The Function of Memory in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
Chapter 1 The Narratees of the memoir . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Chapter 2 Acceptance of Death at the Present Axis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
Chapter 3 Acceptance of Death at the Past Axis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Works Cited . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . 27
Modern scholars read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in the context of human rights movements, ethical issues, and dystopian novels. Britzman analyzes this novel from a psychological point of view to clarify the condition of patients with trauma. Never Let Me Go is a story about Kathy. H, the protagonist, and her friends Tommy and Ruth who had grown up in an isolated boarding school called Hailsham. All the students at Hailsham are clones who are artificially made to provide their organs for their donors. Since the story is depicted from their childhood to adulthood, it is considered as Bildungsroman (Levy, 1). Unlike other Bildungsroman, in Never Let Me Go, what the main character must overcome is death which no one easily can confront.
Regarding the style of the writing, Never Let Me Go is written as Kathy’s memoir, and there are two different timelines. The first one is the past axis in Kathy’s memory which is depicted in the past tense; the second one is the present axis mainly written in the present tense. It allows readers to compare her past and present. In addition, considering the structural nature of memoirs, there must be a time difference between the period she was writing the first part of the story and the time she finished the last part. It makes us possible to compare her feeling before and after writing the memoir.
The aim of this study is to investigate whether the protagonist recovers from her close friends’ deaths and accepts her death through the process of writing the memoir. Unlike other scholars, this study does not focus on human right movements or ethical problems because Ishiguro declared that he added the dystopian situation to the novel only to complete the setting, not to provoke the social argument over them (Matthews, 124).
The memoir is written for the protagonist herself not for other donors, so it can be said that both narratee and narrator of the memoir are Kathy herself. Several critics such as Cappo and Kata mention that the narratees of the novel are donors who are waiting for their donation or carers like Kathy. However, descriptions in the novel show that Kathy is unconsciously writing the memoir for herself. Following the convention, this thesis will call Kathy’s intended reader as a narratee; the real reader as a real narratee. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that Kathy wrote the memoir not only to “get straight” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 37) the memory of Ruth and Tommy but also to be ready to confront her death by writing the memoir for herself.
Chapter1, Part 1
Kathy often ignores the presence of readers when writing the memoir. The narratees of the memoir are, at least for her conscious, donors or carers who were brought up as a human clone. The fact that she often uses ‘you’ to refer to the readers proves this idea. However, her narration lacks the inclination to explain the detail to the narratees. Kathy’s tendency to write only about Tommy and Ruth would be the first example. It seems to be intentional that she does not depict other than Ruth and Tommy in her memoir. Although there were several close friends such as Laura and Hannah who had stayed with Kathy at Hailsham and the Cottages for almost twenty years, she barely depicts memories of them. The memories related to these friends are remembered only with memories of Ruth or Tommy, which makes the memories of Laura and Hannah just triggers for other stories. For instance, Kathy depicts the memory of meeting Laura on a road after being a carer, but that memory is connected to how she became Ruth’s carer. It can be possible to think that Kathy uses the memory of their reunion only to write about the process of her becoming Ruth’s carer.
Also, Kathy writes trivial episodes about Ruth and Tommy while she does not mention other big events in her life as her first sexual intercourse. It is clear that sex is one of the most important topics for Kathy judging from the repetition of the depiction of her sexual desire throughout the novel. The fact that at least one episode related to sex is written at each part of the novel reveals the importance of sex for her. Kathy followed Ms. Emily’s advice to find “someone with whom you truly wish to share this experience” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 96) in the first part of the novel. Then, one day at Hailsham, she started to think she needs to get familiar with sex and have experience with someone she does not care that much (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 96). At the Cottages, she got to have some “one-nighters” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 125) with other boys. However, “Anyway, the point is, I’d had a few one-nighters shortly after getting to the Cottages” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 125) is the only explanation of her first sexual intercourse, and the guys she had sex with are not mentioned by their names. As the memory of Laura, this episode is also connected to another memory related to Ruth. These two examples show Kathy’s intention not to write other than episodes related to Tommy and Ruth even if the episodes are important for her life.
The unarranged composition of the story would be the second example to show Kathy’s unconcern to the presence of readers. Memoirs are usually written chronologically about the author’s experiences in the past. However, the writer of the memoir, Kathy, sometimes ignores the chronological order to prioritize her intention. The first example of Kathy’s deviation appears when she remembers the memory of Exchange and Sales. At this point of the story, the main topic was her relationship with Tommy at Hailsham. However, Kathy suddenly started to write the episode about assembly which is not connected to any of the previous episodes. “But that’s not really what I want to talk about right now. What I want to do now is get a few things down about Ruth” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 45) shows that it was not Kathy’s intention to write about these topics but she could not stop writing about them. This part can be considered as stream of consciousness which reflects one’s emotion strongly (Pope, 1). The second example appears when Kathy writes about Norfolk which was thought, at Hailsham, as a lost corner of England. The main topic was a tape she lost, and she added the story of Norfolk to explain the missing tape. However, she kept writing about Norfolk until realizing that the main topic is the tape. “But I wanted to talk about my tape, Songs After Dark by Judy Bridgewater.” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 66) supports this idea. These two examples show that Kathy’s intention is put more on writing what she wants rather than on telling the facts to her narratees.
There are some descriptions that can suggest that Kathy even exploits the existence of narratees to protect herself. The best example is the usage of the second person ‘you’ by Kathy which are often used in unnecessary situations. Memoirs are mostly written in the first person, and the second person is used for the narrator to talk to narratees directly. As mentioned above, the writer is Kathy in Never Let Me Go, and the narratees of the memoir are donors and carers. Kathy usually mentions the narratees in the second person, ‘you’. However, to weaken the sense of ownership, she repeatedly uses the second person to indicate them when the subjects of her memoir are what she does not want to confront.
For instance, when Kathy remembers the memory of Madame being cold to the students at Hailsham, she depicted Madame as a person “who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 36). In this scene, she uses ‘you’ to avert from confronting the harsh reality. Kathy has used the first person plural ‘we’ to depict this topic before mentioning the scene, which means that she changed the personal pronouns intentionally to reduce her personal emotional response.
Also, at the scene Kathy runs off from an unpleasant mood among Tommy, Ruth and her, Kathy used ‘you’ instead of the first person ‘I’. “It was like being given a math’s problem when your brain’s exhausted, and you know there’s some far-off solution, but you can’t work up the energy even to give it a go” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 193). Same as the examples above, she tries not to confront reality by using ‘you’. According to Anne Whitehead, this usage of ‘you’ is used “to enhance sympathetic connection” (58) with narratees in Victorian fiction which is Kathy’s specialization since it is the area she chose as a topic of the thesis to write at the Cottages. Therefore, she might know that using ‘you’ is useful to weaken the awareness that these memories are her experiences and to change personal feelings or experiences into incidents of a third party. These depictions suggest that she intentionally avoids using the first person when the subjects are difficult to directly confront and accept as a fact.
Chapter 1, Part 2
It is reasonable to think that Kathy started to write the memoir when she realized that her death awaits in the near future. Three reasons can be read from the memoir, and Ishiguro’s attitude to novels read from his interviews can reinforce these reasons. It is possible to think that Kathy started to write the memoir with reasons. Firstly, Kathy did not have any custom to write a diary or her feeling from her childhood until she started to write this memoir. What she mentioned about witting is only the thesis to write in Hailsham and the Cottages which does not include her emotion. Therefore, it means that writing a memoir is special for her.
Secondly, it is clear that she started to write the memoir right after she realized that her donation will start soon.
“I won’t be a carer any more come the end of the year, and though I’ve got a lot out of it, I have to admit I’ll welcome the chance to rest—to stop and think and remember. I’m sure it’s at least partly to do with that, to do with preparing for the change of pace, that I’ve been getting this urge to order all these old memories” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 37)
This depiction indicates that she has time to think about these memories later but could not stop writing about it immediately.
Thirdly, even after Ruth and Tommy’s death, which were one of the biggest incidents happened to her, she did not write the memoir to arrange her feeling. The motivation for Kathy to write this memoir is summarized by her as “to get straight all the things [that happened between Ruth and Tommy and her]” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 37); however, she started to write the memoir at least a year after their deaths. Kathy had served as Tommy’s carer for half a year which is from “a year to the day after that trip to see the boat” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 233) in the summer to “after one o’clock on a crisp December afternoon” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 278). Besides, she mentioned, in the present axis, that she talked with Tommy “a few years ago” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 38). Judging from these facts, there must be at least one year between Tommy’s death and the time she started to write the memoir. In other words, her own mortality is the biggest incident for her. These three facts reveal that Kathy has started to write the memoir when noticing her own mortality.
Ishiguro’s intention to novels also supports the idea that Kathy had a motivation to write her memoir to confront death waiting for her. According to an interview to Ishiguro, his intention in his novels has changed as time passes.
“But I’m wondering if it’s time to try to construct a voice, a way of writing, that somehow takes on board some of the post-Freudian tensions of life, that comes not from buckling up, not from being unable to express yourself, but from just being pulled left, right, and center by possible role models and urges, by a sense that you are missing out. That would involve a different kind of voice, would imply a different kind of writing, and would lead to a very different-looking novel.” (Ishiguro, Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro, 173).
Also, in an interview about Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro says “I suppose, ultimately, I wanted to write a book about how people accept that we are mortal and we can’t get away from this, and that after a certain point we are all going to die, we won’t live forever” (Matthews, 124). These two interviews mean that he tried to depict the feeling of oppressed characters in the first part of his career by the influence of Freud, but changed it to depict the mortality of human beings. It can be considered that this change of mind affects the characteristics of the protagonist in his novels. According to Bizzini, main characters after The Unconsoled, including Christopher Banks in When We Were Orphans and Kathy in Never Let Me Go, are active of their own life compared to the passive ones in his earlier novels (67). It is reasonable to think that oppressed characters cannot be active since they think the responsibility of their situation is controllable while the characters who confront mortality accept the concept of their death and seek for the meaning of their life as Kathy does in the novel. In short, Ishiguro’s reflections on how to understand human should be applied to his novels, thus applied to Kathy’s character.
Chapter 1, Part 3
Kathy persists with what she thinks, which seems to be caused by her intention to arrange her memory for herself. She sometimes unnecessarily describes the precise detail of her memory, which means that there seems no inclination for Kathy to define the correct memory but to justify hers. The first two parts show that she persists with her interpretation even though other students stated different ones. The last part will suggest a new interpretation of Kathy’s narration compared to the usual one.
The scene when she remembers the incident between Tommy and her at Hailsham is the first example to demonstrate Kathy’s persistence to her memory. Tommy who had a temper tantrum at that time slapped Kathy’s face, but she asserted that it was unintentional even the other students thought he’d meant to do it. However, her memory at this timeline is unclear, which are shown in her frequent using of the word ‘maybe’.
“Or maybe I’m remembering it wrong. Maybe even then, when I saw Tommy rushing about that field, undisguised delight on his face to be accepted back in the field again, about to play the game at which he so excelled, maybe I did feel a little stab of pain” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 8).
It is certain that she cannot be “pretty sure” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 8) about Tommy’s intention without asking him; however, she claimed that she was “pretty sure” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 8) that Tommy hit her unintentionally.
On the contrary, her narration has particular logicality when there is certainty about her memory. For instance, about the day Tommy slapped her face, she remembers that it had been raining because she can “remember how the sun was glinting on the muddy surface of the grass” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 7). This memory is connected to her memory of the mud on Tommy’s favorite polo shirt, which is connected to the reason why she was worried about Tommy. Accordingly, her memories are connected to each other with logicality when the memory is certain. Also, she uses ‘I suppose’ or ‘maybe’, or ‘seemed’ when she has no certainty about her memory. These examples show that Kathy has a tendency to assert what is important for her, not for the readers.
In addition, her persistence to the memory appears how Kathy depicts each incident in the memoir. She mentions her grade at the beginning of each story, which shows that she is particular about the chronological order. Furthermore, Kathy discusses the difference of the memory with Tommy.
We’d been in the middle of what we later came to call “token controversy.” Tommy and I discussed the tokens controversy a few years ago, and we couldn’t at first agree when it happened. I said we’d been ten at the time; he thought it was later, but in the end came round to agreeing with me. I’m pretty sure I got it right: we were in Junior 4 — a while after that incident with Madame, but still three years before our talk by the pond. (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 38)
At this scene, she does not have any doubt that she is wrong although it happened more than 20 years ago. This is the example to show Kathy’s persistence to the chronological order.
Critics such as Bizzini mention that Kathy is an unreliable narrator as other main characters in Ishiguro’s previous novels, such as Steven in Remain of the Day, Etsuko Sheringham in A Pale View of Hills, and Masuji Ono in An Artist of the Floating World (73-74). In addition, Mullan considers Kathy as “an inadequate narrator” (104-113). On the premise that Kathy is an unreliable narrator, her persistence to the correctness of her memory can be interpreted as her intention to change her memory for the self-protection from trauma. However, this theory that critics above mentioned does not apply to Kathy in Never Let Me Go.
Firstly, unlike other protagonists in Ishiguro’s novels, Kathy has doubt on her memories and depicts it on the narration directly: “maybe I’m remembering it wrong” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 8), “maybe I did feel a little stab of pain” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 8), “This was all a long time ago so I might have some of it wrong; but my memory of it is…” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 13), “Maybe I’m exaggerating it, but my memory is that…” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 56). In short, she lets the readers know that she is unsure about her memory. It means that, even though she sometimes digresses from the main topic, she does not intend to change her memory.
Secondly, these depictions appear mostly in the earlier part of the story, which shows her integrity as a trustworthy narrator. Given the fact that there is a time difference in the memoir, that is the part the narrator should express their doubt on memory if they have it. Therefore, it is acceptable to say that her qualification of the trustworthiness as a narrator is guaranteed, and what is unreliable is her memory, not herself. For these two facts, it is doubtful to mention Kathy as an unreliable narrator.
Even several years after experiencing her best friends, Ruth and Tommy’s death, Kathy could not accept their death and also was not ready to accept her own mortality before writing the memoir. However, while writing the memoir, she had gradually changed her attitude towards death. She accepted her friends’ death, then accepted her own mortality. As a fact, writing a memoir is scientifically proved to be able to help people recover from their trauma. According to Dawes “To transform pain into language is to exert control over it, to undo pain’s original theft of our autonomy” (408).
The period she started to write the memoir was a few years after Ruth and Tommy’s death when she was thirty years old carer being let known the end of her service as a carer to be ready to donate her organs. As explained in chapter one of this thesis, she was motivated to write the memoir by knowing that she is close to death. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that her first reaction towards her mortality is depicted in the first part of the novel. Regarding this matter, Levy mentions that the first part of the novel does not seem to have traumatic descriptions (10). Certainly, it seems like she does not depict anything related to death in the first part of the novel, but there are traumatic descriptions which are not appeared on the writing possibly because of Kathy’s intention to hide them.
The purpose of chapter two is to show that Kathy had changed her attitude towards death while writing the memoir due to the realization of the impossibility of conquering mortality. Therefore, this chapter will not discuss what happened at each period in the past axis, but what happened to Kathy’s mind while writing each period at the present axis. Since Never Let Me Go is divided into three parts, life at Hailsham, life at the Cottages, and life after leaving the Cottages, this thesis also divides Kathy’s emotion into three parts as the novel does. Objects of analysis at each part of this chapter are as follows: the usage of ‘you’ in the first part, the composition of the story in the second part, and the words related to death in the memoir in the third part.
Chapter 2 Part 1
The first example to show the change of Kathy’s emotion is the usage of the second person ‘you’. As mentioned in chapter one of this thesis, Kathy uses the second person ‘you’ to change her personal feelings and experiences into incidents of the third party. These depictions appear at each part of the story, but the nature of each depiction is totally different. Kathy used this type of ‘you’ two times in part one, two times in part two, and once in part three when explaining her feeling of the present axis. Therefore, her hidden emotion will be revealed by analyzing these depictions at each part of the novel.
The usages of ‘you’ in part one are as follows. Madame is the person “who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 36). “I still feel ashamed I didn’t tell him then. But you’ve got to remember I was still young, and that I only had a few seconds to decide. And when someone’s asking you to do something in such a pleading way, everything goes against saying no” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 85). The second example is to make excuse for what she had done to Tommy. These two quotes are not connected to death compared to those appeared in part two and three.
In part two, the usages of you become more related to death compared to those of chapter one. The first example is Kathy’s reaction to the idea of ‘possibles’ who are believed as models of the clone students.
“This meant, at least in theory, you’d be able to find the person you were modelled from. That’s why, when you were out there yourself —in the towns, shopping centres, transport cafés—you kept an eye out for “possibles”—the people who might have been the models for you and your friends.” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 137)
The topic of these sentences is clone students’ birth which is indirectly related to death. The second example appears when Kathy happened to see Tommy and Ruth talking about the pictures that he believed to be the key to defer his donation, which is also related to death indirectly. “It was like being given a math problem when your brain’s exhausted, and you know there’s some far-off solution, but you can’t work up the energy even to give it a go” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 193). Thus, the objects she tried to avert direct confrontation in chapter one and two are indirectly related to death. It might mean that she had to use the second person ‘you’ so that she does not evoke the crucial fact of mortality.
In part three, ‘you’ appears in the most direct description of death in the memoir.
“You’ll have heard the same talk. How maybe, after the fourth donation, even if you’ve technically completed, you’re still conscious in some sort of way; how then you find there are more donations, plenty of them, on the other side of that line; how there are no more recovery centers, no carers, no friends; how there’s nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 274).
The subject of these sentences is death after donating all of their vital organs. In contrast to the euphemistic description about death in part one and two, the topic she used the first person ‘you’ in part three is directly related to death. For these facts, it is possible to state that her attitude towards death in part three is different from the previous two parts because of the degree of acceptance to death.
Chapter 2 Part 2
It is one of the biggest reasons for Kathy to be able to accept her mortality that she pondered all possibilities to extend her life until finding out its impossibility. There are four ways to conquer mortality: preserving the body; believing in the resurrection; belief in the deathless soul; and leaving successors, such as children and contribution to the society (Cave, 3). In addition, accepting mortality is the other way to overcome the fear of death. In Never Let Me Go, Kathy depicts every four ways to confront mortality, and denied the possibility of pursuing each of them, then determined to accept her mortality. These topics are mainly depicted in part two, after one of the guardians, Lucy’s disclosure of students’ destiny.
Resurrection and deathless soul are hardly mentioned in Never Let Me Go. They both are strongly connected to religion, especially Christianity, however, the concept of Christianity is vague in Never Let Me Go although it is set in 1980s England, when and where Christianity had significant influence all around the country. It can be thought that any idea of Christianity is not taught by teachers at Hailsham to the students. There are some descriptions about souls by Kathy; however, they are not related to God or deathless soul. The only word mentioned is “reincarnation” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 139) by Rodney, a student at the Cottage, but Kathy does not describe any detail of it. Therefore, believing in the resurrection or deathless soul does not seem to be the option for Kathy to overcome mortality.
As for the successor as a form of children, students at Hailsham and perhaps all the clones cannot have babies physically. Kathy’s depictions, such as “our not being able to have babies” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 82), “completely impossible for any of us to have babies” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 82), and “we couldn’t have babies” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 126) prove their infertility. This topic is mainly mentioned in parts one and two. Cultural contribution, such as novels, is also a type of successor, so it can be considered that Kathy writes the memoir to leave the successor of her life. However, she is not writing the memoir for someone else but for herself as explained in part one of this thesis. Thus, leaving a successor does not seem to be the option for Kathy to overcome mortality.
Three ways mentioned above are denied until the end of part two, so extending her life or accepting death are the choices left for Kathy to conquer mortality. Unlike other dystopian novels, such as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, oppressed characters in Never Let Me Go do not raise rebellion or try to escape from the reality. In Never Let Me Go, ‘deferral’ of their donation is the only way mentioned to extend one’s life. Strictly speaking, deferral does not preserve one’s body, but can extend one’s lifespan. This hope of deferring donations had been wrecked by being denied the existence of deferral by Madame and Ms. Emily at the end of part three. Then abruptly, Kathy started to use direct words to mention her friends’ death, such as “I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 280), which implies her acceptance of mortality.
All of the ways to overcome death has denied in the memoir; however, it does not mean that Kathy had given up her life to accept death. According to Brombert, “confronting mortality paradoxically implies being alive, questioning how to live, raising moral issues” (165). Although Kathy had accepted her mortality, her depiction at the end of the memoir, such as “I won’t lose my memory of [Ruth and Tommy]” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 280) still shows her strong will to remember the memory of her. Therefore, it is difficult to think that Kathy has given up pursuing the meaning of her life.
In conclusion, it is not a coincident that Kathy depicts four ways to overcome mortality before denying the possibilities of pursuing them. Accepting mortality is the only way left for Kathy to confront death since conquering death is not possible for her. However, while she had accepted her mortality, she has not given up pursuing the meaning of her life. This situation makes possible to depict how human beings accept one’s mortality as Ishiguro intended.
Chapter 2 Part 3
As for the depictions related to death, they are in proportion to the degree of Kathy’s acceptance of mortality. In other words, Kathy’s present condition affected the depiction of the memoir, but not vice versa. All she wrote in the memoir had happened before she wrote the memoir, so her condition at the past axis cannot affect her present condition. Kathy tried to avoid using words related to death in chapter one, then started to ponder the possibility of conquering death in chapter two to accept the concept of death, and accepted mortality as reality at the end of the memoir. In short, as she writes the memoir, she becomes more and more conscious of death, and finally becomes comfortable with death.
There are only a few descriptions related to death in part one of the novel. Furthermore, Kathy’s writing has deliberateness of hiding the detailed information (Taketomi, 6). Taketomi mentioned that students at Hailsham tried to let them be in an “ambiguous situation to protect themselves and escape from harsh reality” (6). It affected Kathy’s writing as mentioned above.
Donation is the only thing related to death which is mentioned in part one of the novel. It is not depicted precisely that donation means organ donation although it appears several times, so there is unnaturalness that Kathy does not mention any detail of donation in part one. The word, ‘donation’ can conjure several meanings; organ donation, donation as gifts and money, volunteer work, and blood donation. It is possible for Kathy to explain the detail of donation given the fact that she knew what would happen to the clone students in the present axis when she was writing the novel. No one can imagine that these children knew that they were going to donate their organs in the future at the beginning of the story. Contrary to this, it cannot be said that there are any depictions that can let readers imagine death. For instance, “how you were brought into this world and why” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 36) can conjure the concept of death if readers know that the students at Hailsham are created to donate their organs. Aside from this example, when explaining the tape she got from Ruth, Kathy mentioned “Ruth has gone” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 75). Since ‘gone’ has other meanings aside from being dead, this phrase may suggest that Kathy is remaining ambiguous. In these two scenes in part one, Kathy does not explain the detail. Compared to Kathy’s depictions at the end of the novel, “I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 280) and “Tommy had completed” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 281), ‘gone’ in part one of the novel has only subtle implication of death. Therefore, readers are led to the condition of “told and not told” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 81) about the future of the students as the students at Hailsham.
Writing Ms. Lucy’s declaration becomes the first turning point of Kathy’s attitude to mortality at the present axis. Finally, at the end of part one, Kathy depicted Ms. Lucy’s declaration that the students at Hailsham are made to donate their organs. Although Kathy writes about it, she did not describe any of her present emotions related to this incident in the memoir as she did in part three of the novel. In addition, the fact that Kathy always used first person multiple to indicate the students’ condition means she tried to weaken the sad feeling. For these facts, it may indicate that she was not ready to write the detail or her feeling of the present axis at that moment when she was writing the memoir even thought she could write the fact of their mortality. In short, she had accepted mortality as a concept but not as reality when writing part one of the novel.
In part two of the novel, words related to death are not used often. Instead, there seems to be an atmosphere of hope in part two. For instance, it appears in the number of times Kathy uses ‘donation’. She uses ‘donation’ twenty-three times in part one; five times in part two; and twenty-five times in part three. Kathy seeks for four ways to conquer death, but it became clear that each way cannot be applied to Kathy’s condition. Extending her life temporarily as deferral is the only way left among the four, and accepting death is the other option to confront mortality. This condition may indicate that in part two of the memoir, Kathy was not ready to depict death as a reality and was trying to find ways to conquer it although she had accepted the concept of death at the end of part one.
In part three, there are some depictions which can be read that Kathy accepted her friends’ and her mortality. As for the acceptance of Ruth’s death, “I feel sad she’s gone; but I also feel really grateful for that period we had at the end” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 231) shows Kathy had accepted Ruth’s death. Similarly, at the last scene of the novel, Kathy depicted Tommy’s death as “it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 282). The usage of ‘lost’ was clear by this scene, and she used the first person singular to confront death. It means that she was not using any ways to avert direct descriptions as in the previous parts of the novel, such as using the second person ‘you’, using the first person multiple ‘we’, or using euphemistic words. In addition, when describing the incident a few weeks after Tommy’s death, Kathy depicted as following after imagining Tommy coming to her direction from the shoreline.
“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. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 282).
Kathy was living in a fantasy of believing the deferral, but this depiction can be read as her determination of not accepting any fantasy in her life anymore. In these sentences, ‘I didn’t let it’ shows Kathy’s will to reject the fantasy; ‘wherever it was supposed to be’ does Kathy’s acceptance of her mortality since it was the first time for Kathy to write directly about her own mortality. The fact that the features of words related to death in each chapter become stronger and direct as the story progresses means that Kathy’s degree of acceptance to death changes as the story progresses. In short, Kathy gradually had accepted her friends’ mortality and at last hers at the last part of the novel.
Composition of the story and her writing style are the last facts to support the idea that Kathy intentionally avoided mentioning death at the beginning of the story. Given the fact that Kathy, the author of the memoir, knew everything that happened in the past, she could tell the readers the detail anytime she wanted. Therefore, the composition of the story is strongly connected to Kathy’s emotion in the present axis, that is, the timing she mentioned the realities of mortality can be perceived as the timing when she was ready to tell the details.
In part one, she did not depict anything related to death although there are topics related to death, such as donation, her future, the secret of her birth. Even if readers could imagine that donation means organ donation, they do not guess that it results in the death of the donors. These topics appear several times in part one, but are not explained precisely. For instance, when Kathy was writing the conversation with Tommy, she directly mentioned the word ‘donation’ and implied something would happen in her future. “What she was talking about was, you know, about us. What’s going to happen to us one day. Donations and all that” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 29). In this example, however, she did not mention anything beyond and any of her feeling at that moment. It can be interpreted that she was not ready to tell her feeling about death at that moment when she was writing the memoir. In addition, Kathy did not depict the exact timing of Tommy and Ruth’s death in part one. Kathy is extraordinarily particular about time series. For instance, she mentioned the exact year of each incident happened at Hailsham, such as “when we were in Senior 4” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 18), “Summer of our Senior 2” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 21), and “around when we were eight” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 33). In part one, however, when she remembered the moment she was talking with Tommy and Ruth over Ms. Lucy’s declaration after becoming a carer, “a few years ago” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 80) was the depiction to indicate the timing. It is unnatural to consider that she did not remember the exact timing of the talk which happened a few years ago while she remembered the exact time series of the incident happened 20 years ago. Therefore, it can be assumed that she intentionally avoided mentioning the exact timing of the talk since it could remind her of her friends’ death.
In part two, she did not write anything related to Tommy’s, Ruth’s, or her death. This is the part for Kathy to ponder the possibilities of conquering death as her life at the Cottages. It can be said that it was hard for Kathy to mention death until she had written and thought through all the possibilities of conquering death to realize that accepting death is the only way to confront mortality.
In part three, especially after writing the loss of her hope to defer her donation, there is a subtle sense of acceptance when Kathy describes her present situation. Following is an example cited from the last part of the novel.
“But as I say, I don’t go searching for it, and anyway, by the end of the year, I won’t be driving around like this any more. So the chances are I won’t come across it now, and on reflection, I’m glad that’s the way it’ll be” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 281).
This example shows that Kathy did not resist her death anymore as well as the last words of the novel “wherever it was I was supposed to be” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 282). Also, the depiction at the last section of the novel, “I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy, but I won’t lose my memories of them” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 281) shows Kathy’s complete acceptance of mortality. On one hand, this sentence demonstrates that Kathy accepted Tommy and Ruth’s death. On the other hand, “I won’t lose my memories of them” shows that she does not give up the meaning of her life. This sentence clearly demonstrates Kathy’s degree of acceptance toward mortality at the end of the story when she finished writing the memoir.
Part three will analyze the degree of Kathy’s acceptance of death in the past axis at each period. Chapter two of this thesis showed that the degree of Kathy’s acceptance of death had been changing while she was writing the memoir. To clarify that Kathy had not accepted the concept of death until she had started to write the memoir, it is also necessary to show that she had not accepted her friends’’ and her mortality until she had started to write this memoir. The other purpose of this chapter is to clarify that Kathy’s attitude to mortality was based on the education she had and the environment around her. Therefore, this chapter will focus on Kathy’s emotion and condition in the past axis, not in the present one as in chapter two of this thesis.
Chapter 3 Part 1
By analyzing the environment in Hailsham, it will be clarified that life at Hailsham made Kathy’s base to accept her mortality ultimately. Unlike other dystopian novels, Never Let Me Go does not have mandatory authority as Big Brothers in Orwell’s 1984, which makes it possible to create a peaceful atmosphere in the novel. Even though there is nothing to stop clone students to rebel against the authority, signs of rebellion do not appear in Never Let Me Go. It can be said that the education at Hailsham strongly affected this condition. According to Cappo, teachers at Hailsham “condition the children to accept their fates unquestioningly, as if, to use another science fiction trope, they’d been brainwashed” (48). In Hailsham, talking topics related to death is a taboo while it is clear that guardians teach them about donation from their childhood directly and indirectly. This complicated situation made the base of students’ acceptance of mortality.
Firstly, talking about topics related to death was taboo for students at Hailsham. By treating words related to death as taboos or what they should joke about, students at Hailsham made it possible to protect themselves by putting them in an ambiguous situation of known and not known about the truth (Taketomi, 6). Two depictions in part one, “we’d done everything to avoid the subject [related to donation]” and “Looking back now, I’d say the rule about not discussing the donations openly was still there, as strong as ever” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 83) indicate that talking about donation was avoided even among students. The other possibility is that they were educated indirectly by teachers not to talk about their mortality in public. It is not clarified by Kathy’s depiction, but whether teachers made them forbid the topics related to death or the students forbade the topics unconsciously to protect themselves, it is clear that students perceived those topics as what should not be mentioned in public because of the education at Hailsham.
Secondly, guardians taught the students about donation indirectly. ‘Exchange’ and ‘Madame’s gallery’ are examples. Hailsham had an event called ‘exchange’ when students exchange what they had created in classes. Their best arts were chosen to be brought by a woman called Madame who came to Hailsham three or four times a year. From the guardians’ perspective, one of the purposes of Exchange and Madame’s gallery is to make students understand that their personal belongings would be taken by someone they do not know (Rollins, 353). In other words, these two events are conceptually the same as donation which awaits in their future.
Thirdly, guardians told the students about their future even directly. Kathy does not mention directly how guardians taught the students about it, but her description clearly reveals this fact. For instance, after she wrote the incident of Ms. Lucy’s disclosure of their donation, Kathy depicted “I always knew about donations in some vague way, even as early as six or seven” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 81). In addition, “when the guardians first started giving us proper lectures about sex, they tended to run them together with talk about the donations” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 81) supports this fact. For these three facts, it is clear that students at a Hailsham knew about donation but could not talk about it in public at Hailsham. Therefore, it can be considered that the education at Hailsham strongly affected Kathy’s attitude to accept her mortality.
Chapter 3 Part 2
At the Cottages, the concept of death became so clear that Kathy had to confront it, but she did not accept it as her own destiny. After Ms. Lucy told the truth of their mortality, the students started to accept the concept of death. However, Kathy still did not accept her mortality at the Cottages. Following is Kathy’s description when remembering her life at the Cottages.
“Maybe once Hailsham was behind us, it was possible, just for that half year or so, before all the talk of becoming carers, before the driving lessons, all those other things, it was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were; to forget what the guardians had told us; to forget Miss Lucy’s outburst that rainy afternoon at the pavilion, as well as all those theories we’d developed amongst ourselves over the years. It couldn’t last, of course, but like I say, just for those few months, we somehow managed to live in this cosys state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 140).
In this quote, it is clear that the concept of death was what she wanted to forget while it was what she knew as reality. Therefore, it can be said that Kathy accepted death as a concept, but could not accept her own mortality at the Cottages.
Chapter 3 Part 3
After becoming a carer, Kathy’s attitude to death completely changed, but it was slightly different from donors’ attitudes to their mortality. In short, Kathy could understand and accept the concept of death, but could not think it as what would happen to her. The topics related to death were taboos to talk in public at Hailsham; students did not talk about their mortality at all at the Cottages. After becoming a carer, however, it is apparent that talking about mortality was not taboo anymore among donors and carers since they had experienced other donors’ death already.
In contrast, Kathy could not accept her own mortality until she had started to write the memoir. The difference between Tommy and Ruth and Kathy is one of the examples. When they went to the beach to see an abandoned ship, they talked about Rodney and Chris, senior students at the Cottages who had completed the donation already. After Kathy said that Rodney was sad but okay with his girlfriend’s death, Ruth said, “How could you possibly know? You’re still a carer.” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 222). At this scene, Ruth thought that Kathy could not understand how donors perceive death at this time. In addition, Tommy’s line, “Kath, sometimes you just don’t see it. You don’t see it because you’re not a donor.” (Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 276) shows that Kathy did not understand donors’ attitude to death. Both Ruth and Tommy mentioned the difference of carers and donors, which means that Kathy could not understand what accepting one’s own mortality means at the past axis.
In conclusion, Kathy writes the memoir for herself to confront her mortality. The real narratee of the memoir is herself although it seems like the narratees are donors or carers. Three reasons support this idea. Firstly, she often ignores the presence of the readers when writing the memoir. Secondly, some trivial episodes are depicted so precisely that big incidents in her life are not described enough. Thirdly, her persistence and honesty to the memory show her obsession with the correctness of the memory. Since it is not for others but for herself that Kathy writes the memoir, correctness is important. In addition, considering that she had not started to write the memoir even after her friends’ death, realizing her mortality can be thought of as the trigger for her to write the memoir.
Kathy’s depiction in the present axis changes as the memoir progresses. It is appeared on the usage of the second person ‘you’ and words related to death. The topic she tries to avoid direct confrontation by using the second person instead of the first person becomes crucial as the memoir progresses. Similarly, the more the memoir progresses, the more words related to death appear. It can be interpreted as an increase in Kathy’s degree of acceptance to mortality. In addition, it can be intentional that Kathy depicted four ways to overcome death in the memoir to realize the impossibility of deferring her life before accepting her mortality. In the past axis, she did not accept her mortality, but her past is strongly connected to her attitude towards death. Therefore, summarizing above, it can be considered that Kathy had not accepted her mortality before writing the memoir, then the concept of death had transformed from an abstraction into the reality as she wrote the memoir until she finally accepted her mortality.
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