,” Adam is told: Indians are idle because they don’t have any use for money, but if you hook them on “baccy,” then they must work in order to be paid in order to purchase their addiction (p. 482). This, of course, is to keep the Devil away from their idleness. Of course.
Adam is introduced to a Mr. Wagstaff, a young man who was sent to the colony to marry a widow and look after her son, Daniel. He disabuses Adam of the notion that this is Eden: the heat is terrible, the living things bite, the pagans aren’t genuine in their faith: “Raiatea is a fallen place, same as everywhere, aye, no snakes, but the Devil plies his trade here as much as anywhere else” (p. 483). His wife is much older, somewhat slovenly, and treats her young husband like dirt, it seems (“Mrs. Wagstaff‘s contempt for her young husband, if bottled, could have been vended as rat poison”), and the stepson “frolicked as naked as his Native playmates.” Adam is also surprised to see a number of children clearly from cross-racial unions.
Adam asks about the many untouched Polynesian bibles he saw when he first arrived. Wagstaff says there aren’t enough Indians to give them to, because the “disease dust” from white ships fell the Natives. Even so, when Adam comes across a “marae,” a huge coral structure on the beach, he is told that while the Natives used to do blood sacrifice there, not a child among them now even remember the names of the old gods: “It’s all rats’ nests & rubble now. That’s what all beliefs turn to one day. Rats’ nests & rubble” (p. 486).
At supper that night, Horrox lectures them about “Civilization’s Ladder,” specifying that Aryans are at the top and Polynesians at the bottom by God-given right. Dr. Goose disagrees: the Whites have taken the world because they have the musket, and they have the musket because of “Goose’s Two Laws of Survival,” the first of which is “the weak are meat the strong do eat” (p. 489). To wit: The whites have “our love—or rather, our rapacity—for treasure, gold, spices & dominion, oh , most of all sweet dominion,” more than any other race on earth. Horrox takes umbrage at the godlessness of this theory. As Goose later tells Adam as he administers the night’s vermicide, wolves don’t concoct theories as to why they eat sheep: people are predatory, and Goose’s Second Law is that there is no second law.
The next day, Adam watches the Natives working and sees they are all but slaves. He ventures to a classroom of young Nazarenes, who recite the Ten Commandments for him. By afternoon the Prophetess is back on its way, and Adam considers this “Civilization’s Ladder” theory: should he applaud Horrox’s Mission? “Is not ascent [the Indians’] sole salvation?” (p. 492). He also laments that someone broke into his quarters on the ship while he stayed with the Horroxes and tried to break into his strongbox, but failed. He keeps the key around his neck, and his important Notary papers in the box.
Monday, December 16th finds the Prophetess crossing the Equator, and two “virgins,” i.e. sailors who have never crossed the Equator, Rafael and Bentnail, being horribly hazed. They are tied to the mast, their face are tarred, and they are shaved; then they are held down in barrels of saltwater. Rafael takes it meekly and Bentnail curses them all. Adam has no taste for such cruelty, and is disgusted by men like Boerhaave who delight in it.
Days at sea go by. At one point a shark is caught and pulled on board, its skin to made into sandpaper. Cockroaches attack Adam in his sleep, and he grows ever weaker and more addled because of his Parasite; he is so grateful for the wonderful, steadfast Dr. Goose helping him through it all. The sun blisters them. At one point, almost too weak to come on deck to cries of “There she blows!” he manages to rouse himself and enjoy a pod of six whales alongside the ship. But even they grow monotonous after a while.
On Christmas Eve, Dr. Goose cuts Adam’s wedding ring off his swollen finger, promising to get it fixed in Hawaii. Christmas day finds Adam yet more ill. He crosses paths with the young Rafael, who asks him if God lets sinners into Heaven if they’re truly repentant. Adam brushes him off, saying Rafael is far too young to have accrued many sins. The next day, he is horrified to discover that Rafael has hanged himself, and the all-but-admitted truth is that it’s because he’s been raped for weeks by Boerhaave and his men, and saw no way out.
Adam is racked with guilt: if he’d only listened more, might he have saved Rafael? He demands justice for the young man from the Captain, who waves him off. Without evidence, the captain will hear nothing of it. Quite bravely, Adam confronts Boerhaave, asking if Adam himself is next now that Boerhaave’s plaything is dead. Boerhaave “showed his fangs” and tells him that since Adam is about to die, no one would touch him anyway. Adam replays the young sailor’s death over and over in his mind, haunted by it. And by Sunday, December 30th, he can barely get out of bed. He leaves instructions for his journal to be sent along to his son, because he knows he will soon die.
The journal then jumps forward to Sunday, January 12th. “My dear friend Henry” is now referred to only as “Goose.” As he languished toward his death, Adam realized too late that Goose was keeping everyone away from him, even hearing him lie to Autua, the Moriori ex-slave whose life Adam saved, that Adam wants nothing more to do with him. At last the pieces fall into place, and Goose admits it to the nearly-dead Adam: he is a con man who has done this often; he is after the contents of Adam’s chest. He helps himself to the key around Adam’s neck, sifts through the contents, takes the little money and the gem inside, and leaves Adam to die. “The weak are meat, the strong do eat,” Goose reiterates.
Adam passes out, but comes to retching. Autua has come back for him, forced brine into him to help him throw up the poison, physically tosses Boerhaave over the bulwarks when the first mate tries to kick him away from Adam, and carries his benefactor and friend onto land: Hawaii. He carries him all through the town, asking for a doctor, and most people turn him away because he is black. At last some nuns take them in, and Autua stays by Adam’s side, nursing him back to health. Adam is grateful, but Autua insists that by saving Autua’s life, Adam really saved his own.
Goose, now known as the notorious murderer “Arsenick Goose” has disappeared. Adam turns 34 as he recuperates on the isle of Hawaii. He watches children playing in the candlenut tree near the convent, and he philosophizes: “What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts. what precipitates acts? Belief” (p. 507). If we believe humanity to be vicious, the world to be full of exploitation and violence, that’s the world we will have: “history’s Horroxes, Boeraaves, & Gooses shall prevail. . . the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch?” (p. 508).
But if we believe “that humanity may transcend tooth & claw…that races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree,” then that is the world we can create. “One fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself,” and Adam wants to leave the world better for his son. So he will go home and pledge himself to the Abolitionist movement because he would not be alive were it not for Autua, the “self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.” He imagines his father-in-law chastising him, calling him naive, telling him that he is “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean” (p. 509). Yet, Adam reasons, “what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Oh, the end. The end. The end of the book, the coming together of so many different ideas and themes in Adam’s final philosophizing, and the last line. This book is about that multitude of drops in the overall ocean of humanity, across time and space. As with many of the narratives, we see echoes across time here. When Horrox is asked about his colony, for example, he “gazed beyond his interrogator to a future lecture hall” (p. 478).
Adam’s musing about the “ascent” of the Indian up the ladder of civilization is strongly reminiscent, even in the language used, of Sonmi~451’s Ascension to a higher plane of consciousness. She is quite literally the slave who has been genetically kept in the dark, at a lower rung of existence, who ascends to a higher level of understanding. Adam and Sonmi have similar awakenings throughout their narratives, in fact. Adam starts out quite obtuse and unaware of the evils and iniquities of the world he lives in, and ends by pledging to become an Abolitionist and make the world a better place for the future. Sonmi begins by knowing nothing other than her small dinery world and ends first by discovering the inequality between Fabricants and Souled people, then the horrors of the slaughtership, and finally the truth about Union, and she hopes that her story will help make the world a better place for those who come after, too.
The slaves in this narrative, of course, mirror the sweat-shop workers in Luisa Rey, the Fabricants in Sonmi, and the slaves taken by the Kona in Sloosha’s Crossin’. Predation is at work on multiple levels: Goose preys upon Adam individually and Boerhaave upon Rafael; The crew preys upon its weaker members; the Horroxes prey upon the people of their small colony, deliberately addicting them to tobacco in order to get them to work; and the White societies enslave the Black and Native populations they come across.
The themes of predation are quite plainly laid out by both Goose and Adam, though Adam’s final musings save the tone of the book as a whole from cynicism. Yes, we have seen in each of these narratives the ways in which humanity preys upon itself. But we’ve seen the kindnesses, too, and the selflessness. We’ve seen the better world Adam envisions. But it’s all cyclical. Nothing ever stays, and we repeat our own mistakes, especially as history is forgotten. As poor Mr. Wagstaff observes, all religions eventually become rats’ nests and rubble; we see this in the extinction of the indigenous religions in this narrative, in the forgotten Buddha in Sonmi’s tale, in the forgotten Christ in Zachry’s time. We even see this in the way Frobisher’s music is forgotten over time.
Smaller points of connection continue to pop up here. We have a mention of a Father Upward, oddly mirroring the Dr. Upward in Timothy Cavendish’s time. We have Rafael’s tragic suicide that is the opposite of Frobisher’s deliberately thought out suicide. We have another reference to a “many-headed hydra” (p. 509), this time of human nature. Adam refers to Melville, when we know in the metanarrative that Adam’s story was deliberately written in a Melvillean style. The language of the Indigenous of Raiatea is reminiscent of the language in Zachry’s time (“Nah, Tarbaby, you’re doing it all wrong, see, you load your baccy in the fat end, aye, that one, see” [p. 482]). And, of course, Adam ends up on Hawaii, a central location across the stories.
Adam Ewing and Robert Frobisher are great main characters to stand next to each other in this book, because they are so very different. Ewing becomes more and more self-aware and selfless throughout, even as he goes unknowingly to a death he doesn’t want. He decides that he must help the world become better, echoing Luisa Rey’s “you do what you can’t not do” mentality. He becomes a much stronger, better person by the end of the narrative after he is given a second chance to live through Autua, who represent his selfless (if not entirely happy about it) act from the first half. Frobisher, meanwhile, is scheming, thieving, cuckolding; he doesn’t care what state he leaves the world in, cares only for his art, and very knowingly commits suicide. His descent and Adam’s ascent are so strong next to each other, showing two very different human experiences for two different drops in the ocean.
Goose is a fascinating character, too. Adam takes forever to catch on to his scheme, and I truly wonder if I’d have suspected him if not for Frobisher’s quip about his intentions in the first half. I wonder if Mitchell did this deliberately, planting the seeds of doubt in our heads to keep us in the know more than we would be. I think I would have begun to wonder about him with his “weak are meat” speech, but would I really have suspected his evilness? Maybe after he steals the wedding ring, but maybe not before.
I love that we don’t have a really final ending for Adam’s tale. We must assume that he goes home and gives his journal to his son, who edits and publishes it, so that it may be ripped in two to prop up a bed in Zedelghem, to be found by Frobisher, and so on across the multitude of drops in the ocean. Outcomes are precipitated by acts, across time and space. Humanity can prey on itself or believe itself to be more than that. And that is the end of Cloud Atlas.
What do you think about this section? Please share your thoughts, and please join me next week for an overall wrap-up and final discussion! Thanks so much for reading along with me.
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