The Transmigration of Ghosts

Alexander Rosenthal '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

The idea of the ghost, spirit, or what we think of as the soul, acts as one of the predominant themes in Ghost in the Shell. The movie treats the ghost as something that resides within the body but does not serve as a part of it. Going beyond this, the Major acts as though her ghost functions as the most important part of her being, exhibiting indifference towards her body and its welfare.

Many cultures and religions, including Hindus, Greeks, Celtics, and Jews, have held a belief in the transmigration of the soul, the movement of the soul from one body to another after death. This suggests a sort of immortality of at least a part of the self. In Ghost in the Shell the Puppetmaster's ghost is able to travel into a cyborg body and eventually fuse with the Major's ghost, and this new combined ghost may then reside in the body of a little girl. Except for the Puppetmaster's ghost's initial state, born into a network, the ghost needs to live within a physical body, unable to survive on its own. The movie does not indicate what happens to a ghost when someone dies-whether it enters a new body or each new body has a new ghost. In the case of the Major's physical death her ghost, with Bateau's help, enters its new body. The ability of the ghost to survive the loss of its associated body allows it to become a stronger aspect of identity than the body itself.

The Major's indifference towards her body suggests the importance of the soul in determining identity. The Major often appears naked to her allies and enemies without any sign of embarrassment or that anything is amiss. Even when her efforts to defeat the tank in the end result in her ripping off her arms she does not register pain, regret, anger, or any emotion. When the tank lifts her and begins crushing her head she does not cry out or express fear, and when Bateau comes to her rescue she still speaks in the same voice and tone as she always had. The Major's chief concern is ensuring her ghost's survival, and the physical body is nothing more than a shell of sorts to her, the medium the ghost exists in.


1. Of the cultures which believe in the transmigration of the soul, from which does the movie most likely get its ideas? Or do its ideas on transmigration occur independently of these cultures? How can you tell?

2. How do other characters besides the Major treat their souls and bodies?

3. If both humans and cyborgs have bodies and ghosts (souls), how can a line between the two be driven? Is possession of a soul an equalizing factor among life forms?


Ghost in the Shell, Copyright 1996, Manga Entertainment, Inc.

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Last modified 22 March 2005