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Kazuo Ishiguros Novel Never Let Me Go English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4382 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Kazuo Ishiguros novel, Never Let Me Go questions the ethics and morals of the rapid progress in technology; and specifically, cloning humans. This essay is an analysis on the personalities and relationships developed by the “clones” and “normal humans” and how they contribute in developing certain themes throughout the novel. Both the clones and the humans are presented with this endless dilemma; how can it be certain that the clones can be considered as humans? According to their society, the ability to articulate artistic expression proves having a “soul”, and therefore can be considered as a human being. However, upon closer inspection, the answer is ironically and clearly justified as each clone represents a very human trait: They have hopes and dreams, can get emotional, insecure and have a skeptical outlook of the world, desperate in search of answers. Whereas, the “normal humans”; the mentors represent the ugly side and evil capabilities of society and human nature: They are brainwashed and driven to help society, for the better or worse. This treatment leads to the obedience of the clones as instructed, and the story ends with losing each of the clones as they almost thoughtlessly give up their organs, carrying their roles in their pre-determined life. It is concluded that these characters immensely help develop different aspects of different themes. Throughout the novel, the characters are faced with many conflicts and these aids towards developing a certain theme as they realistically adjust to these changes. Overall, this disturbing predicament serves as a warning to readers on the dangers of technology, as we may replace valuable human life with research and development of the most unspeakable things.

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The events in Never Let Me by Kazuo Ishiguro take place in a dystopian alternate world in the English countryside during the late 1990s. In context, the devastating aftermath of an unnamed war during the 50s urged a critical need for cure of a widespread virus. Meanwhile, the innovative developments/progress in genetic engineering prompted the creation of test- tube babies to be the solution. The novel begins by capturing the life of Hailsham, a mysterious boarding school designed to raise “special” students by inevitably dooming them to a determined fate of relinquishing their internal organs at some stage during their adult lives. As they grow older, the former students are sent across the country to complete their given tasks which are aided by specific “training” and eventually relocation to different hospitals in order to becoming a donor or “carer”- a nurse or helper for the donor before becoming one himself. Disturbing and unquestionably inhumane as it may sound; Ishiguro focuses far more on the emotional side of his characters by developing very sensitive relationships between the “clones”, as they reflect upon their childhoods and set out to find answers to the many secrets and questions that revolve around the isolated gates of Hailsham. As a result, numerous themes are borne from this premise of cloning and the concept and use of test-tube babies. This development of the plot allows Ishiguro to comment on themes such as roles in society, social relations, conformity, unfulfilled hopes and dreams, human nature, the ethics, genetic engineering and technological progress for specific means. In addition, Ishiguro addresses the different kind of individuals in society: those created in test tubes and those born naturally. These different types of characters aid in the development of different concepts and ideas in the novel. However, since the clones are addressed in much greater detail, they are essentially the center of the novel and therefore presented as the main characters. Each of the three main characters: Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are in particular the focus of attention throughout the whole storyline and Ishiguro’s readers follow their development and the relationships between them. Most importantly, these three different personalities help to convey different ideas and themes according to Ishiguro’s purpose. The more minor (normal human) characters contribute to these themes in their own way. Never Let Me Go is a journey involving recapturing childhood memories, experiencing dashed/unfulfilled dreams and reconnecting with the past in order to unravel the meaning behind the rumors and secrets of Hailsham for readers to ponder upon the possibility of the approaching doom of humanity.

Clones: Kathy- The narrator and development of the theme of dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams

Kathy is the narrator of the novel and so the events of the story are based on her recollection, flashbacks and stream of consciousness. The novel is divided into three parts of her life with the action occurring in different places. Part One focuses on her childhood days. Part Two is moving to The Cottages- a less comfortable yet equally, sheltered place for the clones separating them from the outside world. Part Three focuses on the days near to the present when Kathy becomes a carer. Ishiguro bestows Kathy with a narrative style which has a realistic touch and allows readers to recognize her very observant nature as she spends time to consider carefully what she says, almost as if speaking personally to the reader, feeling the need to explain everything as she exclaims, “I want to talk about such and such but first I’ll have to go back a bit to give you the background and explain why… (138).” Ishiguro proceeds to use Kathy as a means to not give his readers too much information in order to keep the element of suspense alive yet at the same time foreshadowing an impending, dreadful doom. This style of narration also consists of constantly switching time which contributes to Kathy’s rather disorganized chronological perception of time and its significance. At times she mentions how she does not quite clearly remember certain events. However, Ishiguro very effectively creates a realistic character who has the complex thought processes of a true human being as she narrates the story. This is significant because Kathy’s narration not only affects the structure of the plot, but also how each theme is slowly constructed along with it. She provides the withholding of some information until much later, thus allowing the rising action and both the climax at the near end showing the inevitable buildup towards dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams regarding the “deferrals”: A program believed buy couples in love more time together if they have proven their “souls” through their artwork and “creativity” at Hailsham. Ishiguro’s execution of slowly exposing the dark atrocities at Hailsham through Kathy excels in not only heightening the suspense but also causing a lingering distress for readers. As for Kathy, with the knowledge of her pre-determined fate that has been deeply rooted from many years ago so she takes refuge in her daydreams as she admits, “I didn’t like being bumped out of my daydreams” (209) and “Sometimes I get so immersed in my own company, if I unexpectedly run into someone I know, it’s a bit of a shock and takes me a while to adjust”(198); Kathy’s daydreams and taking preoccupation with her work as a carer thus prevent herself from confronting her fate. In fact, she never even mentions the word, “death”, only using the term, “completed”, let alone facing the reality of the situation herself. This proves a very human response- all of us will face death and might die at any given time; therefore we probably will react very much like them of our existence. The traces of her depression and inability to confront her reality can be traced back to her youthful days at the cottages when she reflects on discussing their “dream futures…” and exclaims that “Ruth began telling us about the sort of office she’d ideally work in…I even started wondering if maybe it was all feasible: if one day we might all of us move into a place like that and carry on our lives together” (144). Kathy cannot resist holding on to some kind of hope as her fear of death ultimately shows how she cannot confront her tragic fate. Yet, her decision to stay silent and not vocally support Ruth’s daydreams shows full acceptance of her role which demonstrates the inevitability of broken dreams and hopes. But holding on to this untrustworthy hope reveals the belief in fate and predestination, creating a sort of meaning for the clones as they may be bound to a fate. From the very beginning of the novel, Kathy is conflicted with a love triangle between her, Ruth and Tommy. After Ruth attempts to set things right and brings the two finally together, Tommy requests Kathy to become his carer for a brief period. After his death, she thinks to herself, “I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, and maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that- I didn’t let it” (287). Kathy proceeds to quietly mourn but prevents herself from sobbing out of control and simply drives off right before the novel comes to a closing end. Kathy, from having lost her closest friend, lover and in addition to all the previous experiences of her lost hopes and dreams has constructed a psychological barrier. This barrier indicates how Ishiguro has developed Kathy as a very realistic, empathetic character as she avoids becoming overwhelmingly hurt, depressed to essentially maintain her sanity. She prevents herself from fantasizing too much but ironically lives in her past memories. This could be due to her extreme passivity which may have caused her to avoid thinking of any regrets of the unfulfilled time Tommy and Kathy hoped for. Moreover, it all boils down to the general fear of death and inability to confront how life is set out due to the willful ignorance and brainwashing at Hailsham. Thus, she continues to cherish her precious childhood memories and decides to be at peace with herself, “I’ll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that’ll be something no one can take away” (297). Kathy appears as a product of this ruthless, unjust society; with broken dreams and hopes with no one but her treasured memories of innocence and happiness as a child. This exhibits the pitiful, heart wrenching, disturbing tragedy of the novel.

Clones: Tommy- Non Conformity

Tommy is one of the major characters as Kathy’s long time best friend and lover at the end. He has a rather humorous, naïve and clumsy nature but is very kind hearted and perceptive like Kathy as they observe and analyze possible theories of the rumors and secrets spewing around in Hailsham. In Hailsham, creating art is highly encouraged and defines the social status of a person, “A lot of the time, how you were regarded at Hailsham, how much you were liked and respected, had to do with how good you were at “creating”” (16). Tommy however lacks the artistic talent and is therefore disrespected, labeled as unimaginative, dull and almost an outcast by the rest of the students. As an adult he becomes gentle, sympathetic, more mature yet still a child at heart. Unlike the others, Tommy can be sometimes very keen, extra sensitive and is the only character who first takes the initiative to understand and examine his surroundings. In the novel, Tommy exhibits unusual qualities from the rest of the clones by being the most determined to seek an alternative path for his pre-determined fate. This quality hints at secretly seeking some kind of freedom, an outlet from the closed fated life the clones are forced to lead. This is shown through his constant drawings of the same animals he would draw as a boy until they “almost looked labored, almost like they’ve been copied” (241). With the exception of Tommy’s brief tantrum in the field, no other character initiates any act of rebellion, large or small. Ishiguro shows that the novel’s world has constructed a society where everyone has no choice but to confirm. Eventually as Tommy and Kathy confront Madame and Miss Emily about the deferrals in Part Three, they discover it was just imagined hope. However, Tommy’s stubborn nature persists to need reassurance, “So there’s definitely nothing. No deferral, nothing like that” (266) depicting his helpless naivety. His hopes are crushed and he is forced to confirm just like everyone else. Through this, Ishiguro captures an idea of a powerful society: With the extreme brainwashing, the clones cannot think further for themselves and even the most thoughtful, brightest and ambitious fail to succeed in escaping or even making the tiniest difference in the whole trap of a vicious system. When Kathy and Tommy reflects on his tantrums she claims, “I was thinking maybe the reason you used to get like that was because at some level you always knew…” To which Tommy responds, “But that’s a funny idea. Maybe I did know somewhere deep down. Something the rest of you didn’t” (275) Much like everything else, hope is generated from falsehoods and delusions, from the deferrals to Ruth’s dreams, to Kathy’s hopes that Ruth will break up with Tommy. In addition, Ishiguro shows how these theories and false assumptions could heavily cloud a person’s judgment.

Clones: Ruth-Insecurity

Ruth is one of Kathy’s childhood best friends, gets into a relationship with Tommy from her teen years and later has many conflicts with Kathy. Ruth inhibits traits that are the exact opposite of Kathy, more open with emotions with a bold attitude. In the beginning she outrageously lies about knowing how to play chess, being favored by the guardians and has an overall manipulative behavior as she is deeply insecure and wants to be loved. She possesses a high level of intelligence for example noticing first that Madame feared the students, noticing Tommy and Kathy had feelings when they lived in the Cottages but uses her wits for her own self-interests such as stealing Tommy away from Kathy. Her insecurities are also presented through her desperately trying to fit in and keep up a good appearance to blend in with the rest of her new peers at the cottages. She lies to Chrissie and Rodney about the deferral program openly and shamelessly. We also begin to understand how Kathy can tolerate such behavior-they are loyal to each other no matter what, and for all her flaws, Ruth can also be “encouraging, funny, tactful, wise” (126).Over the years, she becomes frail and her health declines because of the donations, eventually developing feelings of guilt and shame, therefore deciding to atone for her guilt, “I kept you and Tommy apart… That was the worst thing I did. What I want is for you to put it right. Put right what I messed up for you” (232). Ruth, still idealistic in nature thinks that this will completely set things right. The focus from Ruth abruptly and focuses on Tommy and Kathy as this would complicate the last heart-rending scenes of the two. Ruth may seem unlikeable but her role is vital to the growth of the plot as she desperately attempts to keep everything together for the three of them- even through unconventional means and sharp words. Ruth may have a very stubborn and assertive nature on the surface, but she is just as caring for her friends Kathy and Tommy. Although, Ruth may be perceived as overly jealous and downright selfish; these negative attributes are overcome with her abilities as a leader and the caretaker of her group.

Clones: What it means to be a human being

Ishiguro paints a picture of the clones as being highly vulnerable. In early age of their lives, they are like every children; playful, full of promises and wanting to fit in. As they mature, they go through the pangs of growing up, accentuating this vulnerability. Furthermore the seclusion and indoctrination in Hailsham puts a somber side to their characters and ultimately they all accept their fates as donors.  Therefore while the clones are sensitive, intelligent, questioning, and capable, they are utterly dependent on the normal humans for their sustenance and their future. And yet they all continue to hope for a deferral, further accentuating their humanity and frailty.  Of course within this there are important individual differences, which makes the characters more alive and believable.

The concept of creativity is arguably the greatest conflict between the tree main characters, Kathy and Tommy struggle as they theorize and try to find connections from their childhood days. Regardless of the clones’ main differences from a human born from natural means; as a reader, we may easily identify similarities like any other ordinary human being in their ability to reason, to have hopeless “dream futures”(142), to lie and manipulate for attention as Ruth did so in her young days, the ability to atone and to love and forgive each other as Kathy forgives Ruth and so on. Other factors include inner conflicts with themselves, the capacity to reason, imagine, creativity and passion. Not to mention, having internal impulses in a controlled environment as Kathy dances to the song “Never Let Me Go”. Altogether, these factors link to the obvious traits of human nature which determines a soul: These things demonstrate a subjective awareness to oneself, therefore having a “soul”. However with the upbringing designed by the guardians, their mentors largely influence their view on this pre-determined life. In addition, the clones lack the ability to change their fates or even simply question the upbringing of the guardians. This overshadows the concept of willful ignorance. Although aware of facts and presented with the truth, they refuse to acknowledge and change them because of the authority. Ishiguro presents characters who are very much self-deluded; always day-dreaming and reflecting on the past, memories and tiny glimpses of what the future may hold, all in which, the reality of the situation is left ignored. This is where the misrepresentation of the concept of creativity takes its toll. As explained earlier, the guardians reveal that this was the method of seeking souls in the clones, but as for Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, they connect the rumors of the deferral, a supposed program designed to offer more time if a couple are truly in love and the important art program. Thus, Tommy and Kathy, who claim to be in love hold on to this belief to avoid confronting the fact of their lives. Ishiguro also touches upon personal issues such as sex and virginity. Kathy usually shies away from asking any questions as the rest depend on what the guardians told them. Ishiguro creates a message to state that silence and willful ignorance is where these personal issues are large social issues are perpetuated.

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Normal Humans: Miss Emily, Miss Lucy and Madame- Societal Obligations

Miss Emily and Miss Lucy, the guardians at Hailsham have very different opinions on how to raise the students. Miss Emily believes in protecting the students from their inevitable fates and Miss Lucy believes in informing them. Emily says “By sheltering you…we fooled you… we gave you your childhoods” (268). Although she does not hide everything, she only gives the students brief hints about what lies ahead for them. On the contrary, Lucy believes in treating the students more like adults and telling them straightforwardly what they are destined to do: “You’ve been told but none of you really understand it, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way… None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars… Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs (81).This possibly may have been the cause of her dismissal from the program as her role could not fit with the way of upbringing. Their roles as mentors attempt to provide the basic needs of the clones and prove they have souls. However, as readers we are never given the exact reasons for their behavior on both their parts. What we can take from the text apart from the usual secrecy is that the clones were treated as sub humans. After living and bringing up the children for all these years, Miss Emily horrifically exclaims that, “We’re all afraid of you. I myself had to fight back my dread of you all almost every day I was at Hailsham” (269). She continues to show the unequal treatment to the clones by saying, “A generation of created children who’d take their place in society? Children demonstrably superior to the rest of us? Oh no. That frightened people. They recoiled from that” (264).Therefore, this innocence of Hailsham and all its memories are shattered and reminds readers of the dystopian nature of the novel and the “normal humans” who actively participated who ironically seem much less human than the humans themselves.

Madame on the other hand, the mysterious collector of the artworks has a different response to the clones. Madame and Miss Emily believe that art reveals the soul of the person. However, she expresses disgust for the clones and claims to be “afraid” from the very beginning. The difference from Miss Emily she reacts much more sensitively than the guardians as her breakdown at the sight of Kathy dancing as a child, to the song “Never Let Me Go” while holding a pillow. This apparent disgust is much more complex than at first sight. She sees them differently than Miss Emily because she reveals an honest sense of guilt because of how they are being exploited, “Poor creatures. What did we all do to you? With all our schemes and plans?” (234). She attempts to reach out to them as she explains, “I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes…Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go(234).” This clearly proves how Madame is moved by them, and knows they have a soul. This part of “disgust” seems to reflect on her guilt and sense of horror at what society has turned them into. This provides a stark contrast to the characters and the attitudes of those in power, the so called normal human beings who control and thrive on these lesser beings. The power and control is conveyed by the sternness of the guardians and their deliberate attempt to distance themselves from the clones. This is the social construct of the normal humans who go to great lengths to justify the morality of this system, which is done by promoting the belief that the clones are sub-humans who lack a soul, or at least who have to prove themselves of such a faculty by some vague artistic expression.  Madame, the self-styled do-gooder but who will not touch the clones exemplifies the deep seated segregation.  The only person who tries to get close to the clones, Lucy is fired from the school as she also tells Tommy that it is okay to not be artistic. Madame may be a bit foolish and backward as she does seem to acknowledge their souls but lacks standing up for them. Or just like everyone is indoctrinated to carry their roles in society, the rest of the humans may have clearly knew all along that the clones did have a soul, but refused and ignored this, as it may have been inconvenient to their progress.


Each of the characters in Ishiguro’s novel is interconnected and affects the impression of each theme of the novel. In Never Let Me Go, the normal human characters in terms of the theme have more intense and extreme experiences. Ruth acts as the “theme foil” and propels the journey through the plot by creating complications and conflicts. Nonetheless, each of the characters each develops one theme as it rises through their struggles. Ishiguro also expresses his views with the angers of technology and capabilities of human beings for the better and worse. These larger issues speak broadly to the readers as we are faced with many troubling, disturbing questions. Throughout the novel, priorities are misplaced, a robotic society and the little things in life seem much more appreciated. The meaning of what it means to be a human and to have a soul is almost lost with these modifications to the human life and dark society who accept the extreme form of genetic engineering. The possibilities of similar happenings are convincing as it acts as parallels to slavery and the exploitations of human rights throughout history. In our time, people have already started to place importance more on objects and money rather than their own kind. The dehumanization through technology serves as a warning. It can be seen as a lesson about the ethical outcomes resulting from utilitarianism to govern technology by people with moral conscience, or even no souls. It also reminds people of the human cost to carry out extreme practices and the irony is that the mentality- that some people’s lives are more worth than others represents this utilitarianism that is even worse than the physical disease that needs dire treatment. Ishiguro has successfully created realistic characters who not only develops the thematic ideas but also express the messages.


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