What are some motifs in Never Let Me Go?

Expert Answers
ninepizzarolls eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Never Let Me Go, several symbols and imagery pop up again and again.

First, Never Let Me Go has more animals than your local zoo—almost. Tommy draws elephants and imaginary animals. Jackie make giraffes. Kathy compares herself and her pals to spiders. The Hailsham student population creates tons of animals. We never see any real animals, though.

The art galleries that appear in Never Let Me Go are a source of happiness and of heartbreak. Madame's Gallery makes Kathy and her classmates excited about the possibility of displaying their art there. The gallery encourages them to dream. When it turns out that Madame's Gallery doesn't exist, those dreams dry up. It's a similar bummer when, at the Portway Studios, Kathy and her friends realize that Ruth's potential clone isn't going to work out.

Kathy doesn't just like her copy of Judy Bridgewater's Songs After Dark, she loves it. The tape reminds her of listening to Judy Bridgewater by herself in her dorm room, and it reminds her of Tommy—more specifically of when he found the tape in Norfolk. Kathy deals with a lot of loss throughout the book, but that tape is one of the few things she gets back. She regards Judy Bridgewater as an old friend, a constant presence, and having her around makes Kathy happy. Plus, Judy Bridgewater doesn't fight with her like Ruth and Tommy do.

Just like the art gallery motif, water imagery in Never Let Me Go is a mixed bag. At times, it's a source of glee, like Tommy's football splashing fantasy. Other times, it's a source of peril and insecurity, like Tommy's mental picture of two people caught in a forceful current, Ruth's dream of a flooded Hailsham, and when it disappears. Water in Never Let Me Go mirrors the unpredictability of being human.

jennylane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Motif is a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition, and Never Let Me Go is rife with them.

The book is full of animal imagery -- the kids at Hailsham are constantly painting, drawing, or sculpting animals for inclusion in the Gallery. Tommy, specifically, spends a great deal of time drawing his imaginary animals. We return to them over and over, in childhood and adulthood. But the interesting thing about animals as a motif is that we don't really encounter any real animals. This serves to highlight the divide between the manmade and natural world: between the "originals" and the clones.

Water also plays a key role in the imagery of the book. We encounter it a lot in dreams -- for example, Tommy's dream of two people clinging to each other in the strong current of a river -- but we also are faced to confront a lack of it -- when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy go to look at the boat that has been abandoned in the sand. Even though too much water can be dangerous, water represents movement and life, whereas a lack of it represents stagnation and death.

The Cassette Tape
The book gets its title from the song that Kathy listens to over and over, and the cassette is the first item on the list of Kathy's lost things. Losing the tape foreshadows all of the loss that she will endure in her life, as her most important relationships begin to drop away.


daniherb01 | Student

One important motif that can be found in Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is water. An example of this is when Tommy imagines two people stuck in a forceful, raging river, in which Tommy says:

"I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever."

As in the novel's title, the two people caught in this turbulent water threshold want to "never let go," but the water, an intrinsic, inescapable part of nature, forces the two apart. Tommy, Kathy, and Ruth are trying desperately to hold onto one another and to life, but are unable to due to the nature of their very existence (as human donors). Essentially, the donors (such as Tommy, Kathy, and Ruth) have no control over their lives, and they are ultimately unable to change or escape their fate.