Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go: The Creation of Kathy’s Identity
The thoughtful formation of identity is a significant part of Hailsham life, and as a narrator, Kathy shares her doubts while consciously searching for the aspects of her personality that could answer her queries about her life at Hailsham. Kathy’s search is divided into her actions, uniqueness, as well as key events like art and donations that help shape her identity. Amongst these three quests, she constantly seems to blame her personality for her deeds. Hence, exploring her distinctiveness and questioning herself “what makes me so different?”. Due to the integral nature of art and donation in Hailsham students’ lives, Kathy is compelled to investigate how it influences her character. In Never Let Me Go, author Kazuo Ishiguro demonstrates the ways in which the search for identity can be a conscious process through her uniqueness, actions and events such as donations and art that help shape her identity.
Kathy is mindful of the fact that students at Hailsham are unlike those in the outside world in terms of their personalities. However, she doesn’t understand the meaning behind it, “We certainly knew–though not in any deep sense–that we were different from our guardians, and also from the normal people outside; we perhaps even knew that a long way down the line there were donations waiting for us. But we didn’t really know what that meant” (69). Kathy is aware that Hailsham students were distinctive from “the normal people outside” and “didn’t really know what that meant”, illustrating how she was unable to comprehend the state of being unalike as believed that she could possibly connect their uniqueness to her soul. In addition, Kathy believes that her search for identity has been everlasting and there are still missing pieces she needs to discover. As she recalls, “Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves–about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside–but hadn’t yet understood what any of it meant” (36). This uncovers the journey that Kathy has witnessed when she claims that she “hadn’t yet understood what any of it meant”, indicating a lack of understanding of their differences. This obliviousness is concerning to Kathy, as she realizes that she needs to find her deeper self before it’s too late. By referring to these past events, Kathy is showing that she is constantly attempting to search for herself, as “we knew a few things about ourselves” demonstrates the struggle for Kathy in her search and a constant attempt. As Kathy is unaware of the fact that makes them unique, it leads her to questioning constantly the ideas and searches for the aspect of her identity that makes them stand out.
Kathy believes that her development as a person influences the way she conducts herself. Which accordingly, obliges her to explore the causes behind those actions. When Kathy experiences strange feelings, she responds in an amusing manner, saying, “I get these really strong feelings when I want to have sex. Sometimes it just comes over me and for an hour or two it’s scary. […] That’s why I started thinking, well, it has to come from somewhere. It must be to do with the way I am” (179). Since she finds the feeling quite strange, she knows that, “It must be to do with the way I am”, suggesting that her personality is responsible for her deeds. This indicates how Kathy’s always aware of the link between the two, however is unable to figure out the way in which association. Another way in which she connects her actions to her identity is through the idea blame. When she says, “Something in me just gave up. A voice went: ‘All right, let him think the absolute worst. Let him think it, let him think it.’ And I suppose I looked at him with resignation, with a face that said, ‘Yes, it’s true, what else did you expect?’” (195). The lingering thought in her mind that makes her feel guilty for breaking apart the friendship between Ruth and Tommy leads her to associate this guilt with her personality. Since Ruth and Tommy are of great significance to her, their separation evokes gloominess inside her, which can be seen when she cries, “something in me just gave up”. Ishiguro deliberately uses “something in me” contrary to the usual saying of “I give up”, to underline the impact of her actions on her internal consciousness. Overall, Kathy is uncovering what might have caused that aspect of her identity to give up, leading her to blames her actions for the she happens to be.
Even though Kathy sees how activities like art and donation positively help shape their identities, she strives to find a link between the two. Despite the fact that donations have always been considered to be of utter importance to the life at Hailsham, Kathy still displays uncertainty towards the idea of being donors. This idea is witnessed when she states, “About us, about how one day we’ll start giving donations. I don’t know why, but I’ve had this feeling for some time now, that it’s all linked in, though I can’t figure out how” (29). Kathy acknowledges the fact that by being a Hailsham student, she is obliged to give donations. Despite knowing the fact that donating is an essential practice, she is oblivious as to how it helps construct their identities. Another key aspect of Hailsham life is art, from the very beginning, students have been taught that it helps discover their identities. However, once again Kathy is unable to apprehend the connection between them. When Miss Lucy reveals, “ ‘your art, it is important. And not just because it’s evidence. But for your own sake. You’ll get a lot from it, just for yourself.’ ‘Hold on. What did she mean, ‘evidence’?’ ‘I don’t know. But she definitely said that’ ” (92). After Tommy shares Miss Lucy’s words with Kathy, she quite visibly becomes more curious and intrigued by it, particularly when she questions, “What did she mean”. Miss Lucy’s words inspire Kathy to use art as a medium to express herself, which forges her to find a link between the two. To brief, for the students of Hailsham, donations and art are used as an important tool to develop their identities. These mandatory rituals lead Kathy to explore the influence of the two mediums on her.
In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro examines the different ways in which the search for identity could be a conscious process. He successfully does this through the help of Kathy’s uniqueness, actions and events such as donations and art, all of which contribute in the shaping of her identity. Throughout the novel, she consciously wonders about the relation between her physical actions, obligations, and personality to her identity. She often shares these feelings and doubts with the readers, indicating how her search for identity is a conscious process. Overall, Kathy represents the students at Hailsham as a whole, revealing that she is definitely not the only one to struggle and overcome the loss of identity.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: The Societal Implications
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a dystopian novel set in London, focusing on the lives of special humans called donors. These donors are actually human clones, who are raised in private schools until adulthood, when their vital organs can be used for transplants to normal humans with health issues. Not only is Ishiguro’s novel dystopian, it’s also uncanny, offering “the revelation of what is private or hidden: that which should have stayed secret but has been revealed” (Marks 341). The novel can be considered an uncanny one because “bioethical alarm at the prospect of human cloning is clearly linked to a fear of the uncanny, in the sense that the clone constitutes a crisis of the ‘proper’ and of the ‘natural’; a comingling of the familiar and the unfamiliar” (Marks 341). The uncanny nature of the novel is significant because it creates a sense of discomfort for the reader; the emotional and moral implications of this discomfort force the reader out of his comfort zone. In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro uses the genre of the uncanny to subtly criticize the modern-day class system and general ignorance of suffering. This is done with the use of a clone’s perspective to tell the narrative, the humanization of the clones, and the societal implications of the existence of the clones.
Ishiguro’s use of Kathy’s perspective in Never Let Me Go allows for the readers to sympathize with the clones. The readers are introduced to the frame story with a greeting from older Kathy (Ishiguro 13), which puts the story into reference. Because Kathy is the central voice of the story, Ishiguro inherently grants significance to the clone’s perspective. This “[has] the virtue of presenting the cloned life, however problematically, as an imagined and embedded social and psychological experience” (Marks 333). Because the readers are faced with the reality of clone-living, they are forced to consider the depth of the implications of societal class, and likewise apply the implications to their own lives, in the real world. Further, Ishiguro has Kathy tell the story by “[drawing] upon autobiographical conceits—that is, the memory of education. However… [it] is an autobiography drained of its usual depth and acknowledgment of a fuller life outside of the textual boundaries… fixated instead on what little experience the protagonist holds” (Mcdonald 78). Not only is the story from the perspective of a clone, it is a telling of a clone’s life within a clone society. In fact, the story’s scope is generally limited to the clone culture. Kathy discusses the social and romantic aspects of her life, but spends little time discussing the events of the world outside her private school, Hailsham. Her naiveté of the world contrasts sharply with the harsh nature of her looming future: “You’ll become adults, then before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do” (Ishiguro 364). Even when faced with this reality, her character avoids any discussion of tragedy or equality for most of the novel. This tugs at the sympathy of the reader, who sees the injustice objectively and thus reacts with appropriate anger. Overall, “Kathy simply does not seem to recognize the full horror of what she is telling the reader: ‘…It is in this sense that Kathy H.s voice can appear uncanny, a term that captures the disturbing mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar characteristic of nonhuman automata and doubles, to which Sigmund Freud first attributed the term ‘” (Marks 348). Kathy’s apparent apathy in regards to her tragic future creates discomfort for the reader, who wonders why the main character is breaking a binary and treating injustice with passivity. This breaking of the heroic protagonist archetype by an objectively likeable character allows for the reader to sympathize with the oppressed, but does not directly attack the position of the reader. Essentially, Ishiguro utilizes a theoretical world to make her protagonist universally likeable, no matter the background of the reader, and thus have a reader sympathetic to the plight of Kathy.
Ishiguro further allows the reader to sympathize with the clones by humanizing them as a group. Kathy is kind and sensitive, as seen in her dealings with the bullied boy Tommy (Ishiguro 390-3). So, “The reader is left to wonder why Kathy H. – an otherwise apparently perceptive, sensitive individual, who clearly has a recognizable interior life (a ‘soul’) – can accept her difference and her fate with such equanimity” (Marks 348). Because the clones in the book show traits of normal humans- sensitivity, creativity- their sense of otherness is diminished. The possibility of a soul means the clones are no different than humans; it turns the act of donation into systematic genocide. Kindness is not the only proof of soul: “the pupils from Hailsham cultivate the hope that they might be able to locate their ‘possibles’, in other words the individuals from whom they were originally cloned… We, too, are copiers, and their vain search for ‘possibles’ constitutes an affecting parallel with our own efforts to give narrative coherence to conventional biological kinship relations” (Marks 349). Most of the clones hope for a sense of family; they want to feel like legitimate beings in a world which tells them they are unnatural. Loyalty and sense of family is a central motivator within biological beings. Because the clones are largely isolated from the outside world, this act of seeking relations is not a mimicking of normal humans. It is an inherent component of their sense of self. The society within the novel does not recognize this evidence, though. Within the society, “The children (or captives) are described as “special” and “gifted” by their guardians (or wardens), and their murders are described as “completions,” a jarring reminder of their sole purpose in the eyes of society, and of the ways in which language can normalize atrocities deemed necessary in a given ideology” (Mcdonald 78). The society within the novel uses language as a barrier between themselves and their immoral activity. In the novel, “special” carries the implication that the clones are sub-human, and so they do not have essential human rights. They are different, so they are not equals. The term “completion” is a mechanical interpretation of death; it implies the clones are machines whose lives are not fulfilled or useful unless they are sacrificing it for the good of normal humans. Language, as a component of the culture of the book, is used to manipulate public opinion and discredit the claims of those who are suffering. Because the culture has been shaped to approve this activity, the people of that society are trained not to question the nature of the activity. The fact that the argument that clones are sub-human is not based on any behavioral evidence does not bother the society which benefits from the lie. The society within the book is willing to live in dishonesty as long as it is comfortable.
In order to make the plight of the clones more personal to the reader and consequently criticize modern society, Ishiguro utilizes mirroring of behavior within her story. Within Hailsham exists the Exchange system, in which students trade their crafts and belongings with each other (Ishiguro 390). This “aesthetic economy of exchange at Hailsham is not mirrored in the outside world, where the students’ organs are regarded, precisely as ‘donations'” (Marks 349). In this case, the lack of mirroring gives more significance to the sacrifice of the clones; the clones appear to be the only individuals who are giving in a society which seems to like taking. Simply put, the clones are giving up everything for the improvement of the lives of others; they are not being treated fairly. The balance of sacrifice and reward is put into question: Does the severe immorality of the donation system equal out with the benefits of an otherwise healthy society? This question applies to the real world too: Here and now, in the absence of segregated clones or a system of obligatory organ removal masquerading as voluntary “donation,” it is almost equally certain that the futures the vast majority of children dream of will not be realized. The organ-donation gulag, tucked away from public view and yet not kept secret, has its obvious real-world counterpart in what we call class (Robbins 292). The reader must ask themselves of the real world: Does the severe immorality of the class system equal out with the benefits of a wealthy upper class? This mirroring is direct and personal; with the realization of this reflection, the reader is taken from his seat of objectivity and placed in the figurative hot seat.
Ishiguro’s novel forces readers, especially those of wealth or living in the western world, to question their own position in life, and their sources of contentment. Ishiguro, in a way, puts the reader through a journey of emotional maturity as they learn to sympathize with a powerless and oppressed minority. Contemporary readers need to read the perspective of the clones and see the mirroring of the clones with the humans, as well as the society in the novel with real life society; they need to be completely immersed in the story in order to fully sympathize with the clones and make the connection between the clones as an oppressed minority and real-life oppressed minorities. The combination of the breaking of the binary, the humanization of the clones, and the uncanny nature of the clones creates discomfort for the reader, forcing them to critically consider their own biases. Specifically, that perhaps Ishiguro’s depiction of passive clones is not an attack at the oppressed who do not fight, but a poignant appeal to the oppressors to consider the effects of their actions. Additionally, Ishiguro argues that distancing the mind from unpleasant oppression with tainted language and false argument does not make the systematic oppression any less tragic.
Finally, instead of turning the tables on the reader by making the story of oppression a personal one, Ishiguro turns the figurative scales, forcing the reader to question the value of his own happiness in the balance of sacrifice and gain. Ultimately, it is the uncanny nature of the novel which grants it appeal and melancholy nature- “The world we are presented with is disturbingly similar to our own, and crucially, the practice of harvesting has become a largely unspoken but widely recognized fact of life, drawing parallels with the everyday human injustices witnessed in contemporary culture” (Mcdonald 76). Never Let Me Go is a call to action, with the unhopeful underlying understanding that it is the oppressors who are most in need of changing, yet it is the oppressors who will keep perpetuating a cycle of oppression as long as they are reaping the benefits.
Self-Repression and Dystopia: The Bumpy Road to Freedom in “Never Let Me Go”
“Tommy sighed, ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Well, I suppose we’ve got time. None of us are in any particular hurry’ ” (178). None of us are in any particular hurry. I remember snapping my book shut in frustration. How can these human beings remain so sedated, sluggish, and annoyingly indifferent in the face of eminent death? In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Kathy H’s reflections upon the empathic thoughts and experiences of the clones leave no doubt of their humanity, but also reveal the disturbing absence of arguably our most “human” ideal: a lust for freedom. Through self-propagated actions and mindsets, Kathy and by extension the clones in general ensnare themselves within the same dystopian society that marginalizes them.
Although being a proficient carer may seem to soothe and benefit her fellow clones, Kathy’s “caring” actually upholds and strengthens the inequalities of the dystopian society. This becomes clear upon revisiting Kathy’s introduction at the beginning of the novel. Speaking about her donors, Kathy is proud that “hardly any of them have been classified as ‘agitated,’ even before fourth donation” (3). Within the context of the excerpt, “agitation” is the donors’ frustration toward the unfair sacrifice of their life just to prolong another. These feelings are the precious roots of unrest and revolution; every instance of organized resistance against an overbearing state has its origins, in some way or another, within a form of “agitation.” While becoming a carer is mandatory, the extent to which they encourage passivity is based on their own judgement, demonstrated by the state’s lack of interference or control on the caring process. The clones’ work maintains the donation program by maximizing profit for the state with nearly free labor, while utilizing relatability to the donor to ease tension and prevent rebellion. Therefore, examining the role of a carer within the wider context of the clone population, aspiring to be a “good carer” by calming potential revolution is actually extremely harmful, upholding the structure of the dystopia (282).
The suppression of unrest by the process of caring breeds passivity not only in their donors, but also within the carers themselves. Kathy continues by reflecting on her personal attachment to her position: “Okay, maybe I am boasting now. But it means a lot to me, being able to do my work well, especially the bit about my donors staying ‘calm’ ” (3). Besides dampening the flames of resistance with her adamant focus on keeping donors “calm,” Kathy’s commitment to pleasing her higher-ups also has effects, albeit subconsciously, on her own ability to rebel. Kathy is clearly consumed by excelling at her job, evidenced by her admittance to boasting, something we never see the humble, soft-spoken narrator actually do throughout the rest of the novel. Therefore, it would be illogical for Kathy to weaken her commitment to caring with dreams of resistance, given how pivotal the position is to her identity: she introduces herself with “I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years” (3). People typically introduce themselves with information they believe is most important to their identity. Additionally, the pursuit of success as a carer enforces self-compliance by making it nearly impossible to work toward anything else; Kathy constantly exhausts themselves physically and mentally with persistent travel and donor tending: “All this rushing about you do. I’ve been watching you. It’s wearing you out” (282). A fair extrapolation of Kathy’s experience and high regard for her job upon the general clone population reveals an ominous, cyclical trap. Because of their shortsighted perception of success, carers prioritize the momentary comfort attained by subduing resistance in themselves and their donors, upholding the structure of the donation program.
While carers enforce passivity on the individual level, the clones’ obsession and strict adherence to a group identity leads to suppressed resistance of the group as a whole. The importance placed on maintaining a collective identity, a belonging with a group, is clearly on display when Kathy encounters a threat to her association with Hailsham. When informed of the school’s closing, Kathy’s immediate response is asking “But what’ll happen to all the students?” (212). She displays a profound concern for “all the students who’d grown up with me and were now spread across the country, carers and donors, all separated now but still somehow linked by the place we’d come from” (212). Although Hailsham’s termination has no direct impact on any of its former students, Kathy is deeply troubled; asking “what’ll happen” implies that the closing makes it impossible for the students to continue their lives as it is. Kathy speaks as if the bond former students share is so crucial that its removal will cause the clones’ core identity to cease to exist. This is because the value of being joined by “the place we’d come from” is far greater for clones than for non-clones; it fills to fill the void of unknown origins that is crucial to human identity. The lack of parents, family, or ancestral ties creates a permanent aura of ambiguity, forcing the clones to cling onto an alternative source of affection and belonging: the group identity provided by Hailsham. The former students create and maintain this social construct to bridge their insecurities and specify an origin, allowing themselves to attain a sense of normality. Imagining the plight of these clones through this perspective forces us to understand why they held on so tightly to Hailsham; they would never risk losing their makeshift family by attempting to rebel.
Having established the clones’ view of the Hailsham group identity as akin to family, the perpetual fear of being isolated from this social construct is clearly too great to consider opposing the donation program. Immediately after being told of her former school’s closing, Kathy recalls her encounter with a clown carrying a bundle of animal-shaped balloons in North Wales. While observing the collection of balloons, Kathy “kept worrying that one of the strings would come unraveled and a single balloon would sail off into that cloudy sky” (213). Kathy’s repeated anxiety, as she “kept worrying,” represents the deep-rooted fear of being separated from her metaphorical group of balloons, or Hailsham group identity. The single balloon represents an individual who severs his or her connection to Hailsham by opposing the group’s social norms, hence becoming a defector. In the clones’ childhood, “coming unraveled” from the group could be found in taboos such as Marge K asking Mrs. Lucy about smoking, or Tommy’s rejection of creativity. These instances were met with communal punishment and exclusion to restore conformity: “we chose to punish her by hauling her out of bed, holding her face against the window pane and ordering her to look up at the woods” (51). In the same light, the ultimate, most incongruous form of defection is resisting the donation process by rebellion. Considering that resisting in this manner is far more radical than any of the other taboos or unspoken rules produced throughout the novel, we can imagine that the following exile from the collective identity would be permanent and devastating. The fate of a theoretical outcast would be terrifyingly bleak as they “sail off into that cloudy sky”; the lack of clarity or vision in a cloudy sky connotes the troubled, isolated, and dark reality of life without association to Hailsham. Therefore, the clones reject the remote possibility of a lonely freedom, opting to spend the remainder of their short lives under the psychological protection of the group identity they created.
In the scene of Tommy’s outburst after visiting Madame and Miss Emily, the two previously discussed forms of self-repression, the caring process and the importance of group identity, are catalysts that drive Kathy’s decision to “calm” Tommy’s rage (3). “I caught a glimpse of his face in the moonlight, caked in mud and distorted with fury, then I reached for his flailing arms and held on tight. He tried to shake me off, but I kept holding on, until he stopped shouting and I felt the fight go out of him (274).” This excerpt is the only case of outward resistance in the novel, but the true importance of the passage lies in Kathy’s treatment of Tommy, and what her actions symbolize. Kathy describing Tommy’s face as “distorted” reveals her perception of rebellion; acting on his frustration transforms Tommy into a twisted anomaly, at risk of becoming separated from his group identity. This image is furthered by his face being “caked in mud,” symbolizing a dirtying of his identity through the negative change in the appearance of his face. This momentary separation from expected compliance parallels how Tommy’s tantrums as a child isolated him from the group of boys on the soccer field. In this sense, Kathy’s actions can be viewed as an attempt to protect Tommy from losing his precious link to Hailsham. Additionally, given how Kathy prides herself on her ability to keep donors calm, her initial reaction to Tommy’s rage is to address it in the same way she tends to her donors’ “agitation,” subduing his resistance by “holding on” (3). The phrase “felt the fight go out of him” is strongly associated with the suppression of an uprising or insurgence, a task Kathy associates with success through her experience as a carer. Therefore, a clear link exists between Kathy’s job position and her desire to extinguish Tommy’s resistance. By analyzing the scene of Tommy’s outburst through the lens of Kathy’s job as a carer and the importance of group identity, we confirm by this specific instance that the clones, to some extent, keep themselves trapped within the donation program.
Consequently, to understand the clones’ lack of resistance, it is more effective to look inward to social constructs and perspectives formed by the clones themselves, rather than to look outward at the seemingly unguarded path to freedom. Ishiguro’s investigation of this concept has extremely relevant applications in the present, showing one of many ways in which Never Let Me Go should be read as a cautionary tale. To what extent does our desire for a group identity shape our ideas and actions? How often do we blindly pursue “success” in the workplace just to please our higher ups, without understanding the repercussions on a larger scale? These questions reveal how issues that seem tucked away in a faraway, fiction English countryside are actually found in my own life, reflected in my perspective of friends, school, and work. I argue that we become frustrated at the clones’ lack of rebellion because we believe our actions would differ in the situation. However, although none of us forcefully donate our organs, many of the same barriers to freedom that the clones construct are actually ones we form as well. Therefore, the clones’ self-repression, through the work of carers and the adherence to group identity, offers powerful insight upon the degree of freedom we truly possess over our own lives.
Never Let Me Go: The Emotions Triggered by Art and Entertainment
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, art is viewed as the extension of one’s soul. Through painting, writing, or any other art form, Hailsham students are able to surpass their identities of clones and express their true selves. The art that students make or find appealing is a reflection of not only their souls, but also their feelings. Most of the world views these students as soulless creatures that are incapable of human emotion; however, the guardians at Hailsham believe that when the students are “reared in humane, cultivated environments, [it is] possible for them to grow up as sensitive […] as any ordinary human being” (261). Thus, the guardians encourage their students to create their own art and be moved by that of others, in order to prove their capacity for experiencing a wide range of human sentiment.
However, what is most important in the novel is not that the world acknowledges the souls of these students, but that the reader does. For the reader to truly comprehend the novel’s motifs of what it means to exist, he or she must view Kathy, the novel’s protagonist, and all other clones as “real” people. Rather than simply telling the reader that the students are regular people, Ishiguro vividly demonstrates the feelings that art elicits from the students.
Kathy, the novel’s protagonist, is extremely moved by the song Never Let Me Go on her Judy Bridgewater cassette tape. Her fondness for the tape extends past the song itself, and into the emotions that the tape provokes and the life experiences it unexpectedly relates to. The tape triggers Kathy to feel a longing for intimacy and a desire for ownership; these human feelings cause the reader to view Kathy and other students as “real” people, ultimately allowing the reader to understand the role of existence within the novel. When listening to or thinking of her Judy Bridgewater tape, Kathy longs for intimacy. Being emotionally moved by music is an archetypal human quality, as humans are perhaps the only creatures on the planet that connect aspirations to music.
Kathy arbitrarily bought her tape at a Sale as a young child at Hailsham. At the time, she did not know how much the tape, and especially track number three, “Never Let Me Go,” would emotionally impact her. The first time Kathy tells the reader about her tape, though unable to outright explain why, she says, “it really got to me” (70). What she did not realize at the time was that the track moved emotions that she unaware of having. At Hailsham the guardians “timed [everything they told the students] very carefully and deliberately so that [they] were always too young to understand properly the latest piece of information [but…they took] it in at some level” (82). As a result, at age eleven, Kathy, though not fully cognizant of her identity as a donor, had a vague clue of what her life would be like. When Kathy listens to track number three, a song supposedly about romance, she holds a pillow tight and dances with it. As she performs this action, she imagines that she is “a woman who’d be told she couldn’t have babies, who really, really wanted them all her life [and then] a miracle [occurs] and she has a baby” (70). Though at this age Kathy had never been forthrightly told that she could not have babies, the song triggers a longing for a relationship between mother and child that she does not yet consciously know she will be denied. Kathy creates her own interpretation of these song lyrics in order to have an outlet for her desire to feel the intimacy of familial bonds. The yearning Kathy feels to procreate is an extremely human emotion; thus, the feelings the tape inspires in Kathy aid the reader in viewing Kathy as a person rather than as a creature.
Additionally, simply owning the tape inspires Kathy with a desire for ownership. Life at Hailsham, or as an eventual donor in general, is full of conformity and the loss of individualism. The students have little choice in how they spend their time or in what they wear. Kathy’s tape is old, and not commonly known of among the students. The tape’s scandalous cover depicts Judy Bridgewater with her “elbows up on the bar [with] a cigarette burning in her hand”; these activities, though taboo restrictions in her own life, provide Kathy with a glimpse into a life of choice (67). Kathy and the other Hailsham students have grown up being, “told and not told” of their ultimate purpose in life (82). Through slowly obtaining information about their future from a young age, they come to find it harder and harder to rebel against or question the emplaced system. The choice to stray away from the life of a donor is unthinkable to Kathy, but still she recognizes that some form of choice is missing. It has been programmed into Kathy’s mind that her body and her life decisions are not her own.
Naturally, Kathy desires the ownership that Judy Bridgewater exhibits in her own life; she sees Judy’s cover and hears Judy’s lyrics and wishes she could control her life in the way that Judy is able to. Kathy is only able to make a few trivial decisions in her life: one of these is her choice to value her tape and have it be the one thing in her life that is truly hers. Similarly, animals do not have much choice in their lives, as they tend to follow their species’ natural paths. The tape provokes Kathy’s aspiration to make her own decisions and be in charge of her life; thus, she ultimately becomes more understandable and sympathetic to the reader. Kathy’s Judy Bridgewater cassette tape proves to the reader that she is as capable of human emotion as the reader himself or herself. After all, the tape elicits desire for standard human hopes such as intimacy and self-ownership.
Once one views Kathy as a regular person, it is easier to apply the novel’s meaning to oneself, rather than simply seeing Kathy as a fictional clone character. The novel’s last two words sum up its entire purpose: “to be” (288). Ishiguro uses Kathy to cause the reader to think about his or her own existence. Through drawing out relatable human desires, Kathy’s cassette tape aids the reader in absorbing Ishiguro’s thoughts on existence by making Kathy more relatable, more human despite her place in a darkly fictional narrative.
Why Hope If There’s None?
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Kathy’s discovery of her world occurs simultaneously with the readers’. Except for the beginning, the readers travel through the same journey of discovery, excitement, and then the steady erosion of hope as the students of Hailsham learn of their fate. Interestingly, their journey involves questions about the future just as the readers are learning about a potential future they may encounter. Thus, Ishiguro pushes the readers to empathize, not just sympathize, with the characters presented in the novel through hope of a normal life, or love, and of freedom. In this way, he challenges not only the usage of clones as organ donors, but the conflicting role of hope as well.
One element of the novel’s science-fiction nature that builds up hope for the reader is the accessibility of the world. The story begins with a date, “late 1990s” while the book itself was published in 2005. Thus, it presents a world that the readers are familiar with but then adds organ donors for the future. Furthermore, in the beginning of the novel, the readers are unaware that the characters are clones, and Hailsham is represented as a pleasant place just as it was for Kathy and Tommy. Thus Ishiguro isolated one potential issue of future scientific innovation and forced the readers to experience the potential consequences for themselves.
A perhaps larger issue Ishiguro confronts the readers and characters with is how to react and confront the unknowns with particular attention to hope. During grade school children in the current society and Hailsham are blissfully ignorant regarding adulthood. Many of them have dreams of becoming an NBA star, an actress, or an astronaut. Unlike children at Hailsham, however, children in the readers’ society are unlikely to die at a young age with no chance of doing anything besides becoming an organ donor. Consequently, Ishiguro presents contrasting viewpoints on how to treat the clones, with one of them being the sheltered environment of Hailsham. Miss Lucy, however, has the other opinion, and reacts after hearing some children talk about their dreams, “None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you” (81). When Miss Lucy finally cut off her outburst, Kathy felt relieved and believed her classmates felt the same way. For readers, this is the first time that they explicitly learn of the Hailsham children’s fates, and perhaps it was for other children in the novel as well.
As the Hailsham children transition to adulthood, they react to their impending fate differently. In the beginning of the period at the cottages Kathy describes living in a “cozy state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries” while some people such as Ruth would talk about their “dream futures” (142). Therefore, they were able to find solace in hope and dreams for the future since it was still relatively distant from them. Similarly, both Kathy and Ruth liked looking for a “possible” or the real person from whom they were cloned. Nevertheless, when Ruth’s hope grows too large, she actually further examines her “possible” in order to find out if her dream is a reality. This is a painful moment for both Ruth and the readers as her little glimpse of hope fades away, and she directly confronts her status as an undervalued person or in her words, modeled after “trash” (166). Other characters deal with this knowledge differently, and although Tommy is one of the most hopeful throughout the novel, at the end even his hope completely corrodes.
After the last glimmer of hope dies for Kathy and Tommy, the readers feel the desperation of their lives. Ruth’s final wish is for Kathy and Tommy to prove that they are in love and therefore delay their donations. However, rather than even having the chance to prove that they are in love, Miss Emily says the rumor is “something for them to dream about, a little fantasy. What harm is there?” (258). More than conveying the hopelessness of the situation, Ishiguro conveys the lack of empathy in many humans. Miss Emily’s unfeeling response also questions her authority for starting Hailsham in the first place. Throughout the novel the “creatures” who as the readers know as Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are not given a voice regarding their freedom, their time spent as a carer, or even their time spent before they become a carer. For Ruth, she has accepted this destiny and finds contentment in happy little memories. For Tommy, he bursts in uncontrollable rage but then as he starts his fourth donation, he gives up fighting for a voice. It’s clear that Ishiguro does not give a right or wrong answer, but rather aims for the readers to actually experience these marginalized people’s feelings and lack of hope.
Following the novel, the question still remains for how to treat people who do not have any hope for the future. Although it’s cruel to tell young children not to dream does the disappointment overpower the misery? Kathy describes the feeling as walking past a mirror with a cold moment that there is “something troubling and strange” in your reflection (36). Although Kathy seemed the most content with her situation, she still is troubled and sad at lost memories that she cannot let go and forget. Nevertheless, without any hope, it’s likely that Kathy and Tommy would not have enjoyed time together in love. Similarly, her connection to Hailsham is also rooted in that moment of blissful ignorance. Yet for some perhaps the cold moment shatters those memories and erodes any hope, leaving an even more lifeless being.
Understanding Sex and Infertility in Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro’s science-fiction novel Never Let Me Go tells the heartbreaking story of Kathy H, a clone who is confined within the walls of Hailsham where she guided into the life of becoming an organ donor. Kathy’s life is spent at Hailsham awaiting her imminent death as an organ donor, and is placed under the strict authority of the guardians in order to protect herself and her body. For the entirety of their lives, everything that the clones at Hailsham have ever been able to achieve or obtain has been in the public eye, and often times their possessions are taken away from them by the guardians. As the clones grow older and begin to experience puberty, they come to realize that something they are in complete charge of and no one can take away from them or dictate is their own sex lives. In Ishiguro’s coming-of-age novel, when Kathy and her fellow clones first begin to experience puberty and sexual urges, being infertile has a painfully distressing impact on the way they view and have sex. Kathy and the clones at Hailsham have an unsentimental attitude towards sex as a direct result of their non-reproductive nature. They attempt to perceive sex in the same manner that humans do, with care, respect, and caution; however, not being able to reproduce causes Kathy and the other clones to see sex as a game, and use it as a distraction from their lives as organ donors. By using Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, we are able to understand Kathy’s unconscious desires of sex as a means of reproduction. Having a sex life was the first opportunity for Kathy and her peers at Hailsham to be able to experience a truly private and personal life that they are in control of.
Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis has been a trademark for how we understand our conscious and unconscious desires. Freud distinguishes the mind in three separate entities. First the conscious, which is our apparent desires which we focus our attention on. Second is the preconscious, which is derived from our memories and experiences. The third is the unconscious mind, which is where our primitive desires and impulses are held (Mcleod). Freud takes his theory of the unconscious mind further, and introduces the process of repression. By locking away certain events in our unconscious minds that are painful or disturbing, we are repressing them. The process of repression serves as a defence mechanism; however, those unconscious feelings and emotions can be redirected in other ways such as displacement, guilt, and aggression (ibid). In regard to sex, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis helps to understand Kathy’s feelings of angst, confusion, and distress surrounding sex. Kathy’s actions and behaviours serve as an explanation of her unconscious desire to be able to have sex with the ability to reproduce and have a future. Kathy’s awareness that her life is going to end with her being cut open and her vital organs donated to strangers leads her to repress her fear of death and the unknown.
Even for clones, the excitement and arousal behind sex is still apparent. When the clones began to have sex, Ruth describes it as, “some parallel universe we all vanished off to where we had all this sex” (97). The clones embody feelings and emotions just as normal, living humans do, which interferes with the ways in which they engage in sex. The clones are taught to treat sex in the same manner that humans do in the real world, but are knowledgable of the fact that their bodies are solely designed to become organ donors, and that they are unable to conceive or have a long, fulfilling life. Kathy discusses her first experience with sexual arousals and excitement, claiming: “I also spent a lot of time re-reading passages from books where people had sex, going over the lines again and again trying to tease out clues” (99). Living in Hailsham, life is ordinary, mundane, and stationary. The clones live under strict rules of the guardians and are unable to travel past the walls of Hailsham. The most excitement the clones get is when new t-shirts or pencil cases are shipped to the Sale. When the clones at Hailsham begin to enter puberty and understand more about sex, it becomes something both unfamiliar and exciting that can be explored. When Kathy and her peers first begin having sex, it gives them something completely outside of Hailsham and the lives of organ donors that can be kept personal and private. Once sex becomes something that is readily available, the clones use it as a distraction from the fact that their lives are often short and unfulfilling.
Although sex was something that the clones are in complete control over, they still are taught certain rules which govern the ways they are having and thinking about sex. Sex was taught to the students in Hailsham knowing that they already are, or are about to engage in sexual intercourse. Kathy recalls “when the guardians first started giving us proper lectures about sex, they tended to run them together with talk about donations” (83). The guardians teach sexual education, while simultaneously reiterating the belief that when the clones are having sex, it was not for the purpose of reproduction, but for pleasure. The guardians did not particularly want the students at Hailsham to engage in sex; however, they are not able to refrain them from doing so. In order to strike fear and caution around exploring their sexual behaviours and urges, Kathy and the clones are told that the vagina can rip, and “it could be painful and a big failure if you didn’t get wet enough” (98). The idea behind sex is that it is both something the students should be engaging in, but that they also should refrain from. The clones are taught that due to their non-reproductive nature, there are no consequences or risks of pregnancy, but there still are few circumstantial elements that one should be cautious of, such as infections, diseases, and heartbreak. The clones at Hailsham are taught about sex in a contradictory manner which ultimately leads to their confusion, but also exhilaration.
The manner in which the guardians teach sexual education is highly unusual. Kathy recalls being slightly disturbed by Miss Emily bringing in two life-size skeletons where she demonstrates certain sex positions and the mechanics behind sexual intercourse. Miss Emily reveals all of the sexual areas of the body, but also warns the clones about the possibility of emotional attachment after engaging in sex. Miss Emily advises the clones to be sure about who they decide to sleep with — not only because of sexuality transmitted infections — but because “sex affects emotions in ways you’d never expect” (83). Kathy recognizes that the ways in which people have sex in the real world is different because there is a real possibility of a woman becoming pregnant. Deciding who to have sex with in the real world is a serious decision because of the risk of pregnancy, while at Hailsham pregnancy was not possible, and thus, having sex is deemed as inconsequential, aside from the potential heartbreak or sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Despite knowing that one could engage in sex without ever having the risk of pregnancy, Kathy explains: “we had to respect the rules and treat sex as something pretty special” (84).
Once the clones at Hailsham began engaging in sexual behaviours, they started to create their own customs and regulations around it. For instance, Kathy explains “[w]hen someone wanted sex with you, that too was much more straightforward. A boy would come up and ask if you wanted to spend the night in his room ‘for a change’” (127). Sex became a phenomenon where it was often spoken of and regarded as a game. The clones had even created a game at Hailsham called “rounders” which gives the boys a chance to flirt with the girls. Sex at Hailsham is challenging to understand, because the clones have to be cautious of infections or diseases in order to protect their bodies as organ donors, but they also are able to have unprotected sex without the risk of pregnancy. Kathy compares sex at Hailsham to sex in the real world, and explains sex for clones as a fun, and riveting experience. Kathy is able to have a lot of sexual partners because she is infertile and does not have to concern herself with who the potential father would be. Kathy claims that, “the reason it meant so much — so much more than say, dancing or table-tennis — was because the people out there were different from us students: they could have babies from sex” (84). Kathy comparing having sex at Hailsham to dancing and table-tennis reiterates the notion that Kathy views sex as a game, or distraction. Kathy also describes the rule about not discussing being organ donors and not discussing sex something they often joke about. Kathy claims, “it became something we made jokes about, in much the way we joked about sex” (84). Kathy and the clones desire to give sex a proper function, and despite the inability to do so as a result of infertility, treating sex as if it were a game, or a joke gives them a distraction from the harsh realities of Hailsham and their lives as organ donors.
As organ donors, protecting ones body was necessary practice among the clones at Hailsham. When Kathy and her peers begin entering the stages of puberty and engaging in sexual intercourse, they attempt to normalize the changes occurring to their bodies and the new sexual urges they experience. The guardians never portray sex as deviant or forbidden, but as something to be cautious of. Ruth argues that guardians “want us to do it properly, with someone we like, and without getting diseases” (97). Kathy and the other young girls at Hailsham are reminded by the guardians of “how important it was not to be ashamed of our bodies, to ‘respect our physical needs,’ [and] how sex was ‘a very beautiful gift’ as long as both people really wanted it” (95). Despite the guardians abnormal methods of teaching sexual education, they ensure that Kathy and all of the other female clones are taught most importantly to respect themselves and protect their bodies. In doing so, sex becomes something that does not need to be repressed, and gives Kathy and the clones something that makes them feel human. What is repressed is the fact that as organ donors, their lives are coming to an unavoidable end and their organs will be donated to humans in order to save their lives and give them a future. Kathy and the clones futures are taken away from them so that they can donate their organs to other humans, and give others a life, rather than having a life of their own.
Kathy and the other females at Hailsham are told during early teenage years that as organ donors, they are unable to conceive. The clones are living for the sole purpose of being able to donate their vital organs to other humans, and will be completed by the time they reach middle-age. The clones at Hailsham are not ignorant to the outside world. They are able to see films, photos, and read all about families and children. Being so knowledgable about the outside world, and knowing that the world they are living is filled with barriers is a depressing and hardening obstacle to overcome. The clones desire for a family and wish to be able to have children, but are told from an early on in life that a family and children is not something within their reach. Although the inability for Kathy and the clones to conceive is not something that they publicly anguish or mourn over, it has a distressing impact on their unconscious desires. Kathy was caught at a young age by Madame swaying with a pillow held tightly in her arms, as if it was a child. At the time, Kathy was so young that she had not been told yet that she was unable to conceive, yet somehow knew that she was infertile. Kathy explains her unconscious feelings, stating that, “[i]t’s just possible that I picked up on the idea when I was younger without fully registering it” (73). When Madame saw her, she stood outside in the hall bawling, without saying a word. Kathy came to the realization later in life that Madame was crying for her because of the sympathy she felt that Kathy will never be able to procreate. Looking back to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, Kathy is demonstrating her unconscious desire as she holds a pillow that she imagines is a child. Kathy from a young age shows a desire to have a baby, and when she realizes that she is infertile, it becomes an unconscious desire that follows her through adulthood.
Kathy also demonstrates her desire to have a child through music. One of Kathy’s most precious belongings that she kept safe during her time at Hailsham was a Judy Bridgewater tape called “Songs After Dark.” Kathy repeatedly listens to her tape any chance she can, and was careful to only listen when no body was around incase they stole it from her. Kathy’s fondness with the tape became almost an obsession. The song that Kathy is most partial to is called, “Never Let Me Go,” and [she] was specifically fond of the line Judy sings: “[n]ever let me go … oh baby, baby … never let me go…” (70). What Kathy finds so special about this song in particular, is that she believes the lyrics are about an actual child. Kathy claims “I just waited for that bit that went: ‘baby, baby, never let me go …’ And what I’d imagine was a woman who’d been told she could never have babies, who’d really, really wanted them all her life. Then theres a sort of miracle and she has a baby” (70). Kathy subconsciously associates a romantic love song to an infertile mother. Kathy places herself into the song, living vicariously through the lyrics hoping and imaging that one day she will miraculously have a baby. Although Kathy is not openly struggling with being infertile, her unconscious desire has an effect on how she perceives music and lyrics.
The clone’s at Hailsham and the Cottages have a very unsentimental attitude towards sex as they experience puberty, despite being taught otherwise. Kathy and her peers create theories as to whether or not sex is functional in order to have healthy organs. Kathy explains one of the many theories that: “it was their duty to make us have sex because otherwise we wouldn’t be good donors later on. According to her, things like your kidneys and pancreas didn’t work unless you kept having sex” (98). The clones have all of the exact same bodily functions and are able to engage in sex as normal humans would, yet are infertile and hold no chance of creating a future for themselves. The ways in which the guardians at Hailsham approach the idea of sex makes it seem as if sex is unnatural. If they are not able to conceive, then having sex was purely for the sake of pleasure. The primary function of sexual intercourse is to conceive a child; however, for the clones, there is no necessary function that sex serves. Although sex was becoming common practice in Hailsham, once Kathy and her peers entered the stages of puberty, they sought to give sex a function in order to make them feel better about it, even though there was no possibility of procreation.
Kathy does not see her sexual urges as natural, and believes that her possible (the original person she was cloned from) must have been a porn star or sex worker. Kathy believes that her sexual urges are deviant and attempts suppresses her desires because she is infertile. Given that there is no proven purpose or function for her to have sex other than pleasure, Kathy becomes disgusted with herself. Kathy only realizes that she is not the only clone experiencing sexual desires when Tommy confronts her about reading porn magazines and her desires, and explains that she is not alone. Despite Tommy’s efforts in consoling Kathy, her unconscious desires lead her to feeling isolated and lonely in her sex life. Kathy is battling her sexual emotions, and as a result, finds her self feeling hostile towards Ruth — who is undeniably having regular sex with Tommy — and is sleeping with boys at Hailsham who she does not care for. Kathy confides in Ruth, explaining that, “[t]here might be something not quite right with me, down there. Because sometimes I just really, really need to do it” (128). Ruth immediately disagrees with Kathy telling her that her sexual urges are unnatural. Kathy having a great deal of one-nighters can be seen as her repressed fear of death coming out through her intense sexual urges. Kathy is knowledgeable that she is going to die and that her organs will be dispersed. Thereby, having sex gives her something to distract and occupy herself. Kathy struggles to feel normal with her sex life; however, it is inevitable that without being able to procreate, the sex the clones are having is solely for fun, pleasure, and distraction.
Once the clones at Hailsham began having sex and discussing it more openly among one another, the novelty surrounding ones virginity becomes distressing. Being a virgin was seen as juvenile, and embarrassing. Those who are not having sex wanted to be. However, Kathy and the other girls are unsure exactly who was having sex, and also, if the sex they are having is proper. Kathy explains that even though the girls speak openly about sex, they do not press one another on the details or ask intimate questions incase one may be lying about their virginity and is unable to answer. Kathy gives an example by stating: “if say Hannah rolled her eyes when you were discussing another girl and murmured: ‘Virgin’ — meaning of ‘of course we’re not, but she is, so what can you expect?” (98). As sex becomes a phenomenon at Hailsham, being a virgin is something that the clones look down upon. Sex is a challenging and distressing for the women at Hailsham to experience. There are limits placed on sex, yet it is even worse to be identified as a virgin. It was encouraged to be engaging in sex regularly, yet it was frowned upon to be having a great deal of sex and experiencing constant, intense sexual urges because to them, sex has no function other than a distraction.
When Kathy struggles with her developed sexuality as she fights her strong sexual urges as she goes through puberty, she has sex with a number of different boys at Hailsham. Despite the belief that sex was inconsequential, and everyone was having it, there are still rules which govern the appropriate amount of sex or sexual partners one is permitted to have. Those — especially females — who have a more than average amount of sexual partners are seen as having a lack of respect for themselves. This stems from the guardians teaching the girls to respect sex, and, “if you can’t find someone with whom you truly wish to share this experience with, then don’t!” (98). Towards the end of the novel when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are at the cottages, there is a vast amount of tension that arises between Kathy and Ruth. Tensions which stem perhaps from Kathy’s undeniable crush on Ruth’s boyfriend, Tommy. Ruth faults Kathy for her number of sexual partners and tells her that Tommy would never date her. Ruth claims “I know he doesn’t see you like, you know, a proper girlfriend … Tommy doesn’t like girls who’ve been with … well, you know, with this person and that” (201). Ruth reinforces what the clones had been taught by the guardians — that sex was something to be respected and to only engaged in when certain.
Not only was the idea surrounding sex discomforting and uncanny at Hailsham, but love and dating also became new phenomenon. Those who are in a relationship are perceived as happy and satisfied, while those who are not in a relationship desire to be in one. Sex with a boyfriend was private, and limitless, while having sex when you are single comes with certain rules and restrictions. Kathy’s desire for a partner stems from her intense sexual urges. Later in the novel once Kathy becomes a carer, she inevitably begins to date Tommy. Rumours spread among Hailsham that if two people are in love, they can request a deferral from donation in order to spend more time with one another prior to death. Many couples from Hailsham and the Cottages attempt to be granted a deferral claiming to be in love; however, after Kathy and Tommy met with Madame to make their request, they realize that they were sadly misled. The clones belief that being in love could defer their inevitable death suggests that they embody true humanistic qualities. They acknowledge that having proper relationships, sex, and heterosexual qualities is what makes them human (Garlick 151). Kathy and the clones believe that if they are able to embody all of the qualities that make them human (aside from fertility), they are thus, one step closer to becoming humans and escaping their ordained lives as donors.
Throughout the novel, Kathy struggles with her unconscious desires of sex and fertility. Kathy understands sex as a form of diversion due to of being infertile, but experiences a challenging and distressing time during puberty as she is forced to try and suppress her sexual urges. The way sex is represented at Hailsham is not black-and-white, and comes with many rules and regulations which shape the way that the students at Hailsham perceive, and engage in sex. These rules and regulations are both a product of the guardians lectures and the clones perceptions. Using Freud’s theory of the conscious, the preconscious the unconscious, we are able to understand Kathy’s emotions and actions through her years of puberty. Kathy’s conscious is apparent as she understands her infertility and life devoted to becoming an organ donor. Kathy demonstrates her preconscious throughout the entire novel, as she recalls her experiences at Hailsham, and is able to look back on certain events and recognize the realities of what she had endured. For instance, when Kathy recalls Madame crying outside her bedroom door when she is dancing with a pillow, it is because Kathy will never be able to have a child. Kathy’s unconscious desire is shown through her obsession with the song “Never Let Me Go” and the connotations of fertility she the wrongly attaches to it. Kathy openly accepts her life as a donor, yet her unconscious desires are truly to have a family. Her non-reproductive nature changes the way she has sex because although it may seem inconsequential and liberating because she is unable to have a child, she places a deeper emphasis on sex because it has no apparent function aside from a distraction. Not having a function or a proper lover to engage in sexual intercourse with has led Kathy to see sex as inconsequential. Kathy represses her fear of death and the unknown as an organ donor, and as a result, her repressions are redirected as she indulges in sex as a means of distraction and amusement.
Garlick, Steve. “Uncanny Sex: Cloning, Photographic Vision, and the Reproduction of Nature.” Social Semiotics, vol. 20, no. 2, 2010, pp. 139–154, journals.scholarsportal.info. Accessed 7 Apr. 2018.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage Canada. 2005.
Mcleod, Saul. “Sigmund Freud.” ‘s Theories | Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 2013, www.simplypsychology.org. Accessed 5 Apr. 2018.
Experience Versus Genetics: The Question of Identity in Ishiguro, Descartes, and Modern Science
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, while the genetic makeup of the model does have some bearing on the life of the clone, it is severely limited by the increased importance of individual experience in the development of identity and personality. In order to be perfectly identical clones in all aspects, mental and physical, every facet of the clone’s life must mirror that of the model precisely. Philosopher Rene Descartes asserts that the mind, the place where independent thought takes place, is what determines existence– by that logic, the mind is more important to the self than the body. While identical genetics play a very important role in not only determining physical appearance but also any predisposition for developing certain diseases and disorder, any effect genetics has on the mental development of a clone is overpowered by the clone’s differing experiences throughout his or her formative year, as experience shapes the deep, intrinsic core of a person’s identity. Moreover, the formative years, as well as adolescence and young adulthood, are the basis for individuality; any difference in experience drives the identity of the clone away from congruence with that of the model. In brief, though genetics can influence life, personal experience develops and shapes it in a way that a purely physical variable cannot, thereby making it impossible for a clone with a different life to perfectly mirror his or her model.
The identical genetic makeup of the clone and the model cause certain facets of their lives to resemble one another through twin anatomical structures and the genetic predisposition towards certain traits, diseases, and disorders. Naturally, the model being physically identical to the clone down to the last nitrogenous base in his or her DNA results in some similarities, indicating that the model of a clone does have some significance beyond a simple technical necessity. Body type influences the activities a person participates in: naturally athletic, fit people are encouraged to play sports, while a child who is smaller or uncoordinated might instead become adept at chess. Tommy, for example, inherited impressive “size and strength” (Ishiguro 15) from his model, and throughout his time at Hailsham excels at sports, often seen playing football. Kathy describes him as a “good runner” who could “open up ten, fifteen yards” (Ishiguro 15) between himself and the rest of his male peers. Because Tommy’s model is physically identical to him, the model would have the same physical prowess and intimidating stature, though perhaps specializing in a different sport. In addition to the obvious physical component, particular genes cause “a high risk of acquiring [a disease]” (“Genes and human disease”), meaning someone with a particular gene or combination of genes is more susceptible to developing a certain mental or physical disease. Two individuals with perfectly identical genes have exactly the same risk of developing the same diseases.
The scope of diseases potentially affected by genetic predisposition is extraordinarily wide, including powerhouse diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, as well as obesity and even mental illnesses. For example, if Tommy’s model had had a genetic predisposition towards developing asthma, or cardiac disease, or even cancer, Tommy would have as well; in fact, Tommy’s nasty temper and lack of friends could be the result of a genetic predisposition towards borderline personality disorder, a mental illness causing “intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, severe difficulties with relationships, and [low] self-worth” (“Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)”). Essentially, though genes affect the lives of the clones and models, they affect them in identical ways, thereby causing certain facets of their lives to be the same.T he model cannot be a perfect blueprint for the life of the clone due to the bearing individual differences in their experiences throughout life have on the development of the complete person, and the relative importance of the mind in determining one’s existence.
Indeed, the clones and their models were raised in wildly different environments from birth, thereby altering the relative congruence of their identities. Clones were raised in highly variable environments, ranging from “deplorable conditions” to “humane, cultivated environments” (Ishiguro 261), both of which diverge from the average childhood of the time. Furthermore, the clones are always somewhat cognizant of the fact they were not average children, particularly at Hailsham, where they are “told and not told” (Ishiguro 81) of their purpose. Though they were not fully aware of why, every student knew he or she was “different from the people outside” (Ishiguro 68), and constantly reminded of such by the Guardians. The constant differentiation between the clones and their counterparts creates a conscious divergence in the two identities; while the counterparts see themselves as normal, the clones recognize that they are different in some fundamental way. Equally important, the different people influencing the clones throughout their lives significantly alter their personality. While the average child has parents, siblings, and other family members surrounding them as they grow and develop, clones have only the Guardians and their own peers. Although the Guardians could be viewed as parental figures, they were not permitted to show physical affection or display any favoritism– such behavior was considered “bending the rules” (Ishiguro 60). Any parent shows favoritism towards his or her own children, such is the nature of parenthood; the clones have no one in their lives telling them that they are special among the others, no one who they know for certain love them best. They grow up without the support system of a family, not knowing the feeling of acceptance that comes with loving familial relationships. Naturally, this alters their perceptions of others and of themselves. In the same way, the clones’ peers could be seen as siblings, but their propensity towards having sex with one another defies the bounds of kinship.
As a general rule among intelligent societies, siblings by blood or otherwise should not have sex with one another, not only due to the potential consequences affecting any child born of those relations but the principle of the act. The clones know this, as they are well educated and aware of the conventions of society; that being said, they have no issue having sex with one another, and therefore do not see one another as siblings. Without siblings, the clones do not have the same intensely competitive, yet protective and loving type of relationship that siblings share. Moreover, Rene Descartes states that as long as he can convince himself of it, as long as he thinks he exists, “then [he] certainly existed” (Descartes, 17). This explanation of existence places the utmost importance on the mind, as it is where thought takes place. He also says the physical senses often deceive, and “it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once” (Descartes, 12), casting doubt onto the very existence of the body. If the body does not truly exist, then it cannot hold more importance than the mind in the process of human development. Therefore, the mind will have more effect on the development of a person than the body. He proclaims it in the full title of his Second Meditation, “The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body”; though his project is one of radical skepticism in which he doubts the existence of all that which seems certain, Descartes’ logic asserts that the senses and the very existence of the body are unsure, but the existence of the mind, the center of thought, is certain. The differences in the environments the clones and models grew up in, as well as the different relationships developed throughout their lives, prevent perfect congruence with one another; simply put, they lived different lives and are therefore different people.
Consequently, although genetics links the clone and the model together, it is the mind and the development of the full human person which dictates the course of the clone’s life, as the mind is the true substance of the self. The model is more than a technical necessity, yet is not so important as to determine precisely the course of the clone’s destiny. Though he or she may look exactly the same as his or her model, a clone is a unique individual like any naturally produced human. They are entirely capable of independent thought and form their own personality with idiosyncrasies and flaws through the same process of cognitive development that any other human would; the only difference between the average human and a clone is their point of origin. In fact, cloning as it is described in Never Let Me Go continues to dominate ethics discussions around the world, in classrooms, courtrooms, chambers of legislature and beyond. Humanity strives to heart disease, struggles to help terminal patients receive the vital organ transplant they need for a chance to survive; right now, those organs come from organ donors who recently died. When the technology to easily and efficiently copy humans becomes available, cloning will become a polarizing issue in politics both national and international, but the issue at its core will not change. People will still have to die in order for others to live. The clones will be people, admittedly created in a nontraditional manner, yet people with personalities and thoughts all the same. What the world has to decide is whether or not they are willing to make these people’s origin determinate of their destiny.
1. De Chant, Rosie. “Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).” Sutter Health. Ed. Nancy Brown. Palo Alto Medical Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
2. “What Does It Mean to Have a Genetic Predisposition to a Disease? – Genetics Home Reference.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
3. “WHO | Genes and Human Disease.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
4. Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.
Comparing ‘Venus’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’: Sexuality, Reproduction, and the Inhuman
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus explore characters who are, due to scientific engineering or physical appearance, deemed inhuman by outside society. Their othering bars them from ordinary human experiences, but perhaps most notable is the ways in which the inhuman are prevented from engaging in traditional sexual and romantic relationships and from reproducing. Both Never Let Me Go and Venus display characters who, due to the ministrations of society and their categorization as “other”, experience a deeply skewed version of sexuality and reproduction because their lack of acceptance into traditional human society prevents them from engaging in traditional human experiences, instead engaging in relationships that are a flawed imitation of the norm.
Ishiguro’s clones were “copied at some point from a normal person” (Ishiguro, pg. 139) and exist solely to donate their organs to medical patients once they reach adulthood. Due to their unconventional origins and the strange conditions in which they are raised (in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere, with little exposure to the outside world), society deems them inhuman: when Kathy and Tommy confront Madame about the artwork she collected from them as children, she explains that she did so “to prove [the students] had souls at all” (Ishiguro, pg. 260). To outside society, especially the sponsors of the cloning project, the fact that the students of Hailsham were created from scientific engineering and not from physical parents, and the purpose for their creation, renders them entirely separate from the human race. They are considered soulless, even as children, and it is this marking as inhuman that initially prevents them from accessing the human experiences of traditional sexuality and reproduction. Saartjie Baartman of Venus is dehumanized by her society based on her physical appearance, which departs from western beauty standards. In early nineteenth century England, a society populated almost exclusively by white people, she is South African, and presents a physical form that strays from the norm, namely large hips and buttocks. She is referred to as part of a “breed” known as “Big Bottomed Girls” (Parks, pg. 13)- her physical appearance allows for a dehumanization so strong that the vocabulary used to describe her is regularly used to discuss animals- and the men who categorize her as such see no issue in transporting her around Europe as a travelling spectacle. People who watch her within the play are told to “get [themselves] a good long look. Kiddies push yr ways up front… place your gifts at her feet and watch her feed (Parks, pg. 60). She is viewed as animalistic, which allows people to ogle her in ways that they would never approach someone they considered human. This condemnation by outside society bars Saartjie from ordinary human experiences.
The inhuman status assigned to Saartjie and the clones prevents them from learning about sexuality and reproduction in a safe manner. When the students of Hailsham are taught about sex, they learn the biology behind what happens, and are taught that sex can lead to children for “normal” humans. Beyond that, however, the guardians explain that the students have “to be extremely careful about having sex in the outside world, especially with people who weren’t students, because out there sex meant all sorts of things” (Ishiguro, pg. 84). The students are also taught that the reason behind the emotions and conflicts associated with sex in the outside world occur because ordinary humans can have children, and explain that the children won’t experience those difficulties because they cannot reproduce. Students themselves maintain stigma surrounding sex: Kathy is uncomfortable with her sexual urges because Ruth told her that they were strange, and when porn magazines circulate the school, students pretend to ignore them and mock anyone who takes interest, likely because they have never been formally told that sex can cause emotions even if children aren’t involved. As the students are deemed inhuman, and have been created exclusively as organ donors, the concept of educating them about sex as something pleasurable isn’t one that is breached by teachers. Saartjie has a similar experience during her relationship with the Doctor. There are clearly consent issues in their relationship: he convinces her to come live with him with promises of “a clean room” (Parks, pg. 87) and “new clothes and good meals” (Parks, pg. 88), in exchange for sexual favors; he tells her that “yll sleep with me” (Parks, pg. 88), to which she agrees, because she wants to gain a better life. In addition to being coerced, however, she believes that their relationship is one of love and romance, because she has never been taught otherwise. She has no knowledge of birth control and as a result becomes pregnant twice, and remains in a relationship with a man who will ultimately betray her. All of this occurs because of her inhuman status in the eyes of outside society; there is no one to teach her about sexuality, reproduction and romance because no one in her society considers her enough of a human to bother. As a result of the ostracization of their traditionally human peers, Saartjie Baartman and the clones of Hailsham are denied a fully-rounded and healthy education in sexuality and reproduction.
The inhuman status assigned to the clones and Saartjie prevents them from engaging in ordinary romantic and sexual relationships. When Kathy discusses her first sexual partner, she explains that she went after Harry C because “he’d definitely done it before… I didn’t fancy him that much, but I certainly didn’t find him sick-making” (Ishiguro, pg. 98). Hailsham has a culture of sexual pressure, where “it felt like if you hadn’t done it yet, you ought to, and quickly” (Ishiguro, pg. 98), which makes Kathy feel that she needs to have sex quickly in order to fit in with the social order of the school. As a result, she gives very little thought to any potential sexual or romantic partners, and instead pursues someone solely based on the fact that she doesn’t find him hideous. In her book Rereading Heterosexuality, Rachel Carroll argues that the clones in Never Let Me Go engage in romantic relationships not out of love or desire, but out of a desire to assimilate into human society. She argues that Kathy’s research of the porn magazines “seems more studious than sexual” (Carroll, pg. 141), and later argues that Kathy’s actions regarding romance “seem to be symptomatic of the imitative schooling which she and her peers receive, in which they are encouraged to mimic the behavior of ‘normals’” (Carroll, pg. 142). This links to the observation that Kathy makes of the “veteran” couples at the Cottages, and the awkward ways in which they behave: “many of their mannerisms were copied from the television” (Ishiguro, pg. 120). The clones are isolated from the outside world due to their dehumanization and lack realistic ideals of romantic love, and in an attempt to assimilate into the human world, they try to engage in traditionally human things like romantic relationships. In spite of this want to assimilate, however, the clones still aren’t exposed to healthy relationships. and so despite all of the effort that the Kathy and her peers put into normalizing their relationships, they continue to engage in relationships that are a pale version of the norm.
The first person narrative of Never Let Me Go allows for an added sense of peculiarity within the clones’ experiences of sexuality. As the novel follows Kathy’s thoughts directly, it’s impossible to avoid her thought process regarding her sexual and reproductive identity. At a young age, she mentions that “we all knew… that none of us could have babies” (pg. 73), a fact that she readily accepts when she realizes it, because she knows in her head that she is different from regular humans. Her thoughts extend past reproduction to ideas of sexual and romantic relationships, notably after she begins her relationship with Tommy, one that seems to be based on genuine affection: when considering deferral, she thinks that if “we did find ourselves going for a deferral, it might prove a real drawback if we’d never had sex… my worry was that it would show somehow, in a kind of lack of intimacy” (Ishiguro, pg. 238). Obviously sex and romance do not have to be linked, and not having a sexual relationship doesn’t mean that two people aren’t in love, but Kathy’s lack of education due to her dehumanized state prevents her from learning this. Ishiguro’s first-person narrative grants readers a glance directly into Kathy’s head, which further show her skewed ideas regarding sexuality.
Saartjie Baartman’s deformed experience of sexuality and reproduction is furthered more by the style in which Venus is written. As it is a play format, the text literally places her on display for others to observe: in engaging in the play, audience members and readers alike become part of the spectatorship and objectification of the Venus. The unique format of the play does not allow for a break in this objectification. While Venus has an intermission, a scene plays throughout the entirety of it, where the Baron Doctor takes detailed scientific notes on the body of the Venus: “The great amounts of subcutaneous fat were quite surprising. On the front of the thigh was for instance fat was measured 1 inch in thickness” (Parks, pg. 92). Spectators of the play must consider whether to stay and watch the scene or leave and return, either way continuing to participate in the objectification. The mother showman’s language makes it impossible to ignore that readers and viewers of the play are engaging in the objectification of Saartjie; she is told to “let [the audience members] see you in yr alltogether… lets give these folks their moneys worth” (Parks, pg. 46). The play’s genre contributes to the oversexualization of Venus due to her appearance: she’s put on display for people to ogle and grope, as a sexual object existing solely for the viewing pleasure of white people. The mother showman enhances this oversexualization within the context of the play, but it also draws the readers into this oversexualization: they are watching the objectification of another human, meaning that Venus experiences a skewed sense of sexuality from multiple sources of scrutiny.
Saartjie Baartman isn’t exposed to romantic ideals either: she’s brought from South Africa with no education about British culture, and is forced to navigate England on her own. As a result, she enters into a deeply problematic relationship with a man who holds a position of power over her and ultimately brings about her downfall. When they’re together she constantly asks “Love me” (Parks, pg. 106), in a manic effort to reaffirm the doctor’s love for her. In an ordinary relationship, this constant, one-sided need for reaffirmation would not be necessary. The doctor also has difficulty looking at her during sexual activity: he masturbates in their bed but refuses to look at her and insists that she not look at him, saying “don’t look! Don’t look at me” (Parks, pg. 106). He is disgusted by her, yet she still clings to him and believes that he loves her. That unwavering loyalty doesn’t fade even at the end of the book, when the doctor has her sent to prison so that she dies and he can harvest her organs. English society deems Saartjie inhuman due to her physical appearance, and that lack of humanization prevents her from being brought into the folds of European culture. As a result she lacks an understanding of healthy romantic relationships, and enters into a toxic relationship which she thinks is built on love.
The right to reproduce is stripped from both Saartjie and the clones due to their dehumanized status. As they are biologically engineered, the clones aren’t able to have children, something that their guardians take great care in expressing: when first explaining sex to the students, Miss Emily says that “the reason [sex] meant so much… was because the people out there… they could have babies from sex” (Ishiguro, pg. 84).” Their inability to reproduce is simply an accepted fact, one that further distinguishes them from the outside world. Saartjie Baartman experiences a similar lack of choice when it comes to her own reproduction. She becomes pregnant twice over the course of her relationship with the baron doctor, and both times aborts the pregnancy. It is never stated whether she wanted to become pregnant in the first place, or if she had any choice regarding the outcome of the pregnancy. Both she and the clones experience a loss of their reproductive rights due to their inhuman status: the clones’ biological makeup prevents them from having children, and Saartjie’s dehumanization strips her of access to reproductive choices.
Both Saartjie Baartman and the clones of Hailsham are subjected to marginalized treatment due to their inhuman status, established by their biological creation and physical appearance. As a result, they find themselves barred from traditional human experiences of sexuality and reproduction, which leads to them engaging in toxic, skewed versions of romantic and sexual relationships that cause more harm than good as they desperately try to assimilate into a society that has rejected them.
Never Let Me Go: Analyzing and Evaluating the Film Adaptation
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go highlights the human tendency to create hope when forced to confront a harsh reality. In the novel, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy gradually learn of their predetermined fates as clones to donate their organs, yet they continue to hope for a better future. Romanek’s film adaptation of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go somewhat deviates from the novel’s portrayal of the necessity of hope in accepting reality, thus developing the relationship between hope and reality to a limited extent.
The film places less emphasis on symbols in the students’ childhoods at Hailsham, weakening the development of the role of hope as the clones begin to understand their reality. Romanek cuts out the pencil case incident, during which Ishiguro demonstrates Ruth’s ability to hope. The pencil case symbolizes Ruth’s desire for an emotional bond through special treatment, not simply superiority among the students. In the novel, Kathy’s confrontation with Ruth subverts her act of deception, essentially stripping her of her hope of forming emotional connections. However, Kathy’s immediate regret for exposing the truth, as she expresses her guilt on page 60 for “[upsetting her] dearest friend” who had only “fibbed a little,” places greater fault on herself. In mitigating the severity of the lie, Kathy illustrates Ishiguro’s commentary on the importance of holding on to hope, despite both the characters’ knowledge that Ruth’s hope is an impossibility, a forbidden gesture of favoritism. In cutting this scene, Romanek’s adaptation does not effectively illustrate the role of hope in Ruth’s character, who, in the novel, still retains hope, though less visible. Therefore, the film loses this facet of conveying Ishiguro’s comments on maintaining hope, even in a character that attempts to mask it.
At Hailsham, the film partially translates the significance of hope in reality through emphasis on the students’ collections. As the students in the novel find difficulty comprehending the larger world, they attempt to find meaning in their collections. The collections give them a purpose, allowing the students to preoccupy themselves as a way of coping with confronting reality. Romanek highlights the collections through a series of close up shots, demonstrating their significance to the clones in that they fuel hope for a fulfilled life before completion. However, this symbol in the film more effectively communicates ideas relating to the dehumanization of the clones and their low positions in society, rather than the importance of hope, because the film lacks the scene of the clones discussing their collections on page 131, in which Ruth insists to Keffers that hers consists of “‘really good stuff,’” and later wishes she had kept it. Even as she attempts to discard her collection, Ruth recognizes the value of the items, a view that contrasts with that of Keffers, who in this situation embodies reality. Though in conflict, reality yields to hope, as Keffers agrees to take Ruth’s collection. Ishiguro establishes the collections, with their strong connections to Hailsham, as a symbol of the clones’ hopeful youths. With Ruth’s reflection upon throwing away her collection, the prominence of their hope as adults further highlights Ishiguro’s comments on maintaining hope to thrive in reality. In cutting the conversation between Kathy and Ruth, the film does not effectively develop the symbol of the collections as the novel does, instead focusing more on societal issues than on the necessity of hope.
Additionally, the essays from Hailsham are not present in the film. In the novel, Kathy imagines how she would write her essay when she first arrives at the Cottages. She states on page 115 that they “helped keep us afloat,” among the “powerful tides tugging us apart,” as the essay acts as a thread that ties the Hailsham students to their childhoods. Kathy’s daydreaming about her essay displays the hopefulness she had experienced during her youth and her tendency to return to that period to escape reality. The references to water further convey this attachment to childhood and its conflict with reality, because the clones cling to the essays as a representation of Hailsham that aid in their survival outside of the sheltered school. The statement also demonstrates the strength of their hope with the clones’ ability to resist the “powerful tides” attempting to strip them of hope. Without this symbol connecting the clones to their childhoods, the film lacks Kathy’s fondness of her hopeful youth as well as all the clones’ eventual dismissal of the task that signifies their ultimate loss of this thread of hope.
In altering the narratology of the novel, the film ineffectively communicates the cassette tape’s significance to Kathy as symbol of her hope that extends throughout her life. Romanek adds to his adaptation Tommy’s buying Kathy the cassette tape at a Sale. This change establishes the tape as a symbol of affection between the two characters and makes the significance of the tape and the film as a whole more concentrated on the characters’ relationships, and less on the dreams that manifest from the tape and the hope it provides. Romanek’s choice to center Kathy’s tape around romantic relationships detracts from Ishiguro’s comments on the need for hope to thrive in reality, ultimately creating a more shallow relationship between hope and reality.
In the film, Ruth is the one who sees Kathy hugging a pillow while listening to the tape instead of Madame. With its significance to Tommy and Kathy’s relationship, in Ruth’s eyes, the tape symbolizes a secret connection between the two that excludes her. In replacing Madame with Ruth, the film emphasizes Kathy and Ruth’s competition for Tommy’s love and hinders the development of Madame’s character, who sees the pillow as a portrayal of the kinder old world. Madame’s lessened significance in the film minimizes her continual presence in the novel that serves as a constant reminder of the clones’ reality. This change significantly detracts from Ishiguro’s comments on hope and reality, because the peacefulness of the scene in the novel in which Kathy fantasizes of her hopes contrasts sharply with Madame’s sobbing, a shocking reminder of reality. Ishiguro describes on page 71 the crying that “[jerks Kathy] out of [her] dream” and causes her to “[freeze] in shock.” The diction in this statement highlights the abrupt intrusion of reality into Kathy’s fantasy. In creating this contrast, Ishiguro reflects the state of the hope each character retains: Kathy is hopeful, having not fully comprehended her role in society, while Madame has already confronted the harsh realities of the clones’ lives and is consequently moved by Kathy’s actions. For Kathy, the tape embodies her innocence at Hailsham, but for Madame, the tape evokes the cruelty of the world. Even as an adult, Kathy can still find happiness in her tape, despite having acknowledged reality, because it symbolizes her hopeful childhood. Ishiguro proves that she is still hopeful, and thus she can cherish the small instances of hope, such as the tape. With this, Ishiguro suggests that the ability to hope is a more rewarding approach to facing reality, as the absence of hope in Madame, who recognizes the darkness of reality on page 266 when she tells Tommy his life must “‘run the course that’s been set,’” establishing that she has lost hope and given in to society’s principles, leads her to experience a level of grief. Romanek’s film loses this conflict of reactions and subsequently the commentary on the clones’ humanity and ability to hope within strict confines as a necessary quality that aids in the characters’ survival in reality.
The film also omits Kathy’s losing the tape. In the novel, losing the tape introduces another aspect of hope: the belief that lost things can be found again. Kathy and Tommy cling to the memory of the tape, refusing to give up their hope to restore their childhood innocence and the freedom to dream. After finding the tape in Norfolk, Kathy states on page 180, “‘Judy Bridgewater. My old friend,’” demonstrating her strong, lasting connection to her childhood. Recovering the tape is a reminder that there is a chance that not all missing things are permanently lost. Kathy maintains this source of hope throughout her life, identifying the tape on page 64 as one of her “most precious possessions” that she does not “dare to play” in her car’s failing tape machine. Ishiguro portrays Kathy with a sense of fear of losing the tape, which suggests the importance of the hope it represents. Even after understanding the impossibility of the fantasy of Kathy’s interpretation of the song, the tape remains a constant in her life that she holds on to, proving its significance to her, not only in her naive childhood, but also in adulthood when she understands reality. In cutting this storyline, the film loses commentary on the necessity of maintaining hope as a source of motivation to continue through and find greater ease in accepting a harsh reality.
Additionally, Romanek’ film only somewhat develops Norfolk as a symbol, representing the possibility of a continued existence, thus not fully articulating the significance of hope in reality expressed in Ishiguro’s novel. During the trip to Norfolk, the film does not emphasize Ruth’s dream to work an office job and her secret hope for that fantasy to translate into reality. Romanek’s adaptation weakens the development of the complexity of Ruth’s character. It displays Ruth’s excitement more plainly, unlike in the novel when Kathy notes on page 146 that Ruth had “gone out of her way” to convince the veterans, whom she views as superior, that she “wasn’t very serious” about “finding her possible.” While Ishiguro’s character hides her desire for the possible to be a correct match, she also acts in an eager manner from which Kathy can discern her true excitement. Rather than convey Ruth’s suppressed hope, Romanek illustrates a sense of unguarded enthusiasm, which Ruth’s openly displays to Kathy. Due to this change, the film does not prove the significance of hope to Ruth, because in the novel, Ruth, despite her wish to appear mature to the veterans, nevertheless retains an internal sense of hope. Although she does not truly believe that the possible is a correct match, she suspends her disbelief in favor of hope. As Kathy accepts this behavior and the other clones all encourage Ruth to pursue her possible, Ishiguro praises the ability to retain hope to thrive within a restrictive reality. Therefore, Romanek’s changes cause the film adaptation to lose this approval of hoping despite knowing there is no option outside of facing one’s inevitable fate.
In another departure from the novel, Romanek’s characters do not follow Ruth’s possible though Norfolk and into an art gallery, only viewing her from outside an office window. Therefore, Romanek depicts Ruth’s hope to only a limited extent, because although certain shots, in which Ruth leaves the window last, capture a slight sense of Ruth’s hope that the possible is her original, the choice to shorten and condense the trip inhibits the film from fully conveying the relationship between hope and reality. As Ruth’s primary source of hope, the chase after her possible in the novel that is eliminated from the film minimizes the development of Ruth’s hope.
Romanek’s adaptation of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go develops to a limited extent the relationship between hope and reality, as it somewhat deviates from Ishiguro’s portrayal of hope as a necessary trait in the acceptance of reality. While the clones’ passivity toward completion that Ishiguro depicts is a reflection of the universal human response to death, the novel advocates for retaining hope despite an inevitable mortality. However, this commentary is not fully conveyed in Romanek’s film, which alters the narratology in such a way that minimizes the significance of symbols of the clones’ hope, thus detracting from the novel’s comments on the relationship between hope and reality.
The Symbolism of Hailsham
Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go allows for glimpses into some hidden dimension of a dystopian reality through the eyes of the protagonists life; Kathy H. The anecdotal, narrative form of the novel permits Ishiguro to present the protagonists memories and recollections of a lost time at her ‘boarding school’, Hailsham. As each memory from her childhood is relentlessly transcribed, an ever-emerging seed of doubt and trauma emerges amid the pleasantly habitual images. For Kathy, Hailsham was more than a home and school that she grew up in, but through Ishiguro’s complex choice of language, structure and form, it became everything and virtually the only thing, that her character could believe and entrust.
The informality and casualness of Kathy’s tone and character is what makes the plot climax so very understated. The conscious ignorance and innocence of all the children at Hailsham, particularly Kathy, is one of the major representations of what Hailsham comes to represent for her. The enigmatic surface of the novel is highlighted at the start of the narration; ‘My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.’ The deceptive normality portrays confidence and self-awareness in Kathy, which displays a false sense of security. Moreover, the importance of her occupation as a ‘carer’ symbolizes to some extent how Kathy’s identity and existence is very pragmatic, as this is one of the first images she wishes to offer the reader. Kathy’s nonchalance leads the reader to believe her character is at peace with what society has planned for her body and vital organs. Never Let Me Go raises the debatable topic of whether ignorance is either beauty or evil, and to what extent knowledge becomes power. Kathy’s character entrusts everything she knows in Hailsham, and most importantly in the ‘parent-like’ figures of the ‘Guardians’. The theme of innocence is evident within the suggestion that the students lack of a parental figure. Parents provide essential life-skills, which is some explanation as to why the pupils are so readily indoctrinated by the Guardians, such as Miss Emily.
Hailsham represents Kathy’s passiveness, closely related to her readiness to conform to whatever society has planned for her existence. Kathy may describe her world through a very limited perspective, hence her ignorance, although within these perceptions, she exhibits astonishing powers of observation and interpretation. The simplicity in tone of the narrator only adds to ones growing horror and outrage at the characters ‘situation’. Kathy appears undisturbed by how her life has been predetermined, and simply accepts it as ‘what we’re supposed to be doing’. The essence and limits of humanity are constantly addressed in Ishiguro’s novel, and there arises the question of what it is to be human. Choice, love and hope are to some extent the three most important things in life, the children of Hailsham are denied, which is interrelated to the human need of parental support. At the close of the novel, the quotation ‘that’ll be something no one can take away’, suggests that Kathy is in fact human, and possesses undeniably human traits. Her character has simply been oppressed by the dehumanizing system in which they are forced to live.
Never Let Me Go is placed into the genre of dystopian narratives, and by which dehumanized creations meekly accept their fate. Although the character of Miss Emily reminds the reader with the idea that Hailsham was meant to be a ‘humane’ method for rearing the clones; a truly paradoxical and oxymoronic phenomenon. Although at the termination of the novel, Hailsham wishes to prove that as a specie, the clones are ‘as sensitive and intelligent as any ordinary human’.
For the manufactured beings at Hailsham, their ‘home’ is their haven. Despite the fear that the young students are indoctrinated, and are as some would comment ‘kept like cattle awaiting slaughter’, Kathy’s life is Hailsham. Memories before Hailsham are non-existent, and after Hailsham, the boarding school remains the foundations of her existence. Kathy’s life at Hailsham was content, content with her relationship with Ruth; exclaiming she was ‘most definitely in her good books. And that was more or less the way things stayed’. Similarly, Kathy’s relationship with Tommy seemed to ‘work out’ at school, though, once the security of Hailsham had been removed, her relationship with Tommy, would no longer resolve. Hailsham was a sanctuary to its inhabitants, but meanwhile also a mystery. Despite several suggestions of being forced to stay within the confinement of the school walls at Hailsham, nobody tries to escape, even after discovering their future fates. Later in life too, Ishiguro never presents a carer to even consider trying to save a donor. Rumors and denial are the two things that keep the students from attempting ‘escape’; exemplified in one menacing story concerning a girl being prevented from re-entering Hailsham after she ran away. Similarly, Ishiguro presents the children’s fear of leaving their home, with the suggestion of an ‘electric fence’ surrounding the school; ‘It’s just as well the fences at Hailsham aren’t electrified. You get terrible accidents sometimes.’ Alternatively, constant fear could be the reasoning as to why students remain at Hailsham, opposed to them believing it is a sacred; ‘Hail’ sanctuary.
For Kathy, society may be able to take away her vital organs, and eventually her life. However her connection with Hailsham is timeless and eternal; ‘That’ll be something no-one can take away’. Ishiguro empowers Kathy in the final chapter, her tone is defiant meanwhile tolerant of yielding her fate. A sense of ‘completion’ and acceptance is understood. The exclamation of a ‘quieter life’, is the suggestion of silence through her death, though conceivably the silence is a comfort away from the stress and emotion that she felt toward Tommy. Memories of Hailsham is all Kathy needs, whether it be through her audacity or ignorance, she is contently prepared to ‘complete’ her journey. Ishiguro presents Kathy’s character as both a submissive, ill-informed emulation, however at the close of the novel, she personifies the moral question of what it is to be human, and how the importance of challenging society through the art of questioning, can save a life. Kathy is both the victim and the victor at the conclusion of the work of fiction, and her readiness to ‘complete’ provides evidence of this.