Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Cloud Atlas: Introduction
A concise biography of David Mitchell plus historical and literary context for Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas: Plot Summary
A quick-reference summary: Cloud Atlas on a single page.
Cloud Atlas: Detailed Summary & Analysis
In-depth summary and analysis of every chapter of Cloud Atlas. Visual theme-tracking, too.
Cloud Atlas: Themes
Explanations, analysis, and visualizations of Cloud Atlas's themes.
Cloud Atlas: Quotes
Cloud Atlas's important quotes, sortable by theme, character, or chapter.
Cloud Atlas: Characters
Description, analysis, and timelines for Cloud Atlas's characters.
Cloud Atlas: Symbols
Explanations of Cloud Atlas's symbols, and tracking of where they appear.
Cloud Atlas: Theme Wheel
An interactive data visualization of Cloud Atlas's plot and themes.
Brief Biography of David Mitchell
David Mitchell was born and raised in Northern England. He obtained a degree in English and an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Kent, then spent eight years in Hiroshima, Japan, where he met his wife and taught English to technical students. He published his first novel, Ghostwritten, in 1999. The book received widespread acclaim, and his next two novels, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), have gone on to become perhaps his best-known works. Mitchell has published a total of nine novels, along with several stories and essays. He has also written for film and television, including Sense8 and The Matrix Resurrections. Mitchell currently lives in County Cork, Ireland, with his wife and two children.
Historical Context of Cloud Atlas
Several of the stories in Cloud Atlas take inspiration from real-life events. “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” deals with the real genocide and enslavement of the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands. The events of “Letters from Zedelghem” resemble the life of British composer Frederick Delius and his assistant Eric Fenby. “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” draws inspiration from the life of Karen Silkwood, a real union activist and whistleblower who died in a mysterious car crash. Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas near the beginning of the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, which may have influenced the novel’s themes of violence and pacificism.
Other Books Related to Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas takes inspiration from the postmodern novels of the late 20th and early 21st century. In particular, its structure resembles Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, which also contains several stories that get interrupted. Some of Cloud Atlas’s stories contain direct references to previous works. “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish,” for instance, references Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In addition, the story “An Orison of Sonmi~451” features human clones with a limited lifespan called fabricants that bear a strong resemblance to replicants in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner, which is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
Key Facts about Cloud Atlas
- Full Title: Cloud Atlas
- When Written: Early 2000s
- Where Written: England
- When Published: 2004
- Literary Period: Contemporary
- Genre: Novel, Metafiction
- Setting: Six different locations in the present, past, and future
- Climax: Adam Ewing realizes he’s being poisoned.
- Antagonist: Greed, Mortality
- Point of View: First Person and Third Person
Extra Credit for Cloud Atlas
Eternal Return. Some of the characters of Cloud Atlas appeared in previous books by David Mitchell, including Timothy Cavendish, who appeared in Mitchell’s first novel, Ghostwritten. Mitchell has claimed that he’d like to include all of his recurring characters in one big novel.
Rock around The Bone Clocks. Although David Mitchell often writes about music, he doesn’t play or compose music himself. While Cloud Atlas focuses on classical music, his 2020 novel Utopia Avenue deals with rock music of the 1960s.