How are women depicted differently than men in Never Let Me Go?  

How are women depicted differently than men in Never Let Me Go


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eisigeyes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before tackling the subject of men and women in Never Let Me Go, it is important to understand the time periods in which the story takes place. Although the book opens in the 1990s, the actual story begins in the 1960s with Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy all at Hailsham, the boarding school that is part preparation and part distraction from the dark fates awaiting each character. While the events take place in our world, it is a world off kilter. Technological advancements have created a kind of science fiction utopia/dystopia, depending on whether you are a recipient or a donor. Couple this with the attitudes toward men and women in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and you have a heartbreaking environment in which to explore Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy’s coming-of-age tale.

Immediately, you should notice that each gender has certain roles ascribed to them. Men are to be more physical, masculine, and prone to anger and outbursts when their emotions overwhelm them. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nurturing, maternal, and in control of their emotions, especially when taking on roles like caretaker.

When Tommy breeches the boundaries of the masculine and feminine by creating art or reacting counter-emotionally to ascribed male roles, the status quo reasserts itself, and he faces ridicule and punishment. As a child, he couldn’t possibly have the emotional fortitude to weather this kind of storm, so he learns to suppress his emotions.

Ruth and Kathy, however, are like two sides of the same coin. Ruth embraces her femininity and sexuality, taking lovers and acting spitefully when scorned. Kathy moves into a maternal, caregiving role, reserving her aggression and bottling up her sexuality.

The “professional” roles available to each of the characters, too, reinforce the above-mentioned gender roles. Carers embody an idealized femininity, so it was natural that Tommy would not succeed well in that role. However, as a donor—the epitome of masculinity—he is quite successful. Ruth manages for a number of years as a carer and donor but is ultimately too fragile for either role. Kathy, on the other hand, fills the carer role to a tee.

appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two main female characters in Never Let Me Go, Ruth and Kathy, can offer some insights into the ways women are portrayed in the novel. In terms of presenting opportunities for dramatic conflict in relationships, Ruth and Kathy portray qualities often associated with female characters in literature. The two girls are friends at Hailsham when they are in school, but their relationship begins to unravel when Ruth understands that Kathy cares for Tommy. Ruth undermines her friendship with Kathy by pursuing a romantic relationship with Tommy. This shows Ruth is calculating and manipulative: pursuing Tommy is a way for Ruth to establish control over her environment in a situation where her fate is sealed and her future already mapped out.

Kathy, on the other hand, deals with the spectre of her fate rather differently; she holds tightly to her love for Tommy and her depth of compassion leads her down the path of training to be a carer. She even acts as a carer for Ruth when her time comes to "complete." Both women deal with the helplessness of their situations very differently: Ruth, by manipulating Tommy and trying to make Kathy jealous; Kathy, by hiding her love for Tommy and finding ways to help others who are also doomed to donate their organs and die at a young age.