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Never Let Me Go Essay


In Never Let Me Go, the cloud of death looms on the reader as a necessary reminder of the impermanence of all circumstances and the essence of life. The novel is narrated through Kathy’s inherently individualist, interpretive, and selective memories. The resilience and poignancy demonstrated by the protagonists’ situation in Never Let Me Go anchored on the relationship between the distortion of memories of the past and the happenings of the present. The reoccurrence of the past in Never Let Me Go is the central function of memory in Ishiguro’s retrospective recount molded by the main protagonist, Kathy. Each section of the novel seeks to explore how the characters use memory for particular purposes, namely using memory as reassurance of the plausibility of their achievements and ambitions, to accord coherence to their tangled past, to downplay or hide the horrific incidents in their history and to create a glamorized account of childhood happiness. The characters are occupied with the struggle to divulge and veil, hoping to understand the basis of their current isolation but flinching away from distressing or traumatic conclusions about their history. I contend that in Never Let Me Go, repression of free will molds willful ignorance where the mind functions to mitigate the psychological trauma of mortality by constructing memory as a means to cope.

Through Kathy’s narration, Never Let Me Go, the characters’ increasing awareness of their destiny and how they confront the anxiety and pressure resulting from recognizing what lies in their future (Yeung, 1). Ishiguro adopts a socio-political discourse narrative approach to enable the main character, Kathy, to declare her crisis and assist her in taking charge of her undesirable life. Kathy’s narration is created from her recollection. This memory account is essentially a root of her consolation as her fate draws closer and as her world empties one at a time of the possessions she holds dear, including what she embraces. According to Duangfai (180), Kathy’s narrative is both a collective memory working as a kind of testament to affirm the existence of the clones who knowingly commit their lives to service humanity through organ donation; and Kathy’s effort to remedy her traumatic experience due to the heartfelt loss of her precious object, Hailsham, in a personal way.

The recollection of life events at Hailsham gets collective because it enables Kathy to connect with other clones. This connection establishes an impression that they encounter the same experiences and belong. It is a memorable scene that instills a collective identity in Kathy. Also, the recollection of life events at Hailsham can be interpreted as Kathy’s memory disclosing her repressed feeling and functioning as the psychological process resulting in a healthier understanding of herself. Kathy uses her recollection of Hailsham to confront the undesirable life. It assists her in realizing her craving for wholeness and the yearning for a meaningful life, the longing for relationship and happiness, and the desire to form part of a community.

Ruth portrays permissive and over-controlling behavior, which plays a role in encouraging grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism, respectively (Paris, 222). Modernity within the dystopian world portrayed in Never Let Me Go can impact personality traits by supporting expressive individualism. In Never Let Me Go, the personality of Ruth and Kathy demonstrate expressive individualism in two distinct ways. Kathy appears collected and quiet, while Ruth is hot-tempered and outspoken. Ruth displays leadership amongst her peers, and despite being sometimes controlling, she occasionally leads her schoolmates in make-believe frolics. Her most prominent make-believe game is the “secret guard” devoted to safeguarding her dearest guardian from an imaginary plot, Miss Geraldine. The secret guard make-believe displays Ruth’s controlling nature and demonstrates her wide-spread readiness to pretend in the company of her peers.

Ruth’s construction of Miss Geraldine displays her desire for love from a compassionate adult. Often, Ruth is portrayed as unkind to both Kathy and Tommy and inconsistent. However, she has the capacity for thoughtfulness and generosity, as shown on two occasions. First, through grandiose narcissism, she mobilizes her classmates to search for Kathy’s Judy Bridgewater tape before gifting her a different video as a replacement. Second, through vulnerable narcissism, she offers Tommy and Kathy Madame’s address to help them be together. As conventional social fabrics weaken, individuals focus less on matching external expectations and increasingly focus on their internal feelings. Modernized societies relegate the importance of collective values, and personal needs become more critical, while principle human needs for meaning and connection are less easily fulfilled than conventional societies.

The interaction between otherness and selfness in Never Let Me Go is an intense subject as the antithesis of selfhood and centrality (Guo, 4). Ishiguro tackles selfhood by exploring Kathy’s problems in Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro focuses on the personal conflict within her about her self-esteem and identity and how she relates with beloved ones, society, or the external world. Ishiguro complicates Kathy’s problems by linking them to her clone identity, thereby confronting the issue of centrality. Ideally, Kathy’s problem is her lack of identity, which compromises selfhood and the retelling of the narrative asserts her identity as a clone, thereby accentuating centrality. According to Duangfai (178-9), Kathy’s recount advances to bear-proof to the traumatic incidents in her life or to convey her pain and feelings about existing in a dystopian world marred with maltreatments and prejudice.

Kathy’s recollection of Hailsham differs from her memory of the outside world which is hostile. To Kathy, Hailsham is a spot packed with happy memories. She can secure “a nurturing environment for the clones” (Ishiguro 132). It is a type of place “sheltering them in a bubble” (133), and all guardians like keeping the learners in a “Protective environment” irrespective of “the circumstances surrounding their existence” (133). This type of memory arouses positive emotions for Kathy, helping her develop a feeling of belonging to the organization and potentially helping her instill a sense of selfhood and face the unwanted and meaningless existence of clones to establish centrality.

In Never Let Me Go, the welfare state bribes the clones with minor supplements and restitution to obscure the characters from realizing the existent profound and systematic injustice, thus repressing the expression of personality traits possibly compromising the organ donation system (Robbins, 297). In Never Let Me Go, the alternate government attains social repression by habituating clones since childhood to psychologically restrain knowledge regarding their futures, thereby socially repressing themselves. Ishiguro seems more directly perturbed by the query of what prevents action. While the ideology of freedom is prominent in Kathy’s narration, the idea of the welfare state gives an obligated semblance of legitimacy and meaning to the daily provisional efforts. The students at Hailsham refrain from engaging in discussions involving their fate even after a revolutionary speech by their guardians, Miss Lucy.

The level of inaction demonstrated in Never Let Me Go is unnatural of human behavior in the face of repression. Ideally, the learners are psychologically conditioned to remain relatively unbothered about the purpose and meaning of their lives. They are deceived about the possibility of a future through the lagged education system and inconsequential involvement in arts and creative activity. Additionally, even when they engage in genuinely constructive creativity, the school does not recognize their work. The myth-making regarding the role art can transform their lives is restricted by the headmistress’ actions of collecting their artwork for display in a gallery, thus providing a pattern of dissuading the children from questioning their fate.

In Hailsham, artistic creativity only engages the children and does not inspire educational excellence and understanding their environment. For example, when Kathy compliments Tommy about his mood change, he divulges how he managed to get rid of his temperamental attitude. He explains that he discussed his artwork with Miss Lucy, who told him that it is not his fault; He says;

“What she said was that if I didn’t want to be creative, if I really didn’t feel like it, that was perfectly all right. Nothing wrong with it, she said” (23).

“I realised she was right, that it wasn’t my fault. Okay, I hadn’t handled it well. But deep down,it wasn’t my fault. That’s what made the difference” (28-29).

Here, both the advice and its impact of less agitation stimulate more happiness to sustain the critical perspective of the welfare state that permeates throughout the novel. Miss Lucy successfully removes fault along with merit, which essentially thwarts aspiration. The school motivates the children’s desire to excel, and as such, they are not expected to exemplify their excellence, given that failure to do so will not be their fault.

Through Kathy’s narration, the daily diary of characters in Never Let Me Go portrays identity formation through a dynamic shift between uncertainty and certainty (Becht, 2012). Ishiguro deliberately employs memory mode to manipulate the recollection of Kathy’s past as a way of demonstrating her psychological mechanism for managing anxiety resulting from the uncertainty in her life. Practically, the past is distorted to make it personalized enough to function as the character’s method of dealing with existing problems. Memory is self-reflexive, making it a vital element for the identity, existence, and self-development of characters in Never Let Me Go. Using the untrustworthiness and the unreliability nature of memory, Ishiguro creates a dynamic shift between uncertainty and certainty where characters endeavor to reconcile their precious memories.

In the process of revisiting their past, these characters try to amend or revise what presently harms them psychologically. The overwhelming process of recalling and the act of re narrating their memory creates a less objective and less precise recount of the past. Consequently, the narrator’s memory is not entirely reliable, thus creating uncertainty. Other than the untrustworthiness of the narrator’s memory, the unreliable narrative approach employed by Ishiguro educates the reader of the character’s repressed traumatic life story and the national or collective forgetting. The concealed objective of attempting to make history coalesces with Kathy’s desired self-image shapes much of the inconsistency and unreliability of her memory, thus emerging as the filter through which she reads her history and, therefore, a dreadfully deceptive terrain.

The novel Never Let Me Go highlights the empathetic human elements that embody the commoditized, mechanical, and replicated personality aesthetics (Black, 785). The narrative acts materialize, sometimes, more inclined towards unburdening or dispossessing the characters of their history than revealing the content of their memory. For example, Kathy resolves to her fate when she accompanies Tommy and approaches Madame to appeal for a deferral. In her response, Madame says;

“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.” (Ishiguro 81)

Madame’s harsh, honest explanation of their circumstances dissipates their illusions regarding the chance of a distinct future, making them recognize the irrationality or idiocy of their plea. Madame’s inconsiderate revelation about the destiny of Kathy and her peers at Hailsham represses the characters’ internally present drive to decide their fate. Kathy resolves to willful ignorance in her initial response to the news that the fate of Hailsham students is preordained from the start is the most effort she ever makes to display defiance when she laments that;

“If we’re just going to give donations anyway, then die, why all those lessons? Why all those books and discussions?” (Ishiguro 254).

The intense engagement of Kathy in her memories emerges from the awareness that an image of a meaningful or merely a defensible history is an essential requirement for an untroubled present. This helps Kathy accept life with all its failures and flaws, the type of identity created through memory rather than concentrating on the rebellious spirit. On one occasion, when Kathy deviates from her usual designated route to Norfolk to contemplate a vision of locating Tommy, she momentarily gets sentimental while reminiscing about Tommy. She says, “The fantasy never got beyond that-I didn’t let it- and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control” (Ishiguro 282). Kathy’s refusal to explore the fantasy when she says ‘I didn’t let it’ demonstrates her resolution not to focus on her loss and her escape from nostalgia.

Evidently, in Never Let Me Go, repression of free will molds willful ignorance. As a result, Kathy’s memories are adaptations of the mind in the quest to answer fundamental questions of existence such as identity and meaning of life. Kathy’s memory functions to mitigate the psychological trauma of mortality through selective memory reconstruction, favoring an ideal existence. Though the social and political elements of the dystopian world in Never Let Me Go sustain repression, the continued existence of this system is displayed by how the main character, Kathy, adjusts her reality through memory reconstruction to enable complacency to repression, forming a lasting clone identity.

Works Cited

Becht, Andrik I., et al. “The quest for identity in adolescence: Heterogeneity in daily identity formation and psychosocial adjustment across 5 years.” Developmental Psychology 52.12 (2016): 2010.

Black, Shameem. “Ishiguro’s inhuman aesthetics.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 55.4 (2009): 785-807.

Duangfai, Chanapa. Psychological disorder and narrative order in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels. Diss. University of Birmingham, 2018.

Guo, Wen. “Human cloning as the other in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 17.5 (2015): 6.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go: Vol. 1. Faber & Faber, 2017.

Paris, Joel. “Modernity and narcissistic personality disorder.” Personality disorders: Theory, research, and treatment 5.2 (2014): 220.

Robbins, Bruce. “Cruelty is Bad: Banality and Proximity in” Never Let Me Go.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Vol. 40. No. 3. Duke University Press, 2007.

Yeung, Virginia. “Mortality and Memory in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” (2017).


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