Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Never Let Me Go tranquilly opens with thirty-one-year-old Kathy H., a “carer” for “donors” who will mysteriously “complete,” that is, die, who is about to become a donor herself. Kathy seizes this moment to relate her apparently idyllic childhood at the boarding school of Hailsham, England. In the polite, reserved tone typical of Ishiguro’s first-person narrators, Kathy tells of her youth and that of her friends, cocky Ruth and misfit Tommy, who interact with a cast of fellow pupils at this apparently everyday upscale British institution. The reader of Never Let Me Go quickly realizes that there is a dark mystery at the root of Kathy’s recollection. Soon, the reader learns that Kathy lives in a dystopian alternate world where clones are raised to be harvested for their organs until they “complete” (die), generally after their fourth “donation.” The casual use of these euphemistic terms for barbarous acts is a strong motif of the novel.
The novel has a particularly haunting quality because Kathy, like all of her peers, quietly accepts the strange life for which they are being groomed. The title refers to Kathy’s favorite song at Hailsham. It is sung by a fictional woman singer, whom Kathy imagines is tightly holding on to her baby—a poignant fantasy, as all clones are infertile.
After graduating from Hailsham, Kathy and some of her peers are moved to the Cottages, where they live somewhat aimless...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
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Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, was a Man Booker Prize finalist, the same prize that Ishiguro won for his 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day. Lynn Nutwell, a reviewer for School Library Journal, described Ishiguro's writing in Never Let Me Go as elegant and recommended the book for its "literary merit" as well as for it being a good medium through which to discuss the "controversial topic" of civil rights of human clones.
Yes, this is a futuristic story about human clones who are raised for the sole purpose of donating their organs to so-called normal human beings who come down with incurable diseases such as cancer. The clones are raised without fully being aware of their roles in life. They suspect that they might be different from those of the outside world—the world outside of the schools in which they grow up.
At the end of the novel, two of the clones, Kathy and Tommy, who are hoping to find at least a temporary escape from their fate, learn that they are special clones. They attended Hailshain, a British boarding school, where they were educated and treated to such domestic privileges as heated rooms and good food. There are many more clones, readers are informed almost at the completion of the story, who did not fare so well.
As it turns out, clones are looked down upon as being subhuman. They have been created to serve the so-called normal population. When they reach a certain age, the clones sacrifice their organs. Some clones, such as Tommy, go through four separate operations before they die, or as they call it, are "completed." Theirs is a hapless life. They do not discover until they have graduated from high school that they have no future, no civil rights.
Most of this story is told through the reminiscing of Kathy. Her best friends are Ruth and Tommy. The trio is very tight. After graduation, Ruth and Tommy become a couple for a few years, until they are called upon to make their first donations. Kathy is a carer. She consoles those who are donors, until she too is called upon to offer her organs. Readers are kept in the dark throughout most of the story, much as Kathy and the other characters in this novel are never sure what is happening. The story reads very much like a literary mystery.
The narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, is Kathy H., who is described as a "carer." She is thirty-one and her job is to take care of people who donate their organs to those in need. The full details of her job are purposefully kept sketchy, a tactic used by the author to create mystery in this story. And Ishiguro is a master at it.
(The entire section is 68 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is set in England in the late 1990s. The narrator, Kathy H., says she is thirty-one years old and has been a “carer” for eleven years. She explains that although this seems like a long time, “they” want her to continue for another eight months. Some really effective carers are asked to stop after just a few years; she asks what can explain her longevity.
She explains that her “donors” tend to exceed expectations. They recover quickly and are rarely classified as “agitated,” even before their fourth donation. Kathy is quick to point out that she is not bragging. Given her experience, she gets to choose with which donors she will work. Although her detractors argue that this is just because she went to Hailsham, she points out that she has worked with all sorts of people. Besides, people are not machines, and being a carer can wear after a while.
Modest though she may be, Kathy does have an impressive record, and it seems that her success can be at least partially explained by her ability to tell what her patients need. For example, in one case, the donor had a difficult background. He did not want to share his childhood memories. Instead, when he found out that Kathy went to Hailsham, he wanted to hear about her childhood. In fact, he wanted to remember so that it would feel like it was his own childhood. The aura that surrounds Hailsham is powerful, and Kathy still thinks about her time there when she drives around the countryside.
She remembers the sports pavilion. She recalls watching with the other girls as the boys pick teams. The girls are all focused on Tommy, who is a talented player but is otherwise picked on by the other kids. The girls can all see what is about to happen but, Ruth points out, Tommy has no idea. The boys pick captains, but neither team selects Tommy, who in response flies into a tantrum. Kathy reflects that the girls were “vaguely curious” to watch this humiliation in a detached way.
However, Kathy notices more. She sees that Tommy is wearing his favorite blue polo shirt and that playing in the pavilion will ruin it. When he flies into his rage, cursing the boys and waving his arms about, Kathy leaves the group of girls and approaches Tommy. Before she can touch his arm, he unintentionally bats her hand away. She points out that his shirt is already a little muddy and offers advice on how to clean it, but Tommy...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Kathy reflects on why she would have helped Tommy and decides it was part of a phase she was going through in which she tried to challenge herself every day. But she all but forgets the incident before Tommy stops the flow of children ascending and descending the stairs to thank her. Given that they are thirteen at the time, this is anything but acceptable behavior. However, Tommy does his best to express his gratitude. Kathy wonders why the children pick on Tommy. When Kathy asks her friends, Ruth finally responds that although the pranks are cruel, Tommy needs to change his own attitude.
Tommy does not even contribute art to the seasonal exchanges. The exchanges are important at Hailsham because it is the only time the children can acquire personal possessions, such as a work of art to put on the wall. However, Tommy is not as artistically skilled as the other students are. Kathy reflects that the teasing may have started when their “guardian,” Miss Geraldine, once noticed Tommy’s paintings. Tommy’s painting was not as skillful as that of his peers, so he painted childish paintings to hide his weakness. Miss Geraldine felt compassion for Tommy and decided to praise his work, which invited the resentment of the others. The exchanges may have stigmatized an untalented artist like Tommy. However, later when Kathy is Ruth’s carer, Ruth praises the art exchanges as being what made Hailsham so special.
The pranks never lead up to physical abuse, perhaps because Tommy is a gifted athlete. However, they are often awful and even go as far as wiping Tommy’s toothbrush in the toilet. Yet over time, Kathy notices that the pranks begin to wane, and over the space of a month they stop altogether. On the field, when Tommy lines up for a kick and a student imitates him, no one else joins in. When people try to get a rise out of Tommy, he rises above it. It seems that Tommy has changed his attitude.
Kathy feels curious and decides to investigate. She thinks there is something in Tommy’s eyes that was not there before. When she confronts him one day in the lunch line, Tommy admits that things have changed for him. Kathy presses him for more detail, and he shares that Miss Lucy explained that it is alright if he does not feel creative. However, Kathy cannot believe this and walks away from Tommy. Tommy catches up and insists that it was true and promises to tell her if she will meet him at the pond after lunch.
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Tommy and Kathy agree to meet by the pond after lunch. It is a covert meeting; although Tommy is no longer being picked on, Kathy is still reluctant to be seen with him. It does not help that what he has to say is quite shocking to Kathy: a guardian (Miss Lucy) told Tommy it is okay if he is not very creative.
When Tommy asked teachers to help him with his social problems, most of them gave him a standard answer. Many suggested that he might be a late bloomer who will eventually discover his creative talents. However, Miss Lucy said:
There’s at least one person here at Hailsham who believes...you’re a very good student, as good as any she’s ever come across, never mind how creative you are.
Tommy explains that Miss Lucy seemed to be seething with rage while saying this.
Miss Lucy is an unusual guardian. Although many younger students go to Miss Geraldine when their feelings are hurt or confused, the senior students tend to prefer talking to Miss Lucy. Miss Lucy is not as sympathetic as Miss Geraldine is. She is also athletic: she is a talented hockey player, and only a few of the boys can run as fast as she can.
Her views come as a shock to Kathy. Tommy suggests that he got the impression that Miss Lucy felt the students were not being taught enough. It is not that they do not work hard enough but rather that there is something they are missing. He thinks it may have to do with the students and donations, but Kathy explains that the students at Hailsham have all been taught about donations already. It seems like there is something Miss Lucy wants to tell the students but has not.
Tommy’s story reminds Kathy of some other things she finds puzzling, such as the Gallery. Early on, the students learned to point out works that were especially good as being good enough to go into the Gallery, but the students do not really know much about it, and it is a taboo subject. However, occasionally, “Madame” visits Hailsham, and when she does, the students’ best work is put on display. Madame selects some of these works. The mystique that surrounds Madame once aroused the girls’ curiosity. Consequently, the girls made a point of crossing paths with Madame during one of her visits, but they were surprised by what they saw. Madame looked at the girls the way someone would look at a spider. Kathy compares the experience to
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
In her present-day circumstances, Kathy tries to sort out her thoughts on her past at Hailsham because by the end of the year she will no longer be a carer. She reflects that much of what happened to her, Tommy, and Ruth was a result of their childhood experiences at Hailsham. She first considers Madame and the Gallery.
After their encounter with Madame, the girls are reluctant to discuss Madame, but the Gallery still comes up now and then. The Gallery has always been a taboo subject, but its impact on the exchange makes it a more public topic. In the exchange, Hailsham students can earn tokens in exchange for their artwork. However, when Madame takes work for the Gallery, the students lose tokens. These tokens are especially important because they can be used to obtain objects from the “outside” at “sales.” Tommy’s blue shirt from the first chapter was bought at one of these sales. The token issue becomes so controversial that the head guardian, Miss Emily, becomes involved. She rules that students will receive tokens when their work is taken for the Gallery, but they will not receive too many because having work selected for the Gallery is a great honor. When asked to explain why the Gallery is so important, Miss Lucy responds that she cannot explain to the students but hopes they will learn when they are older.
Kathy next reflects on Miss Emily, the head guardian. Miss Emily is a powerful force in the school. She addresses the students during assemblies. Although Miss Emily rarely handed out detentions or other punishments, students hated it when she caught them making mischief. Perhaps one reason for this is that Miss Emily would often speak aloud to herself about what she would do with the students. Kathy once caught Miss Emily talking to herself in a classroom.
Finally, Kathy reflects on her earliest memory of Ruth. She is young and is playing in an overcrowded sandbox with other girls. Ruth approaches them and berates the other girls. Then she invites Kathy to ride her imaginary horses. Ruth has strict instructions about how to respond to each of her horses, and although Kathy at first seems to be doing quite well, Ruth soon turns angry at how Kathy is treating the animals. She has Kathy put the horses away. Then she suddenly asks whether Kathy likes Miss Geraldine. Although this is something Kathy has never considered, she answers that Miss Geraldine is her favorite guardian. Ruth decides to...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Ruth inducts Kathy into the secret guard that defends Miss Geraldine. There are several girls in the secret guard, and all of them are committed to searching out those who will take Miss Geraldine away. It is understood that when the attack comes, they will take Miss Geraldine to the woods, so the girls prepare as well as they can. Ruth is the leader of this group, and she claims to have secret information—facts and experiences she hesitates to share with the others.
Ruth knows about many things. When she and Kathy walk past chess tables, Ruth will often stop to analyze the play. As they walk away, she will often confide a move that neither player has yet noticed is foolhardy. Kathy is impressed and decides to obtain a chess set at the next sale. However, when she asks Ruth to teach her how to play, Ruth declines. Finally, Kathy succeeds in cornering her friend, and they proceed to play. However, Ruth does not know how to play chess: she informs Kathy that all of the pieces move in L shapes like the knight. When Ruth attempts to deny one of Kathy’s advances because it is too straight, Kathy stands up and walks out of the room.
The next day, Kathy sees Ruth and the other girls huddled together. She knows this is a secret guard meeting, and she automatically rushes to join in. However, when she arrives, Ruth dismisses Kathy from the girls’ private session. Kathy reflects that she blamed herself for interrupting them when she should have known that she was not allowed. Later, when another girl who had been ousted from the group suggests that the secret guard is childish, Kathy explains that the plot is real and that she has witnessed real plans to attack Miss Geraldine.
One morning, Kathy notices that Ruth has a new pencil case. She asks about it and the other girls all want see this latest treasure. Ruth implies that the pencil case was a gift to her from Miss Geraldine, which enrages Kathy. This time, she decides to take action. The next time she sees Ruth, she decides to bluff and claims to have seen the register of all purchases made at the sales. But when she sees how upset Ruth is by her words, she back peddles. It is only at this point that she realizes she has schemed to hurt her best friend:
Didn’t we all dream from time to time about one guardian or other bending the rules and doing something special for us?
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Kathy embarrasses Ruth by indirectly revealing the latter’s lie that Miss Geraldine has given her a pencil case. Although it only happened between the two of them, things remain awkward, so Kathy starts working to repair their relationship. Kathy does little things that allow Ruth to get more attention from Miss Geraldine, whom she adores. For example, if the two of them are both heading out the door of the classroom behind Miss Geraldine, Kathy slows down to let her friend go through first. Kathy can tell that Ruth appreciates these things. Soon Ruth returns the favor.
The students at Hailsham are not allowed to smoke and have been taught in detail about the dangers of cigarettes. In fact, when one student asks Miss Lucy whether she has ever smoked, the students are shocked to learn that Miss Lucy did smoke for two years before quitting. Miss Lucy explains that it was wrong of her and goes on to point out that the students at Hailsham are special and should particularly avoid the temptation of cigarettes. Although Kathy gets the impression that Miss Lucy is waiting for the students to ask another question, none of them does. However, they do hold the awkwardness against the student for a long time afterward. Like the Gallery, students at Hailsham do not discuss cigarettes.
Kathy has a Judy Bridgewater cassette tape. The cover of this tape features an image of the singer with a cigarette. However, what really attracts Kathy to the album is the third track, “Never Let Me Go.” Kathy does not care about the lyrics of the song, except for the line “baby, baby...Never let me go.” When she listens to the song, Kathy imagines
a woman who’d been told she couldn’t have babies, who’d really, really wanted them all her life. Then there’s sort of a miracle and she has a baby.
As a consequence, the speaker in the song holds her baby close to her while singing “never let me go.”
The song means a great deal to Kathy, but she does not reveal it to her peers. Instead, she listens to the song while alone. One afternoon, with the sunlight streaming through the window, she listens to “Never Let Me Go” while dancing with a pillow as a substitute for her imaginary baby. In the middle of the song, Kathy looks up to see Madame looking at her through the open doorway. She is surprised to see that Madame is crying.
Later, the students learn...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
In this chapter, Kathy moves on to her final years at Hailsham. The students are thirteen to sixteen years of age. They have begun to think about their futures and to flirt with each other. These discussions dominate the thoughts of most of the students, but not Kathy’s. She credits her discussion with Tommy by the pond as a marker. After that, she began to question things more directly.
She begins to pay more attention to Miss Lucy. When discussing electric fences that were used in prisoner-of-war camps during the Second World War, the students begin to joke about the fences around Hailsham. They are not electrified, which Miss Lucy points out is “just as well” because “you get terrible accidents sometimes.” Only Kathy wonders what Miss Lucy is talking about.
However, when the students are fifteen and really thinking about what they will do after Hailsham, Miss Lucy offers them a direct statement about their purpose in life. In response to students who want to become famous Hollywood actors, Miss Lucy declares:
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.
In Miss Lucy’s view, the students have all been told this before, but no one has ever told them directly. It seems that Miss Lucy wants to say even more than she has so far, but instead she takes the children outside. Kathy and a few other students can see how troubled Miss Lucy is.
Kathy reflects that the students had indeed been told about donations. For example, when they were taught about sex, they were shown everything about how sex works. This led to a discussion of the difference between the students’ sex lives and the sex lives of people outside. Outside the school, people get into a lot of trouble over their sex lives, and one reason to explain this is that sex can lead to children for outsiders but not for the students. So the students need to be very careful about their sex lives.
The students were introduced to donation at a young age. In fact, they even begin to tease each other about “unzipping” their bodies. At first, Tommy bore the brunt of this joke when the students told him to be careful or he would unzip his arm at the elbow and expose his skeleton. Although Tommy believed this and was troubled for...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Kathy finds Miss Lucy alone in a small classroom by accident. Sometimes Kathy likes to imagine that she lives with just a few people rather than an entire school community. She goes to vacant rooms and looks out over the Hailsham grounds. However, this time she finds Miss Lucy alone in a room at a table filled with papers. Miss Lucy is not crying, but Kathy is still inexplicably unsettled by the experience.
She would discuss moments like these with Tommy, but by this point their relationship has changed. Lately, Kathy’s peers have become obsessed with sex. There is a lot of peer pressure to have sex, but Kathy notes that few students actually have had sex. Instead, it is more like there is an unwritten agreement to pretend that your friends are sexually experienced. However, it is harder to have sex at Hailsham than one would think.
The students have been taught that sex is beautiful and that they cannot have children from it, so at times it seems like they have been encouraged to become sexually active. On the other hand, there are no places that are private. It is against the rules for girls to go into the boys’ dorm; it is against the rules to go into classrooms in the evenings; the outdoors are not as private as they seem, and having sex in the fields could just as likely invite an audience.
Many students only pretend they have had sex, but Kathy knows at least a couple of people who are sexually active. One of the guardians actually caught one of Kathy’s friends having sex in a classroom. The students stopped and were sent to Miss Emily, who quickly said she is sure they will not repeat such behavior. Also, Kathy shares that Tommy and Ruth have been publicly dating for several months, so they have likely had sex as well. In many ways, it seems that being sexually active has taken the place of being creative.
Kathy begins studying for her first sexual experience. Previously, she felt that she should only have sex with someone to whom she is really attracted. However, now she feels that it would be better to practice so she will be an expert when the real opportunity arrives. She begins reviewing sex scenes in literature and films, though she is disappointed to find that neither offers much practical advice. She also begins to flirt with Harry C. However, just as her plans begin to take form, Ruth and Tommy break up, which confuses everything.
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Now that Ruth and Tommy have split up, one of Kathy’s peers, Cynthia E., informs her that she might as well be Ruth’s “natural successor.” Although Cynthia does not seem to mean anything significant by this statement, it starts Kathy thinking, and it changes her plans. As an adult, Kathy is a carer for Harry, and she finds herself thinking about why she did not end up sleeping with him.
Although Cynthia seems to expect Kathy to start seeing Tommy, Ruth does not consider the possibility. Instead, she asks Kathy to talk to Tommy about getting back together. Although they have both hurt each other recently, she considers them even and is prepared to work things out. After all, they are about to leave Hailsham, so they should start thinking more about the future. Also, Ruth shares, Tommy has a great deal of respect for Kathy; she says that Tommy would rather have Kathy in his corner than any of the boys at Hailsham.
So Kathy talks to Tommy, who shares that his feelings are confused because of a recent private talk with Miss Lucy. During their first private talk, Miss Lucy told Tommy that it was okay for him to not be as creative as his peers, and he credited her with changing his perspective and allowing him to overcome being bullied. However, now Miss Lucy apologizes for giving him the wrong advice. She says, “Your art, it is important. And not just because it’s evidence.” Although neither Tommy nor Kathy can explain the significance of “evidence,” they agree that Miss Lucy’s behavior is weird. At the end of the conversation, Miss Lucy hugs Tommy, who assures his guardian that he will be okay. Regardless, at the moment, he feels too confused about things to get back together with Ruth. After all, their entire lives are before them. Although Kathy says Ruth is the best in their class, Tommy maintains that he will have to be sure of his actions before getting back together with her.
Soon after, the students learn that Miss Lucy “had left Hailsham and wouldn’t be returning.” There is no further explanation, and the students rush out of the classroom to tell others. Kathy knows how much Miss Lucy meant to Tommy, so she tries to find him first and tell him the news herself. She is too late. Kathy sees that while the other students look excited by the news, “Tommy’s eyes looked empty.” After that, Tommy reunites with Ruth, and Ruth thanks Kathy for helping her out.
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
In Part 2, Kathy and her cohort have left Hailsham and are living in the Cottages. Different students have gone to different areas of England, but Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are still together, and they have joined some “veterans” at the Cottages. However, this new community and the new setting cause friction, particularly between Ruth and Kathy.
Life at the Cottages is designed to help the Hailsham students make the transition into the outside world, though the area itself is quite unlike Hailsham. An old farmyard makes up the Cottages. A hired hand works there, but otherwise it is mostly run by a small group of students. Before arriving, the students are required to choose a subject to study over the course of two years. Kathy chooses Victorian novels, though she admits she did not think about her topic very much before choosing. For many students, these essays are like a comforting and familiar task that ties them to Hailsham. However, there is certainly more than enough room for things other than study at the Cottages.
The veterans keep a close eye on the newcomers. However, the newcomers also keep a close eye on the veterans. Kathy notes that Ruth especially pays close attention to the veterans. When Ruth first comes to Cottages, she spends a lot of time “snogging” Tommy in public areas. However, before long, she picks up on the habits of the veterans. For example, when the veteran couples part ways, the girl will often punch her partner on the arm instead of kissing him goodbye. Before long, Ruth has picked up this habit.
It seems that the veterans are there as models for correct behavior, but Kathy soon notices that their habits are learned from television. She confronts Ruth and argues that their behavior is not “worth copying” if one’s goal is to emulate how people behave in the “normal world.” Ruth responds by suggesting that Kathy is jealous of the new friends she has been making, and she suggests that Kathy has not been working hard enough to get to know the veterans. Kathy realizes that she is losing the argument and says that Ruth is mistreating Tommy, but Ruth says she and Tommy have discussed things between themselves. Finally, she suggests Kathy has actually gotten to know a few of the veterans rather well before she laughs off the conversation as though to suggest that there is nothing wrong. Kathy just walks away.
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Kathy explains the conflict beneath her spat with Ruth. For Kathy, there are two Ruths: the one that is her good friend and the one that is trying hard to be accepted in the Cottages. During the day, it seems like Ruth will turn her back on Kathy and Tommy to make friends. However, every night she and Kathy sit together and share their secrets, hopes, and fears. One of Kathy’s secrets is that she has become sexually active.
Kathy explains that although she had every intention of finding a stable boyfriend at the Cottages, she ended up having several one-night stands. She explains to Ruth that sometimes the urge to have sex simply overpowers her. So although she might not be interested in one of the veterans hitting on her, she would sometimes find herself surprised by her sudden desire. She shares her concern over this with Ruth, who offers an understanding and concerned response. These feelings strike Ruth as odd, but she is confident they will pass in time.
Up to this point, no matter what happened during the day, the girls had an implicit understanding that their nighttime confessions would never spill over into their disagreements during the day. However, Kathy is convinced that Ruth has now betrayed her by callously referencing her sexual history. Only after she grew up did she realize that Ruth might have felt betrayed by Kathy’s intrusions. Regardless, Kathy felt insulted at the time.
Otherwise, life at the Cottages continues. Kathy notes that the veterans rarely discuss certain things. The courses they take to become carers are never discussed. The students who have left the Cottages are also rarely mentioned. They may not be taboo, but they are usually only mentioned in passing. On the other hand, everyone recalls Steve for his enthusiasm for pornography.
When Kathy considers it, she realizes that all the students at the Cottages are interested in pornography. Of course, they never let on, but everyone looks at pornographic magazines before nonchalantly discarding them. One day, Kathy takes a stack of magazines into the boiler room and begins flipping through them to look at the faces the women make. Then she catches Tommy spying on her. When Tommy inquires what Kathy is doing, she claims to be enjoying the magazines and that she will gladly pass them on to him when she has finished. Tommy suggests that she does not look like she is enjoying them, but Kathy stands by her statement.
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Kathy explains that the twelfth chapter of Never Let Me Go serves as a background to a later trip to Norfolk. The first winter at the Cottages has passed and the Hailsham students seem to be settling into their life there. Ruth and Kathy still visit every night, but one night Ruth shares that two of the veterans, Chrissie and Rodney, think they may have seen a “possible” for Ruth working in an open-plan office in Norfolk.
As with so many concepts at Hailsham, a possible is something every student understands but few feel free to discuss. Kathy explains the theory behind possibles:
Since each of us was copied at some point from a normal person, there must be, for each of us, somewhere out there, a model getting on with his or her life.
It seems quite important that Chrissie and Rodney have found a possible for Ruth. However, the subject remains hazy. For example, they wonder how old a person’s possible would be and what the point is in finding a possible anyway. Kathy explains that for some students
our models were an irrelevance, a technical necessity for bringing us into the world, nothing more than that. It was up to each of us to make of our lives what we could.
Although both Ruth and Kathy claim to subscribe to this view, they are naturally curious. A sighting of a possible is usually ignored, but some sightings are more substantial than others are.
Ruth seems to believe Chrissie and Rodney, but Kathy remains skeptical. Kathy is careful to explain that she does not dislike Chrissie, but she finds some of veteran’s actions disconcerting. In some ways, Chrissie reminds Kathy of a wicked witch, particularly her habit of “jabbing you with a finger” while talking. Her boyfriend, Rodney, is clearly under her thumb, and she seems eager to talk to Ruth and Kathy separately. Finally, she always seems too interested in Hailsham. However, there is more to Kathy’s skepticism than her ambivalence for Chrissie.
Kathy explains that one day while looking at a magazine, she and Ruth se a picture of an open-plan office. Ruth is especially impressed, and when the group discusses their plans for the future, she starts to discuss an office that recalls the advertisement. In fact, some of her language, like “dynamic, go-ahead type,” seems to echo the language of the advertisement. Before...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Tommy, Kathy, Chrissie, and Rodney accompany Ruth to Norfolk to search for a woman who might be a possible for her. Ruth pretends that the trip does not mean much to her, and Rodney makes most of the plans, such as obtaining a vehicle. However, when it seems like they will not get a car after all, Kathy sees that Ruth is really upset. However, things work out and the five leave the Cottages for Norfolk together.
The friction between Ruth and Kathy continues. During most of the trip, the veterans sit in the front and Ruth passes the time joking with them. When Kathy confronts Ruth on this, she is surprised by her friend’s response. Ruth asks why Kathy always makes things difficult, and Kathy sees that Ruth has been trying to put on a show to mask her feelings. They return to the car, but things are not the same for the rest of the trip.
They do not talk about Ruth’s possible even after they arrive in Norfolk. Instead, they begin to talk about going to see Martin’s flat. Martin stayed at the Cottages before Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy arrived. Now he is a carer, and Kathy is surprised that the veterans would want to go see him. After all, it is not allowed. The others tease Kathy before moving on to other discussions.
The most provocative thing they discuss is “deferment.” That people could defer their donations is a rumor only. However, Chrissie and Rodney have heard from one of their friends that only the Hailsham students can ask for a deferment. Even if their request is granted, their donations are only deferred for a few years. Also, to get a deferment, the students would have to demonstrate that they are really in love. When the veterans ask the Hailsham students about this, Ruth acts as though she knows all about deferment but cannot say very much. Kathy notices several things. For one thing, she suspects that the entire trip was a scheme to get the Hailsham students away from the Cottages so they could ask about deferment in private. She also sees how important deferment is to the veterans. But for Kathy the most important effect of the conversation is how it affects Tommy.
If students at Hailsham ever talked about deferment like Ruth is claiming, Tommy never heard about it. Ruth tries to cover up for him so that she will not be embarrassed in front of the veterans, but he is insistent that he never heard about deferment. So Ruth explains that Tommy is not really like a Hailsham student...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
After their conversation about deferment, it is clear that the excitement of the trip is gone. Chrissie and Rodney propose to go buy some birthday cards in bulk, and after they enter the store, the five break up. Before long, Kathy sees Chrissie talking to Ruth; she cannot help overhearing Chrissie pressing for more details about deferment. She particularly wants to know whom they would contact. Ruth continues to dodge her questions, suggesting that Chrissie does not understand how things were because she never went to Hailsham. When Ruth sees that Kathy can hear her, she breaks off. As they leave the store, she gives Kathy a dirty look.
They leave the store and finally head to the office to see Ruth’s possible. Rodney points her out and Kathy can see the resemblance; she reflects that “Ruth could take encouragement from what she’d seen.” They walk away and sit near a wall. The possible walks past, and the five decide to follow her. The woman leads them to an art gallery. When they enter, the possible leaves, and they begin talking with the curator, who asks whether they are art students.
As they leave the gallery, Chrissie declares that everyone can agree that the possible is not Ruth. Everyone takes a turn comforting Ruth, and Kathy tries to communicate the sincerity of her feelings as opposed to the superficiality she detects behind the veterans’ condolences. Ruth does not respond to her. Tommy takes things a step further by suggesting that the experiment was nothing more than a bit of fun, which irritates Ruth. She maintains that he would care if it were his possible. Tommy disagrees. Finally, Rodney suggests that they go to see Martin. However, Ruth is not quite ready to move on.
Ruth explains that the entire experiment was stupid. There was no way she could have been copied from a model like the woman in the office. There is no way they could walk up to such a woman and ask whether she was a “clone model” because
we’re modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps.... You look in rubbish bins. Look down the toilet, that’s where you’ll find where we all came from.
Rodney again proposes that they go see Martin, and Chrissie agrees. Although Ruth agrees to go, Kathy decides to stay behind. Ruth taunts her and says she is sulking. As the others are about to leave Kathy behind, Tommy decides to stay as well. Ruth leaves with...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Now that the others have left to see Rodney and Chrissie’s friend, Martin, Tommy and Kathy begin heading in the opposite direction. Kathy calms down and Tommy begins to comfort her. He suggests that they try to find a copy of the old Judy Bridgewater cassette tape Kathy had so enjoyed and then lost while at Hailsham. They find a store selling old clothes and music, and they even find a copy of the old tape, which Tommy offers to buy for Kathy.
They begin talking about deferment. Tommy wonders why Miss Lucy apologized for telling him not to worry about his art; her previous statement had comforted and helped him. He wonders why she would have decided that it did matter, after all. Now Tommy thinks that it might have something to do with deferment. If it is true that Hailsham students can defer their donations conditional on their being in love, he wonders how the students would prove they are in love. Tommy thinks it might have something to do with the artwork they did while at Hailsham, particularly the pieces Madame took to the Gallery. However, because Tommy’s art has always been so awful, none of his work ever made it to the Gallery.
At first, Kathy thinks Tommy’s theory is wrong. However, she slowly starts to accept it. She thinks back to the time Madame caught her dancing to the Judy Bridgewater song “Never Let Me Go,” and she wonders whether Madame would not have thought she was dancing with an imaginary lover. Tommy informs Kathy that he has begun working on new art—imaginary animals—but that for once his art is good because he has discovered a new way to illustrate.
Tommy has another theory. He thinks Kathy looks at pornographic magazines because she is looking for her model. Kathy admits to him that sometimes she has an overwhelming desire to have sex and that she is ashamed of some of the things it has caused her to do. She has reasoned that this desire must come from somewhere, so she looks for her possible in pornography. Tommy listens to this with understanding, and he puts his arm around her. However, Kathy shrugs it off before they reunite with the others. On the way home, Ruth and Chrissie share funny stories about Martin, and Kathy reflects that it is almost like things are back to normal among them.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Things at the Cottages soon become complicated. Everyone is curious about how the Norfolk trip went, but the five who went do not talk about it. Rumors begin to spread and eventually die out. Soon several students leave the Cottages to begin their training, and now a new set of rumors begins about deferment. Some people have even begun to say that clones besides the ones who went to Hailsham can defer their donations.
Tommy continues to act on his theory that deferment is possible and that it is conditional upon clones’ proving they are in love. Consequently, he continues to work on his artwork. Although Kathy is reluctant to look at it, she eventually gives in. The work Tommy has done is actually quite impressive. The detail is meticulous and the animals somehow appear quite vulnerable. Kathy is so impressed that she says Tommy could show his illustrations to Madame.
Things between Tommy and Kathy seem good, and she is even getting along with Ruth. They are still having their nightly chats over tea. Kathy had been in a relationship with Lenny until he left the Cottages, but she admits the relationship was mostly about sex. Although she feels confused about his sudden departure, Kathy and Ruth have begun to laugh about him. In the midst of one of these conversations, Ruth finds the Judy Bridgewater cassette Tommy bought. Just as no one said anything about the Norfolk trip, so too have Tommy and Kathy not mentioned the gift. As Ruth leaves that night, she and Kathy seem to still be in good spirits. Looking back, Kathy wonders if Ruth truly was.
During another of their nightly discussions, Kathy and Ruth find themselves again laughing about Lenny. This time, they begin to talk about Tommy’s imaginary animals, and they start to laugh about them. However, soon after, Ruth finds out about Tommy’s theory that Hailsham students seeking deferment would have to show artwork to Madame. Again, Kathy knows something about Tommy that Ruth does not. This time, Ruth begins mocking Tommy and his theory and proceeds to belittle his illustrations—and she says that even Kathy laughs at him over them.
Kathy does not know what to do. It is clear that she is guilty of laughing at Tommy’s work, but she also feels betrayed. It seems like Ruth has set her up, but she cannot be sure. She does not know what to do, so she ends up leaving them. She feels as though she has triumphed and that
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
As Kathy looks back, it seems like the argument between her, Ruth, and Tommy was the catalyst that pulled the three apart. At the time, however, it seemed like one of the many arguments Ruth and Kathy have. Even without the fight, perhaps the three would have split up anyway because “there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then.”
More and more students are leaving the Cottages to become carers. At first, Kathy is intent on finishing her essay. When she and the others first arrived at Hailsham, the essays seemed so important, but since then they have become less pressing. Kathy notes that the same thing that bound her, Tommy, and Ruth together as Hailsham students weakens as their dedication to the essays weakens. Ultimately, it seems unlikely that they will ever see the guardians again.
Kathy tries to keep things together between her, Ruth, and Tommy. However, she finds that things have progressed to the point that she can no longer just approach her old friends and apologize or laugh off spats. Still, she tries to reconcile with Ruth, and Ruth seems to play along. However, before long, she and Ruth discuss Kathy’s relationship with Tommy. Ruth explains that Kathy is not intruding on their relationship because Kathy is one of them. However, she also tells Kathy that Tommy would never date her because
Tommy doesn’t like girls who’ve been with...well, you know, with this person and that.
Kathy responds that it is good to know this. Suddenly, Ruth is talking about what she would do if she had a car. Kathy makes a reference to Hailsham, and Ruth claims not to know what she is talking about. Kathy thinks Ruth is feigning ignorance and calls her on it. However, Ruth continues to pretend, and so they continue their conversation.
Soon afterward, Kathy makes her decision to leave the Cottages to become a carer. There is very little to the process besides a declaration of intent. There are no tests or long goodbyes. After she makes the decision to leave, Kathy notices that life at the Cottages seems different. She leaves without talking at length to Tommy or Ruth again.
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
In Part 3, Kathy has left the Cottages and has grown accustomed to her life as a carer. Although some carers find their lives lonely after the sociability of life at Hailsham or the Cottages or elsewhere, Kathy has learned to value long drives. Other carers can live with the solitude, but many are demoralized if one of their donors has a bad operation. Kathy has learned to deal with such losses. Another carer from Hailsham, Laura, has not.
Laura left the Cottages after Kathy did, and she is surprised to learn that Kathy and Ruth have not kept in touch. Laura and Ruth were never very close, and she admits that they parted on cold terms, though they were not necessarily hostile. After Kathy left, Laura explains, Ruth became more overbearing at the Cottages, so Laura just learned to avoid her. Now rumors about Ruth have begun to surface. More than one source has reported that Ruth has had a difficult donation and that she is struggling to recover. Upon learning that Kathy is now able to sometimes choose the donors she works with, Laura urges her to seek Ruth out and become her carer.
Laura and Kathy also discuss Hailsham. The latest news is that the school has closed. Kathy asks what will happen to all of the students, and Laura mistakes her concern for the students who are currently enrolled at Hailsham. However, Kathy is thinking of her own cohort, which has already drifted so far apart. Kathy realizes that there are things she has always thought she would find time to do, but the closure of Hailsham convinces her to act.
Kathy becomes Ruth’s carer; Ruth is recovering in Dover. The two old friends try to be friendly toward one another, but Kathy admits that their conversations often stagnate. Kathy explains how she would try to show up at Ruth’s with biscuits, but the experiment never worked. In fact, one time when she showed up early and caught Ruth coming out of the shower in a towel, Kathy is surprised to see a look of alarm on her friend’s face, as though
she’d been waiting and waiting for me to do something to her, and she thought the time had now come.
However, just as things appear about to break for good between them, they change again.
Ruth explains that some of the other donors have recently been going to see a nearby boat. She mentions it several times. Kathy finally explains that the trip would take several hours. Ruth...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Tommy’s recovery center in Kingsfield is not as nice as Ruth’s. In Dover, Ruth is at least kept comfortable and everything is new. Tommy’s recovery center is
out of the way and awkward to get to, and yet when you’re there, there’s no real sense of peace and quiet.
The bathrooms are too far from where the donors are kept, it is cold, and some rooms are not wheelchair accessible. When they meet Tommy again, he is recovering from his second donation.
Tommy has not been to see the boat yet, so the three set off with Kathy driving. Along the way, Ruth begins tell a story about someone she knows before Kathy finally jokes that she does not need to hear any more, and Tommy expresses his surprise as he was just about to say the exact same thing. When they arrive at the boat, they need to walk under barbed wire, and Ruth is afraid. Kathy realizes that the trip may well be hard on someone in recovery, and she and Tommy immediately help Ruth. Kathy thinks they help because they feel guilty for having ganged up on her.
On the way home, they gang up on Ruth again, this time defending an advertisement that Ruth criticizes. Kathy resolves the tension by suggesting that they will come across another advertisement that she thinks Ruth will like soon. It is an advertisement with several professional looking people in an open-plan office; it recalls the one Ruth had so admired during their time in the Cottages. Kathy and Tommy begin to ask why Ruth never tried to become a professional working in such an office, and they agree it must be difficult now to look at such an advertisement and not be able to say that she at least tried. When Kathy brings up Madame’s name during this discussion, she notices that Ruth suddenly has a look of triumph, which concerns Kathy.
Ruth starts by apologizing to Kathy for what she did. She goes on to explain that when Kathy confessed to having uncontrollable urges to have sex, Ruth lied and allowed Kathy to believe that what she felt was abnormal. Ruth admits that she used to get the same urges and that she slept with several other men besides Tommy during their time at the Cottages. Ruth asks forgiveness for this, but she does not ask forgiveness for what she admits to next: that she kept Tommy and Kathy apart. She knew all along that they should have been together. Ruth has located Madame’s address, and she wants Tommy and Kathy...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Although Kathy tells Ruth that she will become Tommy’s carer, their relationship does not immediately become intimate. In fact, it is nearly a full year since their trip to the boat before she and Tommy begin to see each other again.
Before long she has grown accustomed to the recovery center at Kingsfield. In some ways, it is better than she at first thought; if nothing else, Tommy has a large, private room. It is important to Kathy that they become intimate quickly. Although Tommy is now recovering from his third donation, she does what she can with her hands until he recovers. She can tell that Tommy is happy they are together now.
Kathy always worries that they are not doing enough somehow. When they make love, Kathy tells Tommy to do anything he wants to her in the hope that it will make up for something that is missing. It bothers her when Tommy admits that he cannot have sex two times in a row anymore, and Kathy worries that they probably should have started their relationship before now. When Tommy begins drawing his imaginary creatures again, Kathy worries that they are not as powerful as the originals he drew during their time at the Cottages.
They do their best to prepare to meet Madame, but they do not actually have a plan. One day Kathy returns from a trip. She is very tired and explains to Tommy that she has followed up on Ruth’s address for Madame. Ruth’s information was reliable. Kathy managed to track down Madame, and she also got a good look at her. In spite of the years that have passed, Madame appears not to have aged. In fact, even her clothing looks the same. She might well be wearing the same gray suit she wore while they were students at Hailsham.
Kathy has not approached or spoken to Madame. After all, it is not as though Madame was ever a very friendly person at Hailsham. Now it seems that Tommy and Ruth have a plan. They begin to prepare to approach Madame with their request for a deferment. Although they do not know whether the rumors are true or what they would do if they were removed from the system, they resolve to see Madame.
(The entire section is 385 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Tommy and Kathy find Madame outside her house and ask whether she would be willing to speak with them. Kathy introduces them as Kathy H. and Tommy D. She assures Madame that they mean her no harm but that they are from Hailsham. Upon hearing this, Madame invites them into her home.
The inside of Madame’s house is poorly lit, but there are many works of art on display that appear to be from Hailsham. Madame sends Tommy and Kathy into a sitting room with Victorian furniture. She goes upstairs, and when she comes back down she goes into another room. When she finally enters, she invites Tommy and Kathy to sit down. When she passes them, Kathy feels like Madame tucks in her shoulders so she will not have to touch them. Tommy and Kathy are seated next to each other and across from Madame.
Kathy and Tommy begin to explain their theory about deferrals. Madame’s responses do not appear to validate their hopes that there are deferrals for Hailsham students who are in love and that the Gallery is a sort of test to see how a student’s inner soul is revealed. Madame refers to the Gallery as her private collection. She suggests that there was never a clear purpose for the collection, though she learned that it grew out of proportion later. When Kathy and Tommy profess their love for each other, Madame asks:
You say you’re sure? Sure that you’re in love? How can you know it? You think love is so simple?
Her voice sounds almost sarcastic to Kathy, but she sees tears running down Madame’s face.
Throughout the conversation, Madame says other things that strike Kathy as suspicious. After many of Tommy’s explanations, Madame responds oddly and asks more than once, “Do I go to far?” It seems that she is addressing Kathy when she asks this, but Madame is looking at Kathy’s shirtsleeve when she asks, so it is difficult to tell. Eventually, she changes her question and asks, “Do we wish to continue?” Kathy realizes that Madame is talking to someone else in the room, someone behind them in the dark.
At this point, Miss Emily comes out of the darkness. Miss Emily has grown older and is now in a wheelchair. Madame explains that it is Miss Emily that Kathy and Tommy have come to see. Although it seems to Kathy like Madame would just as soon prefer to leave, she stays and stands behind Miss Emily.
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
A great deal is revealed about the history of Hailsham during Kathy and Tommy’s conversation with Miss Emily. Kathy and Tommy’s purpose in coming to the house is to ascertain whether it is possible to defer their donations. It is not possible, though it brings Miss Emily no joy to say so. She tries to explain that they did receive something during their time at Hailsham. They are educated and cultured.
The history of cloning stretches back to the 1950s, and by the time people began to think about where the replacement organs came from, it was too late to do anything about it. Miss Emily asks, how could anyone go back to a world in which there was no cure for cancer? In the early days, the clones suffered in terrible conditions. Miss Emily and Marie-Claude, or Madame, worked to fix that.
They established Hailsham and other schools like it. Their purpose was to convince the public that the clones had souls; Kathy and Tommy are shocked to learn that the subject could even be debated. Miss Emily says this shows how important Hailsham’s work was. If Tommy’s theory is wrong, at the least he was somewhat correct that their artwork was meant to reveal the “inner soul” of the cloned children, the students. There were galleries of artwork on display, and these galleries did lead to better conditions for the clones. However, before long, there was a scandal around one scientist, James Morningdale, who tried to create genetically superior children. Although Kathy struggles to see the connection between the Morningdale scandal and Hailsham, Miss Emily explains that it nevertheless made it impossible to procure funds to keep the schools going. Now, the cloned children live less well than they once did, though at least things are not so bad as they were before Hailsham. Miss Emily takes comfort in this, though she accepts that Kathy and Tommy might not. Miss Emily sees her time at Hailsham as a success on behalf of the clones, whom she admits she found repulsive throughout the time in which she struggled to help them.
Tommy asks about Miss Lucy and why she left. For Miss Emily, Miss Lucy is merely a blip on Hailsham’s history, but she remembers that Miss Lucy’s argument was that more should have been done to make the students aware of their destiny. Miss Emily explains that if the students had known about their ultimate fate—that they would grow up, donate their organs, and die—then they would not have...
(The entire section is 561 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
After their trip to see Madame, things are not the same between Tommy and Kathy. They continue to care for each other and still sleep together. However, it is clear that things are changing. When Kathy goes to see Tommy, he is more likely to identify with the other donors at the recovery center. At first these differences are small. One time, Kathy arrives at the center and finds Tommy talking to some of the other donors. Although he sees her, he does not immediately come over to her, though he claims afterward to have invited her over to him.
Tommy is about to make his fourth donation, and it is rare for donors not to complete before this. There is a great deal of respect for donors who make it to their fourth donation. The other donors look up to these donors, and the doctors will shake their hands. There is also some speculation as to what will happen afterward. However, at this point, Tommy tells Kathy that he has been thinking about getting a new carer. At first they argue about it, and Kathy explains that this is what Ruth wanted: that she would care for Tommy through to the end. However, Tommy argues that what Kathy wanted was for them to get a deferral together. Furthermore, Ruth would understand Tommy’s desire whether she agreed with it or not. As a donor, she would agree.
Kathy is hurt and feels excluded, particularly the way that Tommy has now excluded her from him and Ruth. However, she gives in and Tommy has a new carer. It is odd that Kathy has managed to be a carer for so many years, and Tommy questions whether she does not wish to receive notice that her time for donation has arrived. When the novel ends, Kathy has received notice that her time as a carer will soon end.
After Tommy completes, Kathy allows her only indulgence. She drives to Norfolk. She sees a stand of trees and walks toward them. She imagines Tommy walking toward her from a distance. However, she does not allow the fantasy to continue any further. She explains:
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.
(The entire section is 399 words.)