Forgive the length of this reply, but I did, at least, wrap all the quoted material in spoilers.
Originally Posted by sun surfer
...As I think the posters above are alluding to, I don't think Rafael was homosexual, or at least whatever his sexuality may have been was beside the point. He hanged himself because he was continually brutalised and saw no other way out.
That said, when he hanged himself I did wonder the same thing about Robert Frobisher and his suicide. Who were the reincarnates? The easy guess is the protagonist or hero of each story - Adam Ewing / Robert Frobisher / Luisa Rey / Timothy Cavendish / Sonmi 451 / Meronym. I think all had the birthmark except maybe Adam Ewing? So perhaps it was Rafael and not Ewing that was the reincarnate soul of the first story. And, grotesquely, that leads me to wonder if Mitchell is (shockingly, to me) insinuating that Frobisher may be bisexual because of the sodomy he experienced in his past life.
First off, it could hardly be denied that the brutalization, humiliation, and unending harassment was what led to Rafael's decision to end his life. The book makes that clear.
From page 499:
My mind burns with the question, Why? None will discuss it, but Henry, who is as horrified as myself, told me that, secretly, Bentnail had intimated to him that the unnatural crimes of Sodom were visited upon the boy by Boerhaave & his “garter snakes.” Not just on Christmas night, but every night for many weeks….
…Whilst Henry was called away to attend an injury, I hauled myself to Cpt. Molyneux’s cabin to speak my mind. He was displeazed at being visited, but I would not quit his quarters until my charge was stated, to wit, Boerhaave’s pack had tormented Rafael with nightly bestiality until the boy, seeing no possibility of reprieve or relief, took his life.
Still, while I have to admit that the sexual orientation of Rafael was not made implicit in the story, there were several indicators that led me to the assumption that he was. Admittedly, it's all circumstantial evidence, but taken as a whole, it raised the question in my mind.
One you've already mentioned. Was he a pre-incarnation of the bi-sexual Frobisher, who also committed suicide (part of Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal reoccurrence as interpreted by the book's author)?
Another that I've mentioned was the name: Rafael
. The Italian artist Raphael has long been rumored to have been bisexual. One small portion of his fresco, The School of Athens, is said to be a self-portrait of the Renaissance artist with his friend and fellow painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi. Bazzi is better known as "Il Sodoma", a name given him by the Renaissance biographer, Giorgio Vasari and which is said to mean "The Sodomite". Whether any of that's true or not, it was enough to convince the members of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Task Force of the American Library Association to include Raphael's image among those in a mural
they commissioned depicting historical figures known to have engaged same-sex relationships.
Then there were the sailors' hilarity at their description of Rafael as "one of the two 'virgins'" (page 493), and Ewing's description of him as having "smatterings of education & sensibility" (page 40). Then there was this passage from page 7, describing him as one of the few who seemingly had no interest in carousing with prostitutes:
Now, certainly having manners and avoiding bordellos are not sufficient to nail down the case for his desire for men, and the following cryptic remark by Finbar says nothing about the willingness of the boy in the activities he so crudely alludes to:
What was the great offense against God Rafael considered himself to be guilty of? (It must be remembered that the San Francisco Gold Rush era was not a very enlightened period in terms of the public attitudes concerning homosexuals.)
But probably the biggest thing to influence my thinking concerning Rafael was this comment by Katey Rich, who in the article "The Biggest Differences Between The Cloud Atlas Book And Movie
" for the website Cinema Blend, wrote (my emphasis):
She may have been way off the mark, but as I read the remark before finishing the book, the damage to my impressions of the character was already done.
And, oh yes: the character of Rafael was omitted entirely from the movie version.