Set in the far future, Sonmi-451 recounts her experiences as a fabricant, or clone, in a society ruled by corporations called Nea So Copros. She speaks to an Archivist who records her story hours before she is to be executed, for treason.
The Archivist begins by thanking Sonmi-451 for agreeing to be interviewed for an orison before her execution. She is encouraged to tell only the truth. She replies that “truths are singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths” (185). Sonmi-451 begins by describing her life at Papa Song’s, the restaurant in which she worked before she was freed by the Unionists.
There are four stemtypes of fabricants who work at Papa Song’s. The Somni(s), the Yonna(s), Ma-Leo Da(s), and the Hwa-Soon(s). The stemtypes differ in appearance and temperament. Each fabricant is named for their stemtype and given a number to distinguish themselves from their counterparts. All Papa Song’s fabricants are female and are overseen by Seer Rhee and his wife. Papa Song Corp is the name of their restaurant’s chain and Papa Song, himself, serves as their Logoman. Papa Song acts as both the face of the company and spiritual leader to the fabricants, appearing as a large head in the dome of the dinery in which they served.
Sonmi-451 began each day by waking at dawn with her fellow fabricants in a dorm room. The fabricants dressed and washed and then filed into the restaurant. There they heard a type of mass centered on the recitation of the Six Catechisms or doctrines of their belief system, all of which revolve around the importance of service to Papa Song in hopes of reaching Xultation, an accomplishment each Papa Song fabricants strives for in her twelfth years. After their religious service, the fabricants station themselves around the Hub or main dining area. For the next nineteen hours they serve the purebloods who eat at Papa Song’s. They input orders, serve food, clean up, and take out the trash among other duties. After closing, the fabricants file back toward their dorm room and drink Soapsac, their only source of nourishment. The day repeats itself until a fabricant has reached twelve years old and they are escorted away from Papa Song’s and become purebloods, with Soulrings. It the desire of every fabricant, including Sonmi-451 to reach Xultation and live on Papa Song’s Ark.
The Soap they imbibe deters curiosity about the world outside. For Sonmi-451 and her sister fabricants, the world consists only of Papa Song’s. They are aware of an outside world in theory. They see other fabricants with Papa Song on beaches in Hawaii on the “3Ds” as an incentive to work hard and achieve Xultation. Sonmi-451 cannot distinguish in her memory one day at Papa Song’s from the next, as they are all the same. Time is marked by the hour for the diner’s convenience. Fabricants waited each year for their annual Star Sermon when they were given a star on their collar to indicate the number of years served at Papa Song’s. The Twelvestarred sisters were taken away for Xultation.
When Sonmi-451 was first assigned to Papa Song’ she was paired with Yoona-939, an tenstarred sullen teller. Sonmi-451 soon learned; however, that Yoona-939’s aloofness masked a subtle dignity. She was ever watchful and observant. Sonmi-451 soon befriended Yoona-939 and the older fabricant helped Sonmi-451 navigate the world of Papa Song’s. Yoona-939’s intelligence and her difference in personality were attributed to an offsite experiment being conducted by a University student named Boom Sook. Yoona-939’s intellectual ascension separated her from the other fabricants andSonmi-451 would soon follow her example.
The Archivist is distressed by Sonmi-451’s assertion that all fabricants have individual personalities. She claims the Soap they ingest suppresses their innate differences and makes fabricants docile, creating the illusion that they are soulless and therefore subhuman with no right to the full benefits of citizenship that purebloods are entitled to at birth. Sonmi-451 tells the Archivist “…even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same womb tank are as singular as snowflakes” (187).
The Archivist turns the conversation back to Yoona-939, asking how her differences became apparent to Sonmi-451.
Sonmi-451 first noticed Yoona-939’s irregular speech patterns when there were no diners at the tellers. Yoona-939 would use complex words outside of the basic lexicon used by fabricants. Sonmi-451 did not understand the meaning of Yoona-939’s new word choices but realized they were from outside of Papa Song’s and learned by Yoona-939 from the diners. She began to yawn, burp, and sneeze like purebloods for the entertainment of her sister fabricants.
The Archivists asks if Sonmi-451 was happy at Papa Song’s.
Sonmi-451 recounts that as a slave she knew no other live but did not enjoy the drudgery of her existence. She was not happy but better off than other slaves in Nea So Copros. The Archivist is appalled by her use of the word “slave” and says fabricants are not slaves, they have no souls. Sonmi-451 disagrees and wonders if the Archivist’s youthful ignorance is drug induced or is he truly so blind to the faults of their society?]
Changing the subject, the Archivist asked Sonmi-451 about Seer Rhee..
Sonmi-451 describes Seer Rhee as an upstrata, or high born citizen, who worked hard in the hopes of advancing himself on the corporate ladder. He was controlled by his adulterous wife, who used male fabricants for her sexual pleasure. Seer Rhee was not cruel but misguided. He did as he was told and in turn expected absolute obedience from the fabricants of Papa Song’s. When Seer Rhee noticed Yoona-939’s “deviations from Catechism” he had a medic evaluate her. She was given a clean bill of health and Seer Rhee was backed into a corner. He suspected there was something wrong with Yoona-939 but could not disagree with a senior medic for the sake of his own reputation.
The Archivists asks Sonmi-451 to recall Yoona-939’s first acts of deviation.
One night, while their sisters were sleeping, Yoona-939 woke Sonmi-451 and led her to see Seer Rhee slumped over his desk. He was known to drink the fabricant’s Soap to help him sleep at night. Passing their Seer, Yoona-939 took Sonmi-451 to a secret room, where Yoona-939 stored items left behind at the restaurant by purebloods. Sonmi-451 was shocked that Yoona-939 had not given these items to Seer Rhee as she was instructed to do. The items included umbrellas, flashlights, coats, hats, beads and earrings. The two fabricants dressed in pureblood clothes while looking through a book, a very rare treasure as most literature was sanctioned by the authorizes and displayed on sonys not on paper.
Sonmi-451 admits to having gone to the secret room at least fifteen times with Yoona-939. She listed to Yoona-939’s questions regarding their status as fabricants and over the authority of Papa Song’s. Yoona-939 began to doubt the Six Catechisms, and did not understand how Papa Song could exist simultaneously in the 3D ads, on his Plinth, and in Hawaii with the Xulated sisters? Why were fabricants born with a life debt that could only be repaid through service but purebloods were not. Also why did it take twelve years to reach Xultation? Why not more or less? Questions such as these were beyond the mindset of a typical fabricant and Sonmi-451 knew she should “judas” or tell on Yoona-939 but she did not. Soon Yoona-939 grew bolder and told Sonmi-451 she wanted to leave Papa Song’s and go outside.
Sonmi-451 refused to listen to Yoona-939’s desire to escape and their friendship was cut short. In hindsight Sonmi-451 feels Yoona-939 suffered from depression and had fixated on the images from the secret book. Yoona-939 thought the world outside of Papa Song’s resembled the fairy tales she saw in the book which would seem laughable to a pureblood but to a fabricant who has never left the underground world of Papa Song’s, the imaginary world of the book seemed very real and obtainable to Yoona-939.
The Archivists then asks Sonmi-451 to recall the events of Yoona-939’s attempted escape and death.
At that point in time Yoona-939 refused to speak to Sonmi-451. She had grown more withdrawn and sullen even though the two still worked side by side at the tellers. On the day of Yoona-939’s death, a children’s party with five hundred costumers obscured the exits of Papa Song’s with decorations. Papa Song, or his 3D version, was entertaining the children on his Plinth. Sonmi-451 saw Yoona-939 leave her teller, scoop up one of the children, and head into the elevator. Fabricants were not able to use the elevators as they were operated by the soulrings which only purebloods possessed. The mother of the child saw what had happened and cried out. A passing enforcer intervened and ill-advisedly fired a “sonicshot” from his “colt” or gun. The other diners stampeded the door, injuring costumers. Seer Rhee had been wounded in the crush toward the exits and Papa Song’s 3D image continued to entertain although no one was watching him. The elevator returned to the dinery and when the doors opened the enforcer shot Yoona-939 to death. The child was unharmed but the Media of Neo So Corp made a spectacle of the event, broadcasting that a fabricant had gone rogue, instilling fear and mistrust in the hearts of the purebloods against their servants.
The Homeland Laws were passed soon after by the Beloved Chairman, leader of Neo So Corp. The laws enforced the suppression of the fabricants and any form of abolitionism. Union, a fringe group, supported the abolitionist movement and took offence to the stricter laws. In the meantime Sonmi-451 and her sister fabricants were punished by Papa Song and were not starred that year. Papa Song created a new Catechism which instructed the fabricants to work harder than ever to repair the damage done by Yoona-939’s bad publicity. If they worked hard and rejected the evil of Unionism they would earn the love of Papa Song, forever.
The Archivists ask Sonmi-451 how she was able to recall the events of Yoona 939’s death while still ingesting Soap, which dulls a fabricant’s memory. Sonmi-451 reveals that she had already began her intellectual ascent by that point and Boom-Sook was using her as a back up plan in case Yoona-939’s ascension did not work, which it had not. Now Sonmi-451 was the guinea pig of the university student and Union, although she did not know it yet. Her Soap supply had been tampered with, allowing her personality and mental facilities to flourish.
Time passed and Sonmi-451 began to understand the pureblood lexicon. Her vocabulary grew each day, like a sponge she absorbed all new information eagerly. At the Starring Ceremony a new stemtype was introduced, called Kyelim(s). Media arrived to take pictures of the replacement Yoona who posed for pictures in the elevator where Yoona-939 had been killed. The same day medics examined each of the fabricants. They commented on Sonmi-451’s birthmark which other fabricants called a stain. The birthmark was in the shape of a comet and located between Sonmi-451’s collarbone and shoulder blade.
The Kyelim(s) were a novelty to the costumers, as were any new fabricant stemtype, and Papa Song’s business returned to normal. Sonmi-451; however, began to dream of life outside of Papa Song’s and was eager to learn all she could about life away from the restaurant. She became withdrawn from her sisters and was unable to sleep, thinking of the futility of her situation. One night she heard glass breaking and went to Seer Rhee’s office. He was slumped over a desk, dead of a Soap overdose. Sonmi-451 could not call for a medic as normal fabricants did not wake in the middle of the night and she feared ending up like Yoona-939. She returned to her dorm room.
The next morning Sonmi-451 found a man in Seer Rhee’s office, drinking coffee. His name was Mr. Chang; he told Sonmi-451 to come with him or risk the danger of being exposed as a Union spy during the investigation of Seer Rhee’s death. Sonmi-451 had little choice but to follow the man to the elevator and begin a new life outside of Papa Song’s.
Sonmi-451 and Mr. Chang took the elevator to the ground floor and emerged onto Chongmyo Plaza at the feet of a giant statue of the Beloved Chairman. Sonmi-451 described the area as vast, yet interspersed with the logos of all of the businesses in the Plaza. She smelled sewage and car fumes for the first time. Mr. Chang escorted her to a parked ford and she watched as the “golden arches” of Papa Song’s retreated in the distance. She had never been in a car before and fell forward with the motion, a bearded passenger in the ford, helped her upright. Sonmi-451 did not ask where they were taking her, as she was so overwhelmed by her surroundings, especially of the Kanwon-Do Mountains which bordered Nea So Copros.
Later, after miles of travel, they arrived at Mount Taemosan and the University. Mr. Chang led Sonmi-451 through the campus on foot, passing by purebloods on their way to class. They came to a dormitory and Sonmi-451 climbed stairs for the first time. After several minutes of climbing, they arrived at Boom- Sook Kim’s room. The university grad student was not at home. Mr. Chang left Sonmi-451 with no instructions and she was alone for the first time in her life.
The room served as both Boom-Sook’s living quarters and lab. It was dirty in contrast to the dinery which was always spotlessly clean. Sonmi-451 looked out of the window and saw a statue on a plinth and wondered if that was her new logoman but he never moved. She introduced herself to a fly, believing it to be a pureblood aide, so ignorant was she of the world outside of Papa Song’s. Later Boom-Sook arrived, kicking open the door. He was disgusted to see Sonmi-451 in his room and told her he was not her babysitter. He killed the fly and told her to take that as a warning should she misbehave. He told her he would be back later in the week and not to touch anything and there was Soap in the boxfridge. He did not return for three days.
Sonmi-451 spent her first day alone, watching birds out the window. The next morning another fabricant arrived. His name was Wing-027, a disasterman, designed to survive in extreme conditions, especially in the deadlands around Neo So Corpos. His skin was burned and raw in places but he did not appear to be in pain. Wing-027 told Sonmi-451 there are no logomen in University and she was free to wake when she wanted to. He then switched on Boom-Sook’s sony. Wing-027 told Sonmi-451 that she and Yoona-939 were Boom Sook’s experiments on cerebral upsizing. Wing-027 was surprised a slacker like Boom-Sook had succeeded so far. Wing-027 told Sonmi-451 he believed fabricants would one day take the place of purebloods and encouraged her to create her own Catechisms and to learn how to read.
Before curfew the same night Wing-027 gave her an old sony preloaded with educational material to help her learn to read. It was the last time she saw Wing-027. He died shortly thereafter of a botched experiment with his own post-grad who treated his demise with cruel disconcern.
By the time Boom-Sook returned, Sonmi-451 had graduated from virtual elementary school. Soon after, to the Archivist’s disbelieve, she graduated from secondary school. Boom-Sook was not interested in her progress and spent his days drinking and playing with his crossbow. His only visitors were two other students, Min-Sic and Fang. They encouraged his bad behavior and used drugs, mostly Soap.
Hae-Joo Im, a downstrata grad student came to Boom-Sook’s room one day and told him of Wing-027’s unfortunate death. Boom-Sook laughed but Hae-Joo looked at Sonmi-451 for her reaction. She retreated to another room, furious at Boom-Sook for laughing. That day she decided to act in defense of fabricants. Days later Boom-Sook left to hunt fabricant elk in Eastern Korea and left Sonmi-451 alone over the academic recess. She hid in his lab for fifty days and utilized her time by studying on her sony, learning of life before Neo So Corpos and of the time before the Skirmishes.
Boom-Sook returned and was prone to fits of temper. He treated Sonmi-451 as a servant and spoke down to her. His research into her acclimation outside of Papa Song’s and her ascension had ceased. Instead he spent his time gambling and drinking. One day Min-Sic and Fang arrived in high spirits. The three students drank and watched porn while Sonmi-451 cleaned up their mess. A student down the hall complained of their noise but they ignored him. Later Fang dared Boom-Sook to shoot a melon from Sonmi-451’s head. Fang threatened to tamper with her Soap if she did not obey and despite her pleadings to Boom-Sook, he fired his crossbow and shot the melon. A mango was placed on her head next and Boom-Sook again hit the fruit cleanly through without harming Sonmi-451. Then a plum was put on her head and Boom-Sook ordered Sonmi-451 not to move. This time Boom-Sook missed and he hit Sonmi-451 in the ear. Bleeding she stumbled as the door was thrown open and an older man, Boardman Aloi Mephi, a prominent professor at the University, entered the room.
Sonmi-451recognized him as the passenger in Mr. Chang’s ford on the first day of her arrival. She spared him little attention; however, as the pain in her ear intensified. Mephi sent Mic-Sac and Fang from the room and chastised Boom-Sook while Mr. Chang arrived with a first aid kit to clean Sonmi-451’s wound. Mephi fired Boom-Sook on the spot and cut him from the doctoral program. Sonmi-451 left with the Boardman for new quarters.
Sonmi-451 walked across campus with her head covered and arrived at an upscale apartment building for faculty. Melphi directed her to a new and lavish home. He apologized for leaving her with Boom-Sook and for failing to notice her advanced state of ascension. Her use of Wing-027’s stolen sony and alerted the University. She had read restricted material, such as Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” a forbidden text. One of his students, presumably Hae-Joo Im, was able to determine the location of the sony and with it, an assessment of Sonmi-451’s abilities. Melphi hoped to help Sonmi-451 achieve even greater enlightenment by enrolling her as a student at the University, while undergoing neurological and psychological testing. By working as a student and continuing her education she would pay her investment as a fabricant and still be able to achieve Xultation. She agreed and a soulring was implanted in her collar.
On New Year’s day, Sonmi-451 received her third star for her collar and her old sony. Later in the same week she went to her first set of classes. The purebloods and professors were upset by her presence and Sonmi-451 felt isolated and on edge. Melphi explained purebloods feared change, especially concerning fabricants because their society was based on a hierarchy of wealth and power, not on achievement and hard work. If a fabricant could upstage them academically, the whole of their society was at risk.
She attended two more classes, one with an enforcer who protected her, and the second alone. After the second class she was peppered with questions from the Media and photographed by their Nikons. After that her lectures were sent to her sony. Daily scientific experiments on her body and mind continued as she studied. A year passed and Sonmi-451 grew depressed, believing her curiously for the world was dying.
Shortly thereafter Hae-Joo Im arrived at the request of Melphi to escort Sonmi-451 off campus. At first Hae-Joo was nervous around Sonmi-451 but was respectful and cheerful. He took her downtown to the Avenue of Nine Thousand AdVs and eventually to Moon Tower where Sonmi-451 saw advertisements flash across the moon’s surface.
Next they traveled to a galleria where artifacts from deadlands were for sale. She watched purebloods consume mass quantities of endless products, spending a fixed quota of their money as part of a government initiative to support the country’s massive economy.
At a café Hae-Joo told Sonmi-451 about his family. His parents where “random concepts” or natural births of the downstrata class. They traded a second child quota to get Hae-Joo properly “genomed” or genetically modified.
The following ninthnite (considered a weekend in a ten day week cycle) Sonmi-451 and Hae-Joo went to Papa Song’s. Sonmi-451 was curious to see her former home and sister fabricants. In disguise and with a temporary Soulring, Sonmi-451 and Hae-Joo descended into Papa Song’s by elevator.
Her memories of the dinery paled in comparison to the garish reds and yellows of the eatery. She was overwhelmed by the racket caused by the hungry consumers and disappointed to see how small the place appeared to her now. Sonmi-451 feared Papa Song, who stood on his Plinth, might recognize “his prodigal daughter” (230). Yet he did not acknowledge her at all. As she watched Papa Song entertain child diners with his clownish behavior she realized with shame, that he was nothing more than a hologram and felt disappointing disillusion for her former self and for her sister fabricants who still viewed Papa Song as their spiritual leader.
Sonmi-451 went to her old teller station, now manned by Kyelim-889, Yoona 939’s replacement. Sonmi-451 asked Kyelim-889 if she was happy, if she wanted to go outside, to be like the purebloods. Kyelim-889 did not understand the questions and asked Sonmi-451 for her order.
Sonmi-451 went to sit with Hae-Joo at one the tables that she used to clean and reflected that the fabricants were nothing more than slaves. Back at University she came to terms with her own status as a privileged slave, the fact that she lamented her existence only further proof of her humanity.
Weeks passed and Sonmi-451 and Hae-Joo formed a close friendship. On the last night of her stay at the University they watched a forbidden “disney” or film, called “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.”
The Archivist interrupted Sonmi-451’s recollections. He was astonished that she had viewed the film as it was against the law to watch pre-Skirmish media, especially from 21st century deadland Europe.
Sonmi-451 remarked on the importance of preserving all histories and not just those approved by Neo So Corpos and that disneys like “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” should be made available to the downstrata, so they might develop different viewpoints contrary to the entertainment provided by corporacry’s Media.
Engrossed in the film, Sonmi-451 was able to forget herself and immerse in the “brief resurrection of the past” (235). Just as Timothy Cavendish suffered a stroke in the disney, a male student burst into the room and saluted Hae-Joo. His name was Xi-Li and he was with Union, the underground abolitionist group.
Xi-Li reported that Boardman Melphi had been arrested and that enforcers were looking on campus for Sonmi-451. Their orders were to capture Hae-Joo and kill Sonmi-451 on sight. Mr. Chang was waiting outside with a ford, ready to help them escape.
Hae-Joo turned to Sonmi-451 and said “…I am not exactly who I said I am” (236).
An Orison of Sonmi-451 Section One Analysis
An Orison of Sonmi-451 is written as a transcript of a recorded oral history. The Archivist, a faceless character, drives the tone of the interview by asking pointed questions, keeping Sonmi-451’s narrative in chronological order and for the most part staying within the parameters of what he considers appropriate commentary. His startled responses and interruptions during her narration as she reveals the truth of her life story, slowly shift the control of the conversation from the structured question and answer the Archivist began the interview with into a life lesson by Sonmi-451, who chooses her words carefully as if she knows they will have a lasting impact.
The fact that Sonmi-451 is being interviewed at all by an archivist, who protects and preserves the history of a society for posterity, indicates that Sonmi-451’s story is important and reflective of her time period. Sloocha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After, the last of the six main sections, will reveal the lasting impact of Sonmi-451’s orison.
The narration used during Sonmi-451’s interview is brisk and controlled. Her conversation with the Archivist is, at first, an exchange of questions and answers. Sonmi-451 does not meander when speaking, her speech is structured and measured, at times sounding planned or rehearsed. Yet Sonmi-451’s true potential as a teacher and role model is revealed whenever she agitates the Archivist into confrontation. Her philosophical and often lyrical answers prompt the Archivist’s curiosity and leave a lasting impression on the reader.
At first the reader may be confused by the language used in An Orison of Sonmi-451. Set in the distant future, generic word choices for common objects or expressions, such as a car, have adopted brand names. Just as the word “Kleenex” is synonymous with tissues in contemporary culture, the word “ford” has become an all encompassing term for cars in the society of Neo So Corpos. Once the reader recognizes the many brand names listed in the text the associations to current brands and corporations become easier to decipher. Harder to discern, at first, is the terminology used to describe the people of Neo So Corpos and their social hierarchy.
Set in an undetermined time period in Korea (the exact location is unknown), Neo So Corpos is a consumer based society run by corporations. The Beloved Chairman, who pointedly remains anonymous in the novel, is the undisputed leader. His larger than life statue reflect his status and the control he has over the people, perhaps illustrating the author’s commentary on the current regime in North Korea. It is not known if the Beloved Chairman even exists, perhaps, like Papa Song, he is only a façade. Below the Beloved Chairman in the hierarchy of Neo So Corpos are the corporations themselves who have monopolized their industries and are so self-righteous they project their advertisements on the face of the moon. The author’s cautionary tale of consumerism is not lost on the reader.
The society is then divided into two larger parts, the purebloods who are born with souls and the fabricants who, supposedly, are not. The purebloods are given Soulrings which act as identification and debit cards and serve to help hold up the fragile economy. Fabricants lack Soulrings and do not have the same freedoms as purebloods. Within the social structure of the purebloods are the subdivision of the upstrata (upper class) and the downstrata (lower class). Fabricants in comparison are equal in status within Neo So Corpos but like their pureblood counterparts are divided into subdivision called stemtypes. As noted in the text each stemtype posseses its own unique set of qualities and apperences. For example Wing-027’s biological makeup made him immune to certain hazardous conditions.Some stemtypes are in higher demand than others but all fabricants are slaves.
From birth fabricants are not paid for their services and kept in complete isolation from the outside world. A separate hierarchy exists for fabricants like Sonmi-451 and Yoona-939 who live most of their lives in ignorance and believe that if they work hard and are good they will achieve Xultation and live with their logoman Papa Song in Hawaii. Note again the repeating image of Hawaii as paradise in the overall novel. The fabricants believe they will reach Xultation because they trust their logoman who acts as the face of their corporation and their spiritual leader, a horrifying combination of mind control and deception.
The theme of deception in the novel is abundant in An Orison of Sonmi-451, like Half Lives the reader is not always aware of who is deceiving whom as Sonmi-451 deconstructs the Archivist’s conservative outlook on their society, posing questions that are outside of common knowledge. Sonmi-451’s role as an ascended fabricant gives her an unprecedented view point of life within a repressed society, illustrating that both the purebloods and the fabricants are being deceived by their governments. For example the Archivist is stunned to learn that Sonmi-451 not only watched a film unsanctioned by their government but that it was a film from the 21st century in Europe a forbidden field of study even to the Archivists. This scene reveals more about the Archivist’s sheltered mindset than it does about Sonmi-451 and Hae-Joo’s defiant behavior. As the Archivist listens to Sonmi-451’s story he begins to question the logic behind the social structure of their society.