Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Summary and Analysis of Letters from Zedelghem (Section Two)

(Robert Frobisher continues his letters to Rufus Sixsmith from Chateau Zedelghem, Belgium.)

Ayrs has been in bed for three days and Frobisher has used the time to compose his own music. One day he goes for a drive with Morty Dhondt, an acquaintance. They drive to Zonnebeke, site of a cemetery for fallen English soldiers during WWI. Frobisher has no idea if his older brother, Adrian, is buried there but knew he fought in Belgium during the war and may have been killed in the area. Reflecting on the sad history he shared with his brother and parents, he laid white roses on the grave of another solider. Later he discusses the inevitability of war with Dhondt who suggests the world is always either in war or getting ready for another war. He claims “the nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions” (444). Frobisher warns Sixsmith about the use of science for the betterment of mankind because the same capabilities for good can be turned for ill gain, especially if the human race is unable to overcome its preoccupation with dominance and destruction.

Ayrs finally returns to the music room after days of bed rest. Frobisher tells Sixsmith he has spent the fortnight reworking his sextet which features overlapping soloists of the piano, clarinet, cello, flute, oboe, and violin. “In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recombined in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?” (445) Frobisher is upset when Ayrs suggests they use the material under his name and claims all of Frobisher’s work belongs to him as he is the composer and Frobisher is only an assistant and that the music will never be heard unless it carries Ayrs’ weighty name.

Days later Frobisher goes to Bruges to visit with Eva’s host family and several of their unmarried daughters. He knows he is being considered by the women of the family but takes little interest in their suggestive conversation. Instead he finds himself fascinated by Eva, who on her return from Switzerland has become much friendlier and more attractive as a result. Frobisher is pleased to find himself alone with the young woman at the top of a bell tower in the center of Bruges. There she tells Frobisher she has met someone and has fallen in love. Frobisher assumes she means him and realizes he wants to kiss her. Suddenly a troupe of American tourists come up the stairs of the bell tower and prevent him from doing so. Later that night Frobisher imagines he is having sex with Eva instead of her mother. Jocasta senses something is wrong but says nothing.

Frobisher grows steadily depressed and forlorn as he watches Ayrs take his compositions and claim them for himself. His partnership with Ayrs ends swiftly one evening when Frobisher accuses him of plagiarism and Ayrs counters that Frobisher is only half as talented as he believes himself to be. Ayrs tells Frobisher he knows of his bad reputation in London, his debts, his affair with Jocasta, and threatens to ruin his name among musical circles throughout Europe if he were to leave the château. Ayrs knows he needs Frobisher to finish the composition but refuses to credit Frobisher on the work.

Devastated, Frobisher retreats to his room, moaning in calf love over Eva and pretending not to be disturbed by Ayrs, although he does threaten to hang himself. Early in the morning Frobisher comes to the conclusion that he must leave the château. He refuses to allow Ayrs to steal his work any longer but he must stay close by so that he can meet with Eva in the near future.

Before he leaves he takes the second half of Ewing’s journal, which he finds holding up part of the bed frame in his room. Then Frobisher sneaks down the hall to Ayr’s room and steals a Luger pistol from a bedside table, taking the bullets as well. Frobisher contemplates killing Ayrs in his sleep but is overwhelmed by a sense of unexplainable déjà vu in which he slit another man’s throat under similar conditions. Frobisher has never killed anyone and is confused and in that moment he decides not to kill Ayrs and leaves the chateau. He is picked up on the road by Mrs. Dhondt who was passing by in her car. Later he arrives in Bruges by dawn and settles into a temporary hotel near Eva’s school.

Locked away in his room Frobisher composes Cloud Atlas Sextet and tells Sixsmith “when it is finished there will be nothing left in me, I know…” (461). He ends his masterpiece on a misplaced note and tells Sixsmith he is in good spirits and not to worry. Apparently Ayrs and Jocasta are not interested in finding him. He worries Eva will hate him and climbs the steps of the bell tower everyday in hopes of seeing her.

Eventually, half crazed with his love for Eva, Frobisher goes to a party that she is attending. He rushes into the room, sees that Eva is with another man and begins making a scene. Eva had no idea Frobisher had feelings for her or that he was even still in the country. Frobisher dismissed Eva’s confusion and confronts her about leading him on. She retorts she never said she was in love with him and introduces a flabbergasted Frobisher to her fiancé. He and Frobisher end up in a fist fight in which Frobisher is injured. Retreating to his room, to his music, and to his letters to Sixsmith, Frobisher claims he is alright and was not in love with Eva after all, suggesting he has even forgotten what she looks like.

As a result of his fight with Eva’s finance, Frobisher is asked to leave the hotel by the police officer who lent him a bicycle months earlier. Eager to impress the man, Frobisher shows him Cloud Atlas Sextet and is relieved when the officer praises its ingenuity. Frobisher assures Sixsmith he is fine and not suffering from melancholia.

The last letter to Sixsmith details Frobisher’s preparations for his suicide. He thanks Sixsmith for his friendship and for coming to Bruges. Frobisher saw him at the bell tower but dared not speak in fear that Sixsmith would talk him out of ending his life. He tells Sixsmith that he is broken and does not expect him to understand his reasoning in wanting to end his life. He implores Sixsmith not to blame himself for his death.

As the day goes on Frobisher leaves a note for the hotel’s manager, apologizing for what is about to happen. Frobisher made arrangements for Cloud Atlas Sextet to be sent to Sixsmith along with Adam Ewing’s journal. He pleads with Sixsmith to have the piece published and admits he felt as if he composed it in a waking dream state. “Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, is my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework” (470).

Frobisher concludes his letter by stating he does not believe in reincarnation in a traditional sense but does believe that he and Sixsmith will meet again and repeat their lives together in an timeless loop always beginning and ending in the same way.

Frobisher signs the last letter with his initials and the Latin phrase “sunt lacrimae rerum.”

Letters from Zedelghem Section Two Analysis

Robert Frobisher’s manipulations begin to unravel in the second section of Letters from Zedelghem due in part to his own insecurities. Torn between wanting to impress Ayrs and wanting to produce his own work, Frobisher is hurt by Ayrs’ flippant dismissal of his original compositions and is flabbergasted when Ayrs tries to pass off Frobisher’s work as his own.

Frobisher has never lacked for pride and there is a certain sense of wanderlust associated with his character. As soon as the situation at the chateau became inconvenient for him, Frobisher leaves. He is unable to withstand confrontation and instead falls into depressive sulks, showing his lack of maturity and arrogance. He is so arrogant in fact that he makes himself believe Eva is in love with him. His infatuation with Eva reveals how wonton his emotions are toward those around him, note how carelessly he tosses aside Jocasta and yet he and/or his behavior is never to blame for his misfortunes.

Yet, despite his romantic distractions Frobisher is able to produce, by his own definition, a musical masterpiece. Cloud Atlas Sextet is named for the six interwoven solo instruments is the piece de resistance of his brilliant but brief career. The reader is aware that Luisa Rey is told by the record store salesman of Frobisher’s talent forty odd years in the future but unfortunately for the young composer he will not live to enjoy the praise he so desperately desires. His sextet, like his letters; however, will live on. It is relevant to note that Frobisher’s sextet features six different instruments, a reflection of the six stories within Cloud Atlas, the novel. The name Cloud Atlas Sextent gives further credence to this theory. Each of the instruments represents the main characters or narrators of the other sections and the entirety of the sextet concludes on a jarring and abrupt end note representative of Frobisher’s premature death by suicide.

Death, a frequent theme within Letters from Zedelghem is described in the first section by Ayrs as a chance for artistic immortality and by Frobisher as an “internal winter.” His bleak opinion has shifted somewhat by the second section as he now considers the possibility that life will repeat itself in a circular fashion just as his music will continue to play long after he is gone. Frobisher’s distinctive theory of an afterlife that repeats the life just lived is unique concept of the theme of reincarnation in the text. He does not believe he will be reborn into another body or in another time period but instead he feels certain he will be returned to the life he is now ending in order to repeat his life over again. Frobisher explains this to Sixsmith, offering him the consolation that they will meet again and unbeknownst to Frobisher, they do. In Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery Luisa, the reincarnation of Frobisher, befriends Sixsmith and champions his cause to stop a faulty nuclear reactor.

Unlike Luisa’s experiences concerning her dejavu with the Prophetess, and Sixsmith’s letters, Frobisher experiences a premonition while he contemplates killing Ayrs in his sleep that is difficult to explain within the parameters of the novel. While standing over Ayrs with the pistol, Frobisher remembers committing a similar act when he slit another man’s throat while he slept but he does not know where thought came from. He has never killed anyone in his life. Yet, the reader is aware that the same event he describes takes place in the far future in the Valley when Zachry killed a Kona in his bed. How could Frobisher know this would happen? Zachry’s story takes place hundreds of years in the future long after Frobisher is dead. Is it a premonition similar to Ayrs’ dream about Papa Song’s? Or it does it suggest the concept of a nonlinear timeline?

In its base form, nonlinear time suggests that life is experienced on many different levels in different parallel worlds at the same time. It is a theoretical concept that has some scientific merit just as reincarnation has spiritual merit. The text supports the idea of Frobisher catching a glimpse of Zachry’s life at a moment when it parallels his own as it occurs shortly before the end of both sections. The real question is why would Frobisher see Zachry slit the Kona’s throat when Meronym is Frobisher’s reincarnation, not Zachry? Perhaps Zachry shared his memories with the orison and in turn Meronym saw his memories through the device? Arguably it can also be stated that the author threw a kink in the story, one that is not explainable or comparable to any other aspect of the novel just for the sake of being confusing.

Incidentally the last message from Frobisher to Sixsmith is written in Latin. The words “sunt lacrimae rerum” loosely translate into English as “there are tears for things” which is taken from Virgil’s the The Aeniad, Book I when Aeneas cries over the dead and says “The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of morality touch the heart.” Frobisher’s last words to Sixsmith are poignant because he is asking his friend and lover to mourn him, to cry for him. In is a testament to Sixsmith’s devotion to Frobisher he keeps his lover’s letters close to him until the day of his own death.

It is Frobisher’s warning to Sixsmith in his last letter that foreshadows the trouble Sixsmith will encounter with Seaboard Inc and the HYDRA -Zero reactor. It is assumed by the reader that Frobisher’s message of scientific responsibility influenced Sixsmith’s decision to write the report in Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery and it was no coincidence within the timeline of the stories that Sixsmith met Luisa when he did.