The Theme Of Free Will In Kazou Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go And Erik Larson’s The Devil In The White City

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

To build structures that cut through the skies and scrape against the heavens. To recreate a landscape with the vivid colors bleeding off the tip of a paintbrush. To grasp the throat of another and squeeze until his eyes are glossy and his screams decrescendo into an inaudible cry for help. Free will, no matter societal standards, is as much of a beautiful concept as it is a catalyst for the most heinous of crimes, and this principle is explored within a myriad of characters featured throughout pop culture and literature. Both Erik Larson’s H. H. Holmes from The Devil in the White City and Tommy from Kazou Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go illustrate the aforementioned archetype as they face the social constraints of their stories, however, their willingness to transgress past the ideals of those around them contrasts immensely.

Within both novels, the dominating opinion of the majority presides a mass influence over Holmes and Tommy as they are matched against the social standards of their times. In Larson’s account of the trial of H. H. Holmes, the character presents himself in a relaxed fashion as he continuously denies committing any crimes. During his stay in a prison cell, the suspect wrote a memoir “intending it as a vehicle for reinforcing his claims” of being “a man of warmth and piety” to support his profession of innocence.

Shortly after this, the serial killer admits to the record being riddled with guile when he professes a body count of twenty-seven, expressing his nonchalance towards his iniquity as well. Additionally, this reveals his aims to sway public opinion based on their expectations of what a murderer wouldn’t be, claiming innocence even though he is unabashed of the number of lives he has stolen. In this way, he is easily related to Tommy, who also has his desires placed on a leash by social standards and must change if he were to fit them. From the start, the boy is always the oddest student at Hailsham as he is never good with the fine arts. For this, he is heavily ridiculed for several years until he gives up on the artistic subjects he once wanted to excel in. Consequently “the pranks directed at him became more half-hearted” and suddenly there wasn’t one “for over a week” and they dwindled into extinction. Being bullied for the bulk of his life forces him to adhere to the expectations of his fellow students to fit in, despite what he wants, expressing how his character also subject to the will of society.

Although Holmes and Tommy are victims to the whims of societal expectations, they are unequal in terms of willingness to move past the limits. Throughout the story, Holme’s facade never breaks as he is “sympathetic and helpful” to the loved ones of his victims, and as a result, the police “never get involved” until far too late. His want to experience the thrills of murder is great enough to encourage him to fabricate a plethora of lies to cover his trail. He is apathetic to those involved in the horrifying cases and only cares enough for his continued success in killing to put up a front to throw off cops. Meanwhile, all it takes is the admonishment of one of the administrators to get Tommy to change his entire personality and stop putting so much emphasis on a subject he truly desired to be good at. Miss Lucy simply requests that if he “‘didn’t want to be creative’” or was unable to then it was “‘perfectly all right’” for him to give up. This resulted in him better fitting in but also losing his desire to create art and displays how he falls flat in comparison to Holme’s powerful conviction.

Free will despite societal limits is practiced by Holmes, while Tommy obeys those around him and sacrifices his dreams in the process. While both face matching problems with the ideals of those around them, Tommy doesn’t stand his ground while Holmes does. The ability to create a skyscraper taller than ever before. The ability to paint an original scenery. The ability to lay someone to rest eternally. All are acts that took someone’s intuition to catalyze, all require the personal will to do it. The question remains – to do or not to do – regardless if it can be done.


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