Kathy- Kathy is the main character and narrator of the novel. She is a clone just like the rest of the students at Hailsham. She is 31 when readers are first introduced to her. The story follows her throughout her childhood and up to “present day.” Kathy is a carer for 11 years, but during the novel, she prepares to become a donor. She outlives all of her friends and only has their memories to hold onto as she transitions into the new stage in her life. Kathy is somewhat of a pushover especially when it comes to defending her feelings. She is also very self-conscious and reserved. Her two best friends are Tommy and Ruth who both happen to die or “complete” before her. She has a connection with Tommy starting in early childhood but never acts on her feelings because Ruth goes after Tommy first. Eventually Kathy and Tommy get together in the end; however, their romance is short lived.
Ruth- Ruth is one of Kathy’s best friends. They live together at Hailsham and the cottages. Also, Kathy becomes Ruth’s carer towards the end of her life. Ruth is controlling, high tempered, loud, and outspoken. With her strong personality she is a leader among her friends. She wants to be the center of attention always, but she also wants to fit in with the “popular” crowd. As a child and teenager, Ruth often makes up information in order to make a higher status among her peers. Ruth also begins a relationship with Tommy as a teenager which causes tension in Ruth and Kathy’s friendship.
Tommy- Tommy is Kathy’s other best friend turned love interest. During their days at Hailsham, Tommy is a social outcast due to his frequent tantrums and lack of creativity. He eventually learns to control his temper and becomes more artistic but remains anxious for fear of being teased. He bonds with Kathy at an early age due to their shared interested in finding out the truth about their lives at Hailsham. Tommy is very straightforward with his emotions which is a distinct contrast to Kathy who hides hers. His personality is more in line with Kathy, but he stays in a romantic relationship with Ruth for a more extended period during their teenage years.
Miss Geraldine- She is a kind guardian at Hailsham who becomes popular among the students. She praises Tommy’s horrible artwork leading to more teasing from his classmates; however her heart was in the right place. Ruth craves her attention so that other students will focus on her.
Miss Lucy- She is another guardian at Hailsham. She believes that the guardians are not honest enough with the student about what their future entails and how the world works. Due to this frustration, she has visible outbursts of anger. Miss Lucy is kind to Tommy when the other students and staff tease and criticize him for not being creative. She tells him that it does not matter in the end. She wants to be honest with her students, and eventually, she breaks down and tries to be honest but ends up getting fired from Hailsham.
Miss Emily- She is the head guardian at Hailsham who is older and more intimidating than the other guardians. She is well respected, and her presence is reassuring and makes students feel safe. Miss Emily and Madame co-founded Hailsham in order to give clones a better life. She is slightly intimidated by the clones but also wants to protect them. When she meets Tommy and Kathy as adults, she is self-satisfied about her failed attempt at helping more students through Hailsham.
Madame- She is a benefactor who co-founded Hailsham with Miss Emily. She has a very distant and cold attitude. Although intimidated by the students she wants them to have the best childhood possible. She periodically visits Hailsham to collect artwork. The students believe she keeps it for a personal gallery which is partially correct. Madame keeps the artwork to show to the outside world. She wants people to see that clones have souls too and she believes artwork is the key to the soul. Her purpose for creating Hailsham was to give the clones aka students more humane childhoods. She is French with short hair and a tall, narrow frame. She always wears a grey suit.
Chrissie- An older student who lives in the cottages with her boyfriend Rodney during the time Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are there. She did not attend Hailsham but is in awe of the students who did. She pretends to be incredibly lovely to Tommy, Kathy, and Ruth at first, but Kathy correctly believes there is a hidden motive. Chrissie clings to the possibility of a deferral rumored to be available to Hailsham couples in love. She allies with Ruth, who also bases her hopefulness toward the future on rumors. Chrissie later “completes” on her second donation.
Rodney- He is another friendly and easy-going student at the cottages. He has a very “hippie vibe” and wears his hair in a long ponytail. He also likes to talk about reincarnation. Like his girlfriend Chrissie, he did not go to Hailsham. Although he is not as pushy as Chrissie, he is very much under her influence about the hope for a deferral.
In this world, the lives of ordinary citizens are prolonged through human cloning. The clones, who are referred to as students, grow up in specialized schools that keep them hidden from the rest of the world. Starting as young adults, these clones begin to donate their vital organs. They typically die by their third or fourth donation. Carers are other clones who have not become donors yet themselves; instead, they take care of the donors. However, much of this information is not revealed immediately to the reader. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator introduces herself as Kathy H: a 31-year-old carer. She tells the readers that she has been a carer for nearly 12 years but is transitioning to be a donor soon. Kathy wants to revisit memories from her childhood and teenage years. Although Kathy’s narration is all over the place, the story is broken roughly into three parts. Part one revolves around her childhood and her days at school (Hailsham). In part two Kathy and her best friends, Ruth and Tommy, move into transitional housing called The Cottages. Their friendship becomes even more drama and tension filled. The last part, part three, is centered around Kathy’s time as a carer where she reconnects with Ruth and Tommy. She and Tommy finally get together as Ruth has a change of heart. However, this happiness is short-lived as Ruth and Tommy both “complete” and die. Kathy reflects on the happy and sad times as she accepts her future as a donor.
Never Let Me Go takes place in a dystopian version of The English Countryside in the 1990’s. Kathy’s memories mainly take place in Hailsham (primary + high school), The Cottages (transitional school), and donor recovery centers. At Hailsham, the students are too young to drive, and they are not allowed to leave campus in the first place. There is a lack of freedom at Hailsham. However, when the students get to the cottages, there is newfound freedom with driving. Students can take trips whenever they want to explore the outside world. Even later in life as a carer, Kathy spends much of her time driving between recovery centers. Driving becomes a time for Kathy to reminisce freely. However, because Kathy and many other students associate driving with freedom, a central question arises: why did the students not just drive away from everything? From a relatively young age, students know they are clones, and their purpose in life is to donate organs and die young. They can leave, yet none of them seem to do so. The students at Hailsham seem to be very human-like because of their upbringing; however, it may not have been the same at other schools. Other schools may have raised the children more controlling, and allowing them to accept their futures more efficiently because they never had hope.
Significance of Title
Before reading this book I could tell it would be about loss, but I was expecting more of a tragic love story. As I started to read, I quickly realized it was not a love story. Instead, I began to realize this book is about losing yourself. Even though I am not a clone in a dystopian universe, I started to identify with Kathy. She grew up in a sheltered environment (Hailsham) which reminded me of my childhood to an extent. I went to a private primary and middle school which reminded me slightly of Hailsham. Kathy then leaves Hailsham and is exposed to the “real world” meaning her childhood is gone and she has lost that sense a belonging as a Hailsham student. In addition, Kathy has an attention-craving, outspoken, and loud best friend, Ruth. However, at times Ruth seems more of an enemy than a friend. One of my friends reminds me of a bit of Ruth which again made me feel closer to Kathy. As the book goes on to her late teen years, Kathy’s friendship with Ruth and Tommy begins to weaken. At this point, she loses part of herself. I again could relate to Kathy because lost my best friend and for the past year have been trying to put myself back together. After leaving her friends, Kathy starts her life as a carer which ultimately means she submits to the life society has forced her to live. Eventually, Kathy reunites with Tommy and Ruth. Her friendship with Ruth is stronger than ever, and she finally admits her feelings for Tommy. Their happiness is short-lived as Ruth passes away and then Tommy. Hailsham is also torn down leaving Kathy with nothing but memories. By losing her best friends and her childhood, Kathy starts loses herself as well. Kathy hopes by never letting her memories go, she will not lose herself completely. Her memories are where she feels the most comfort.
Point of View
Never Let Me Go is told through a first-person narrator: Kathy. She is limited omniscient and slightly unreliable. Kathy’s account is subjective, presenting events told only from her point of view. In addition, Kathy’s memories are not in a set chronological order as she frequently interrupts one memory with another. She also states several times that she may be misremembering some information. Kathy is also an unreliable narrator because she guards her feelings. She never explicitly talks about being in love with Tommy; however it becomes clearer through her actions. Kathy is often not the center of attention but instead watches those around her.
Loss is unavoidable; however memories can last a lifetime – This theme plays a central role in Kathy’s story; Kathy essentially loses her entire physical childhood but still has the memories to hold on to. It is a simple fact that everyone dies at some point, however, in Kathy’s life, this happens when people are much younger. To the clones, death is their purpose, and naturally, they will lose one another. This does not mean they are gone forever; people continue to live inside of memories which no one can take away. Kathy says to herself, “The memories I value the most, I don’t see them ever fading. I lost Ruth, and then I lost Tommy, but I won’t lose my memories of them” (Ishiguro 286). In other words, Kathy knows she cannot be with her best friends, but she can always look back on their memories together. Tommy brings up another point about loss: “… in the end it’s too much. The current’s too strong. [People have] got to let go, drift apart … In the end we can’t stay together forever” (Ishiguro 282). In other words, Tommy knows that loss happens to everyone and that people do not have forever to be with each other. This is unfortunate but honestly reality. Memories can help people cope with a loss because they make it seem as though the person is not truly gone.
Stolid – Kathy’s attitude toward the seemingly wrong or unfair things in life reveal a solid tone. She is not particularly affected by anything and accepts what life throws at her. For example, her reaction to losing her best friend, the love of her life, and her childhood is surprisingly calm: “though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be” (Ishiguro 288). In other words, Kathy accepts her life and is not too upset. She does not visibly breakdown even though her childhood is completely gone, she is all alone, and she will be dying soon. Kathy appears to be more or less unemotional even through a time of significant loss. If a person in real life had lost their best friend, love, childhood school, and were about to die, they would most likely break down in tears or at least show some form of high emotion.
Reminiscent – The entire novel is based on Kathy’s memories. She is about to become a donor and spends time thinking back on her life. Kathy in her narrative says, “Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hailsham. I might pass the corner of a misty field, or see part of a large house in the distance … and I’ll think: ‘Maybe that’s it!’” (Ishiguro 6). In other words, Kathy still looks for Hailsham in order to relive good childhood memories. Hailsham is a place where she lived in bliss and did not have to comprehend the pressures of life.
Other Elements of Fiction
Symbol- One symbol that reoccurs throughout the book is the open-plan office. The office appears three times and symbolizes the students shrinking sense of hope. Ruth first sees the image of the office in a magazine while at The Cottages. It becomes her “dream future” that she aspires to live. This age/ point in time is the peak of hope for Ruth and the students. The office reappears while the students are in Norfolk looking for Ruth’s possible. The lady turns out not to be Ruth’s possible leaving the office to symbolize the impossibility of a dream life. The students hopefulness starts to melt away during this time. The office appears one last time on a billboard as Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy drive back from the boat. This symbolizes a past hope for a different life during a time when their futures have been set in stone. They have chosen to conform to society and live the life they were assigned. All hope at a “dream life” has been long gone. The office also symbolises the idea that the clones are separated from everyone else. The clones cannot actually go into the office, they can only look from outside. This is reflective of their own lives; the clones cannot actually be a full part a society however they can see parts of the outside world.
Figurative language- Kathy recalls an incident from her last years at Hailsham involving Miss Lucy. As she recalls what happened, Kathy comments on her posture, “the way her head was bent down just a little too far so she looked like a crouching animal waiting to pounce” (Ishiguro 79). The way Kathy uses a simile to compare Miss Lucy to an animal created a striking image in my head. The comparison shows readers how uptight and on edge Miss Lucy is. It also gives us a glimpse into Kathy’s mind. She is incredibly observant and notices even small things such a posture and body language.