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Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro


"But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we’d understood that back then—who knows?—maybe we’d have kept a tighter hold of one another." (p. 133)

Quotations

  1. "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. That’s what each of you was created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided." (pp. 58-59)

  2. "We were able to do that much for you at least. But this dream of yours, this dream of being able to defer. Such a thing would always have been beyond us to grant, even at the height of our influence." (p. 175)

  3. "It’s all part of what made Hailsham so special, she said once. The way we were encouraged to value each other’s work." (p. 16)

  4. "Well, you were . . . upset that day. You were watching me, and when I realised, and I opened my eyes, you were watching me and I think you were crying. In fact, I know you were. You were watching me and crying. Why was that?" (p. 181)

  5. "Early summer, it felt like autumn light. Or maybe it was because the stray sounds that would occasionally reach us as we lay there were of donors milling about, going about their business around the grounds, and not of students sitting in a grassy field, arguing about novels and poetry." (p. 160)

  6. "Then there’s the solitude. You grow up surrounded by crowds of people, that’s all you’ve ever known, and suddenly you’re a carer. You spend hour after hour, on your own, driving across the country, centre to centre, hospital to hospital, sleeping in overnights, no one to talk to about your worries, no one to have a laugh with." (p. 139)

These quotations capture some of the key themes and moments in the novel, including the characters' understanding of their purpose, the isolation they experience, their dreams and hopes, the value they place on each other's work.


Summary

The story of this 2005 dystopian science fiction novel is set in an alternate reality of England during the 1990s where human cloning is authorized and performed.


The story is narrated by Kathy H., a carer who looks after organ donors. She has been a carer for almost twelve years at the time of narration, and she often reminisces about her time spent at Hailsham, a boarding school in England, where the teachers are known as guardians. The children are watched closely and are often told about the importance of producing art and of being healthy. Kathy develops a close friendship with two other students: Ruth and Tommy. However, Tommy and Ruth form a relationship instead.


In an isolated incident, Miss Lucy, one of the guardians, tells the students that they are clones who were created to donate organs to others and that after their donations, they will die young. She implies that if the students are to live decent lives, they must know the truth: their lives are already predetermined. Miss Lucy is removed from the school as a result of her disclosure, but the students passively accept their fate.


Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy move to the Cottages when they are 16 years old. It is the first time they are allowed in the outside world, but they keep to themselves most of the time. Ruth and Tommy are still together, and Kathy has some sexual relationships with other men.


During a trip, Kathy and Tommy separate from the others and look for a copy of a music cassette tape that Kathy had lost when at Hailsham. Tommy's recollection of the tape and desire to find it for her make clear the depth of his feelings for Kathy.


After the trip, Kathy and Tommy do not tell Ruth of the found tape or of Tommy's theory about the deferral. When Ruth finds out about the tape and Tommy's theory, she takes an opportunity to drive a wedge between Tommy and Kathy.

Shortly afterward, she tells Kathy that even if Ruth and Tommy were to split up, Tommy would never enter into a relationship with Kathy because of her sexual history. A few weeks later, Kathy applies to become a carer, meaning that she will not see Ruth or Tommy for about ten years.


After that, Ruth's first donation goes badly and her health deteriorates. Kathy becomes Ruth's carer, and both are aware that Ruth's next donation will probably be her last. Ruth suggests that she and Kathy take a trip and take Tommy with them. During the trip, Ruth expresses regret for keeping Kathy and Tommy apart. Attempting to make amends, Ruth hands them Madame's address, urging them to seek a deferral. Shortly afterward, Ruth makes her second donation and completes, an implied euphemism for dying and donating their remaining organs.


Kathy becomes Tommy's carer, and they form a relationship. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, they go to Madame's house to see if they can defer Tommy's fourth donation, taking Tommy's artwork with them to support their claim that they are truly in love. They find Madame at her house, and also meet Miss Emily, their former headmistress, who lives with her. The two women reveal that guardians tried to give the clones a humane education, unlike other institutions.


The gallery was a place meant to convey to the outside world that the clones are in fact normal human beings with a soul and deserve better treatment. It is revealed that the experiment failed, which is why Hailsham was closed. When Kathy and Tommy ask about the deferral they find out that such deferrals never existed.


Tommy, knowing that his next donation will end his life, confronts Kathy about her work as a carer. Kathy resigns as Tommy's carer but still visits him. The novel ends after Tommy's completion, and Kathy drives up to Norfolk and briefly fantasizes about everything she remembers and everything she lost.



"For the first few weeks after I arrived, we hardly brought up Madame or that conversation." (p. 160)

Analysis

Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel set in a parallel version of England in the late 1990s. The story is narrated by Kathy H., a 31-year-old woman who has been working as a carer for over 11 years. The novel is divided into three parts, each detailing different stages of Kathy's life.


In Part One, Kathy introduces herself and her role as a carer. She takes care of donors, people who have been genetically engineered to provide organ donations. Kathy is proud of her work and is known for her ability to keep her donors calm. She also reveals that she is a Hailsham student, indicating that she comes from a privileged background. Kathy often chooses to care for donors from Hailsham or similar estates, which has led to some resentment from other carers.


Kathy also talks about her childhood friend, Tommy, who she later cares for as a donor. She recalls how Tommy was often the target of pranks by other boys, leading to his frequent outbursts of anger. Kathy's relationship with Tommy is a central theme in the novel, as is her relationship with another Hailsham student, Ruth.


In Part Two, Kathy delves deeper into her past, particularly her time at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic boarding school where the children were encouraged to create art. However, the children were also kept isolated from the outside world and were taught about their future roles as donors in a very vague manner.


In Part Three, Kathy discusses her life after Hailsham, including her time at the Cottages, a sort of halfway house for young adults before they become carers or donors. She also talks about her current life as a carer and her relationships with her donors.


Throughout the novel, Ishiguro explores themes of identity, memory, and the moral implications of genetic engineering. The characters' struggle with their predetermined fates raises questions about what it means to be human and the value of life. The novel also explores the power of memory and the human capacity for hope in the face of bleak reality.


The novel is filled with symbolic elements. Hailsham, for instance, represents a lost paradise for Kathy and her friends, a place of innocence and safety before they were thrust into their grim realities. The art that the students create is also symbolic, representing their individuality and humanity in a world that views them as mere commodities.


In terms of psychotherapeutic messages, the novel explores the coping mechanisms that the characters employ to deal with their harsh realities. Kathy, for instance, uses memory as a form of escapism, often reminiscing about her past to cope with her present. The novel also explores themes of denial and acceptance, as the characters grapple with their identities as donors.


Overall, Never Let Me Go is a deeply moving exploration of what it means to be human, the importance of memory, and the ethical implications of scientific advancements.


Psychotherapeutic messages

  1. Acceptance of Reality: The characters in the novel are forced to confront a harsh reality - their lives are predetermined, and they are destined to become organ donors. This can be seen as a metaphor for the human condition, where we all have to face our mortality. The characters' acceptance of their fate can be seen as a form of resilience and acceptance, which are important aspects of psychotherapy (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

  2. The Power of Memory: The novel explores the role of memory in shaping our identity and understanding of the world. Kathy's memories provide a way for her to make sense of her life and cope with her impending fate. This reflects the therapeutic concept of narrative therapy, where individuals use their personal stories to understand and navigate their lives (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

  3. The Importance of Connection: Despite their circumstances, the characters in the novel form deep emotional bonds with each other. Their relationships provide them with a sense of belonging and emotional support, highlighting the importance of connection and relationships in mental health and well-being (pages 51, 52, 181).

  4. Coping with Loss: The characters in the novel experience significant loss - loss of their childhood, loss of their freedom, and loss of each other. Their experiences reflect the process of grief and mourning, and their attempts to cope with their losses can provide insights into the process of healing and recovery (pages 51, 52, 181).

  5. The Role of Hope: Despite their bleak future, the characters hold onto the hope of deferrals. This hope, even if it's based on a rumor, provides them with a sense of purpose and motivation. This reflects the therapeutic concept of hope, which is seen as a crucial factor in resilience and recovery (pages 156).

However, these are interpretations of the novel's content and may not reflect the author's intended messages. Different readers may interpret the novel's themes and messages in different ways.


More Quotes

  1. "What was so special about this song? Well, the thing was, I didn’t used to listen properly to the words; I just waited for that bit that went: 'Baby, baby, never let me go...'" (p. 52)

  2. "I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how I think it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever." (pp. 188-189)

  3. "The song, it was called 'Never Let Me Go.' Then I sang a couple of lines quietly under my breath for her. 'Never let me go. Oh, baby, baby. Never let me go...'" (p. 181)

  4. "I was weeping, because when I came in, I heard your music. I thought some foolish student had left the music on. But when I came into your dormitory, I saw you, by yourself, a little girl, dancing." (p. 181)

  5. "ANYWAY, THAT’S WHY I WAS SO SECRETIVE about my tape. I even turned the cover inside out so you’d only see Judy and her cigarette if you opened up the plastic case. But the reason the tape meant so much to me had nothing to do with the cigarette, or even with the way Judy Bridgewater sang—she’s one of those singers from her time, cocktail-bar stuff, not the sort of thing any of us at Hailsham liked. What made the tape so special for me was this one particular song: track number three, 'Never Let Me Go.'" (p. 51)

Main characters

  1. Kathy H.: Kathy is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. She is a "carer," a clone who takes care of other clones as they donate their organs. Kathy is introspective and often reflects on her past at Hailsham and her relationships with Ruth and Tommy. She is known for her empathy and caring nature.

  2. Tommy D.: Tommy is one of Kathy's closest friends and later becomes her love interest. He is known for his temper tantrums in his youth, but as he grows older, he becomes more introspective and sensitive. Tommy is also a clone who becomes a "donor."

  3. Ruth C.: Ruth is another of Kathy's close friends from Hailsham. She is often manipulative and controlling, particularly in her relationship with Tommy, whom she dates for a time. Ruth is also a clone and a "donor."

  4. Miss Emily: Miss Emily is the headmistress of Hailsham. She is a stern and somewhat mysterious figure. She later reveals the truth about Hailsham and the purpose of the clones to Kathy and Tommy.

  5. Madame: Madame is a woman who visits Hailsham to collect artwork produced by the students. She is feared and respected by the students. Madame later reveals that the artwork was used to prove that clones have souls.

  6. Miss Geraldine: Miss Geraldine is a guardian at Hailsham who is popular among the students. She is a kind and caring figure.

  7. Miss Lucy: Miss Lucy is a guardian at Hailsham who believes that the students should be told the truth about their futures as organ donors. She is eventually dismissed from Hailsham for sharing this belief with the students.

Other characters

  1. Alexander J. and Peter N.: These are students who are seen walking across the courtyard with Tommy towards the fields, chatting quite naturally. They are mentioned on page 40.

  2. Lucy Wainright: Lucy Wainright is a guardian at Hailsham who believes that the students should be told the truth about their futures as organ donors. She is eventually dismissed from Hailsham for sharing this belief with the students. She is mentioned on pages 178 and 179.

  3. Arthur H.: Arthur H. is one of Tommy's biggest tormentors at Hailsham. He is seen mimicking Tommy during a football game. He is mentioned on page 19.

  4. Marie-Claude: Marie-Claude is one of the supporters of Hailsham who vanishes after the climate changes. She is mentioned on page 177.

  5. Veterans: The veterans are the older students who already lived at the Cottages when the Hailsham students arrived. They helped the new arrivals settle in and were generally thought to be "in charge" of the place. They were seen as more mature and their relationships were more like those of a normal family (pages 81, 82).

  6. Chrissie: Chrissie is one of the veterans at the Cottages, where Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy move after leaving Hailsham. She is a tall girl who is quite beautiful when she stands up to her full height, but she doesn't seem to realize this and spends her time crouching to be the same as the rest of them. That’s why she often looks more like the Wicked Witch than a movie star (page 98). Chrissie is awestruck about Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy being from Hailsham and often tries to get Ruth to talk about her future plans (pages 98, 99). Chrissie and her boyfriend Rodney claim to have seen Ruth's possible - a woman who might be the person Ruth was cloned from - in Norfolk. She is involved in the planning and discussions about the trip to Norfolk (pages 98, 99). Chrissie is also interested in the rumor that clones from Hailsham might be able to get deferrals on their donations if they can prove they are in love. She discusses this with Ruth and seems hopeful about the possibility (pages 106, 107). Later, Chrissie becomes a carer - a clone who takes care of other clones as they donate their organs. She will live in a flat and her life as a carer is discussed when the group considers visiting another carer, Martin (pages 101, 102).

  7. Rodney: Rodney is Chrissie's boyfriend and also a veteran at the Cottages. He is the one who first spots Ruth's possible in Norfolk and suggests the trip to confirm it. Rodney is also interested in the rumor about deferrals and discusses it with Ruth (pages 96, 97).

Places

Hailsham

  1. Location and Layout: Hailsham stands in a smooth hollow with fields rising on all sides. It has a long narrow road that comes down across the fields and arrives at the main gate. Any vehicle would then have to take the gravelled drive, going past shrubs and flowerbeds, before at last reaching the courtyard in front of the main house (page 28).

  2. Life at Hailsham: The students at Hailsham live a sheltered life, with their days filled with classes, sports, and art. They are watched over by their guardians and have their own collection chests under their beds (page 9).

  3. The Guardians: The guardians at Hailsham are responsible for the students' well-being and education. They are strict but caring, and they ensure that the students are well-prepared for their future roles (page 142).

  4. The Students: The students at Hailsham are clones, created to donate their organs when they grow up. They are raised in a humane, cultivated environment, demonstrating to the world that they can grow to be as sensitive and intelligent as any ordinary human being (page 195).

  5. Closure of Hailsham: Rumors about Hailsham closing start to circulate among the students and the carers. The house and grounds are planned to be sold to a hotel chain, and the students who are still there would have to be transferred to other houses around the country (page 142).

  6. Hailsham's Legacy: Even after leaving Hailsham, the characters often think back to their time there. They remember it as a beautiful place and it continues to have a significant impact on their lives (page 191).

The Cottages

  1. Description and Location: The Cottages are the remains of a farm that had gone out of business years before. There is an old farmhouse, and around it, barns, outhouses, stables all converted for the clones to live in. There are other buildings, usually the outlying ones, that are virtually falling down, which the students couldn't use for much, but for which they felt in some vague way responsible (page 80).

  2. Life at the Cottages: Life at the Cottages is easy-going, with days drifting into each other. The students move about together and spend large parts of the day awkwardly standing outside the farmhouse, not knowing what else to do. They have to look after each other, as there are no guardians at the Cottages (pages 81, 82).

  3. The Veterans: The veterans are the older students who already lived at the Cottages when the Hailsham students arrived. They helped the new arrivals settle in and were generally thought to be "in charge" of the place. They were seen as more mature and their relationships were more like those of a normal family (pages 82).

  4. Cold Conditions: The Cottages often get very cold, especially outside the summer months. The students have to make do with big boxy heaters that work on gas canisters. They often keep their Wellingtons on the whole day, leaving trails of mud and damp through the rooms (pages 80, 87).

  5. Sexual Relationships: The Cottages are also the place where the students start to explore sexual relationships. These encounters often happen in freezing rooms in the pitch dark, usually under a ton of blankets (page 87).

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy's timeline

Past:

  • Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up together at Hailsham, a boarding school for clones. They form a close bond, with Kathy and Ruth being best friends and Ruth and Tommy being a couple (pages 73, 82, 104, 113, 130, 135).

  • Kathy is often the mediator between Ruth and Tommy, helping them navigate their relationship. Ruth breaks up with Tommy at one point, but later asks Kathy to help them get back together (pages 72, 73).

  • The students at Hailsham are told about their future as organ donors, but they don't fully understand what this means. There are rumors about "deferrals" for couples who can prove they are in love, but the students are unsure about the details (pages 104, 135).

Present:

  • After leaving Hailsham, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy move to the Cottages, where they live with other clones who are older than them, known as the veterans. Life at the Cottages is more independent and the students start to explore sexual relationships (pages 80, 82, 87).

  • Ruth and Tommy continue their relationship at the Cottages, but there are tensions between them and Kathy. At one point, Ruth suggests that Kathy is interested in Tommy, but he doesn't see her as a girlfriend (pages 131, 132).

  • Ruth gives Tommy and Kathy the address of Madame, a woman they knew from Hailsham, suggesting they should try to apply for a deferral (pages 156).

Future:

  • The future for Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy is bleak. As clones, they are destined to become organ donors. The idea of deferrals gives them some hope, but it's unclear whether this is a real possibility or just a rumor (pages 156).

Clones' timeline

  1. The Clones' Future: The clones were reared in humane, cultivated environments, demonstrating to the world that they could grow to be as sensitive and intelligent as any ordinary human being. However, they existed only to supply medical science and were often seen as shadowy objects in test tubes (page 175).

  2. The Clones' Past: The clones had a history of being fearful of the world around them and unable to let each other go. This fear and attachment to each other persisted even at the Cottages (page 82).

  3. The Clones' Present: The clones lived in a state of uncertainty and anticipation, unsure of their future and their place in the world. They spent their time at the Cottages in a state of limbo, waiting for their lives to begin (page 34).

Themes, concepts, symbols, tropes, metaphors

  1. Themes:

    • The Human Condition: The novel explores what it means to be human, questioning the value of life and the nature of humanity. The clones are human in every way except their birth and societal role, raising questions about what truly defines us as human (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

    • Memory and Time: The narrative is driven by Kathy's memories, exploring how our past shapes our present and future. The characters' lives are dominated by a sense of impending mortality, and their memories provide a way to understand and cope with their fate (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

    • Love and Loss: The novel explores the relationships between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, including their love for each other and the losses they experience. The song "Never Let Me Go" symbolizes their deep emotional bonds and the tragic inevitability of their separation (pages 51, 52, 181).

  2. Concepts:

    • Cloning and Ethics: The novel presents a dystopian world where human clones are created for organ donation. This raises ethical questions about the value of life and the moral implications of cloning (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

    • Identity and Individuality: The clones struggle with their identity, caught between their individual feelings and desires and their societal role as organ donors. Their struggle for identity and recognition is a key aspect of the novel (pages 51, 52, 181, 193, 195, 196).

  3. Symbols:

    • The Song "Never Let Me Go": The song symbolizes the characters' longing for love, security, and freedom. It also represents their hope for a future that is ultimately denied to them (pages 51, 52).

    • Hailsham: Hailsham represents a lost childhood and innocence for the characters. It's a place of safety and care, but also a place where they are prepared for their grim future (pages 202, 196).

  4. Tropes:

    • Dystopian Society: The novel uses the trope of a dystopian society to explore ethical and philosophical questions. The seemingly idyllic world of Hailsham hides a dark reality (pages 202, 196).

    • Coming of Age: The novel follows the characters from their childhood at Hailsham through their adolescence at the Cottages and into their adult lives as carers and donors, exploring their emotional growth and understanding of their world (pages 202, 196).

  5. Metaphors:

    • The Clones as Metaphor for Exploitation: The clones can be seen as a metaphor for any group that is exploited or dehumanized. Their plight raises questions about how society treats those it sees as different or less valuable (pages 202, 196).



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