Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
"Told and Not Told"
I found Ishiguro's novel thought-provoking, disturbing, fascinating, and heartwrenching. This novel touches upon serious moral issues through a deceptive writing style. Intially, when I began reading Ishiguro's work, I found the writing style to be confusing. It seemed that the narrator, Kathy, was not clear to the reader on her time frame, offering a flashback style to her voice that was at first difficult to follow. As I got further into the story, I realized that on the surface, it was Kathy's story of her time at an English Boarding School called Hailsham, and what happened while at Hailsham and after. Kathy tells the story when she is 31 years old, reflecting back to her youth at Hailsham with her friends, specifically Tommy and Ruth, and life after Hailsham at the Cottages, and then her life as a "carer". At first, I thought this story was about friendship and love, but then I realized that there was a serious undercurrent running throughout the novel, and that the writing style itself was actually a sort of metaphor for what was really going on for Kathy, Tommy, Ruth, and the other students. This "secondary" story is vaguely referred to in Part I, connected in Part II, and made clear in Part III. Just as Kathy was given "hints" throughout her childhood at Hailsham on what was to be for her in life, the reader is also given these hints; not only through the literal placing of these hints throughout the work, but also through the writing style. Just as Kathy's life begins to make sense for her, so does the narration, and the story, become clear for the reader. As Kathy experiences being "told and not told" at Hailsham, so does the reader. I came to discover that what is alluded to at Hailsham is really part of the central story in Never Let Me Go. In Part I, I thought I was just learning about life for Kathy as a typical English Boarding School student, but then I started to realize the evasive nature of life at Hailsham. While Part I appears to be the basis for this story of friendship, there is also an eerie, strange tone that is developed, especially through the use of characters like Madame, Miss Lucy, Miss Emily, and through the handling of sex, art, and Kathy's dancing to "Never Let Me Go".
Part II is life immediately after Hailsham, at the Cottages, and here the sense of sex being the furthest thing from making love is developed. Although the students learn about sex at Hailsham, it is not exactly like the way students learn about sex today, both in-school and out. It is almost robotic the way that Kathy and the other students approach sex, and while the guardians are bothered by it, the students are not. It becomes clear that Kathy, Tommy, Ruth and the other students at Hailsham have been created for a specific reason, and that the other students at the Cottages have been created for the same reason; as future donors of vital organs. It is in Part II that I began to be horrified for Kathy and the student's situation, yet Kathy and the other students were not horrified. I also began feeling sympathy and heartbreak for Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy as they search for a biological connection to Ruth's life, and the simple dreams they dream of, but can never achieve, because of who they are. I wanted the characters "revealing" of their souls to mean something; not just for me, but for them as well.
Part III is Kathy's life after the Cottages, and here is where the story comes together and connects. Interesting, Kathy's voice is the easiest to follow in this section. Part III really disturbed me as I realized how Kathy and the other students have been raised/viewed as just "things" with an eventual purpose, not people with souls. What disturbed me so much was that Miss Emily and Madame thought so highly of themselves for making a better life for their students through Hailsham; providing them with an education and some sense of a life(their point of view), but yet they knew they were raising these students/clones for life as a donor, a life which ultimately only leads to death. Miss Emily and Madame did nothing to stop the ultimate fate of these students, but what disturbed me more was that Kathy and Tommy are so accepting of this fate and that they were raised for this fate. You could argue that they have been aware of their fate their entire life, so this is not disturbing to them since this is their purpose in life. Yet the clones have experienced other human emotions, so why not now? Miss Emily and Madame are so vile, they encouraged the students to reveal their souls, but they do not acknowledge/recognize that they have souls, and this is what makes them human. When I ended this work, I couldnt help but question how we define life in our society. Here are some questions for you to consider:
1- Can Science/Medicine go to far? Is it acceptable to sacrifice a human life if many lives can be saved as a result?
2--What does it mean to be a "human"? Why did Kathy and the other students receive the education that they did at Hailsham? Were they human?
3- Would you feel comfortable teaching this novel in your current teaching situation? What are some dangers in teaching this at your school? How would you "sell" this novel to the Administration of your school?
4- Did the writing style of this novel work for you? Why or why not?
5--What do you think Ishiguro's purpose was in writing this work? What was being "told and not told"? How has history "told and not told"? Why were Kathy and the other students "told and not told"? Why was Kathy's voice telling and not telling? Did you experience any of the emotions that I did?