"Strong vs. Weak" and "Predation"
Both of these themes go hand in hand. Throughout the book the “weaker” are preyed upon and taken advantage of by the “stronger.” The stronger may be deemed so because of assets, power, money, stature, authority, knowledge, weaponry, or technology.
- In Adam’s journal the Moriori are invaded by the stronger Maori, cabin boy Rafael is preyed upon by First Mate Booerhaave, and Adam is deceived by his poorly trusted doctor.
- Frobisher’s letters depicts him running away from debt collectors, being slighted by pompous Eva, and plagiarized and threatened by Vyvyan.
- Luisa Rey, Seaboard personnel, and the citizens of Swannekke are all subjugated by the power of corpocracy and young Javier is abused by a father figure within Hilary V. Hush’s book.
- Timothy Cavendish is discriminated against by society and mistreated by Aurora House staff.
- Sonmi and her fellow fabricants are taken advantage of and mistreated by the power of Unanimity.
- Finally, Zachry is tormented by Ol’ Georgie and preyed upon by the Kona.
"Ascent and Descent"
Ascent and Descent can be seen all throughout Cloud Atlas. The theme symbolizes the rises and falls of civilization as well as the ups and downs of human experience.
- Adam begins his downward spiral after climbing Conical Tor and Autua earns a place on the the Prophetess after climbing the sails.
- Robert falls out of a window whilst running from debt collectors and also falls in love after climbing the Belfry Tower with Eva.
- Luisa and Sixsmith fall in an elevator and Luisa falls off a bridge when hit by Bill Smoke.
- Felix Finch is killed by Dermot Hoggins when he is thrown off a building and Timothy falls into a ditch before he enters Aurora House.
- The process of awakening within fabricants is called ‘ascension’ and Sonmi must literally ascend an elevator to escape from Papa Song’s dinery. She later witnesses a fabricant doll fall to her death.
- In Zachry’s time, civilization’s collapse is called ‘The Fall’ and Meronym almost falls while climbing Mauna Kea with Zachry. The Kona also fall to their deaths while chasing Zachry and Meronym.
Reincarnation is a big theme within Cloud Atlas and is reinforced with echoes and connections of characters between stories.
- Adam, Robert, Timothy, Luisa, Sonmi, and Meronym all have similar birthmarks.
- Timothy’s imagery of ice skater’s crisscrossing tracks. (163)
- Luisa “knows” the Cloud Atlas Sextet and feels a “gravity” toward the Prophetess. (408)
- Sonmi feels like “a time traveler from a past century.” (202)
- The Valleysmen’s belief of reincarnation through their deity Sonmi, and Zachry noting how souls cross the skies of time just as clouds do. (302)
- Sonmi’s reference to Buddha saving people “from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth.” (329)
- Margo Roker comes out of her coma right as Joe Napier dies. (433)
- Frobisher’s letter to Sixsmith explaining the cyclical nature of time, and how everything that has happened will happen again. (471)
Each section of Cloud Atlas contains the theme of imprisonment and displays how each character copes in their own way.
- Autua and his fellow Morioris were enslaved by the Maori.
- Adam was a prisoner of his “Ailment” and parasite of a doctor.
- Rafael was Boerhaave's sex slave.
- Robert was a confined by his depression and his domineering employer Vyvyan.
- Luisa and her friends were at at the mercy of Seaboard executives.
- Javier was subjected to abuse in his own apartment.
- Timothy was incarcerated at Aurora House.
- Sonmi and the fabricants were engineered as slaves to serve purebloods.
- Sonmi was a prisoner in her own skin being ostracized among purebloods to the point that she confined herself to learning alone in her room.
- Sonmi also found that she had been Unanimity’s puppet the whole time, playing into the Union charade.
- Zachry was a prisoner of his own past, continually blaming himself for his father and brother’s deaths.
- Ol’ Georgie continuously tormented Zachry's mind .
- The Kona enslaved the Mookini and then Zachry and the Valleysmen.
- Meronym and the Prescients are hostages of the red-scab disease and were desperately searching for a new home.