The Soul and Consumerism in Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas was one of those reads I couldn’t put down. Despite insanely long chapters, I found myself wanting to read to the end of each one before stopping for the evening. As an exhausted mother of two who can barely keep her eyes open after the littles drift off, that’s a testament to the writing and the story.

Although the book had many interesting concepts and beautiful parts, what struck me most was the concept of the soul in the second-highest level: An Orison of Sonmi-451. In the futuristic society, the soul, rather than being a metaphysical concept, had become an implanted NFC identity chip connected to a bank account.

Money and consumerism replacing the soul is not an altogether unique idea. But I feel like the way it was laid out in Cloud Atlas made a meaningful impact. First of all, the whole book is a study on the soul. This has the reader contemplating the issue. The layered narratives create a sort of meditation on soul. When we finally get to Sonmi, and it is revealed that the concept of the soul has become tamed by man, the prior sections pay off.

The soul is no longer an indefinable piece of humanity, but something that man defines. I couldn’t help relating it to other social constructs such as gender or race. At that moment, a sort of defensiveness rose in me. I didn’t want the soul to be a social construct. I wanted it to be something real and meaningful. But the book opened my eyes to the way society constantly redefines our experiences. Someday, the soul may be a bank account. Purchasing power. Someday morality may be connected to “ethical consumerism.” This didn’t terrify me, as much as sadden me.

Lately I’ve read a few books that use clones to meditate on the soul. Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox. While each of these books explores a relevant ethical question of whether people designed by people have a ‘soul’, they also call into question the very concept of the soul. Do we have souls? Do clones have souls? By re-purposing the soul completely, Cloud Atlas takes the issue a step further, implying the soul may be whatever society needs it to be to support the current social system. Therefore, the soul is a concept of power and subjugation. Like virginity.

I like difficult books. I want to read things that make me question my worldview. Ultimately, I want to write things that make other people reconsider things they currently take for granted. I want to use my writing to explore concepts like love, the soul, and society while sparking discussion.

There’s a lot to be said for pretty books or entertaining books. But a book like Cloud Atlas–pretty, entertaining, and thought provoking, makes me swoon. It also gives me hope for a world of people who want to understand our existence.


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