What are common themes in Frankenstein and Never Let Me Go?

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Both novels explore ethical issues of medical experimentation with cloning in the context of human-nonhuman relations.

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Three central themes that both novels share are the definition of human existence, the ethical dimensions of medical experimentation and procedures, and the rights of beings that straddle the human-nonhuman divide. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a pioneering 19th-century effort to explore the fundamental question of what constitutes human personhood through fiction. Shelley used conventions of fictions combined with medical ethical issues of her time to probe this serious question. Kazuo Ishiguro, writing almost two centuries later, projects further into the future to address the same question.

Certainly Shelley could not have predicted that cloning would become a medical possibility. Victor Frankenstein’s actions are portrayed as highly problematic because he does not think through the implications of his actions. He obtusely stops short of anticipating that his constructed “creature” would have human feelings as well as intellect. Instead, he is egotistically concerned only with his achievement at creating life—playing God. The creature that Victor immediately finds monstrous becomes an unlikely protagonist, at home nowhere, with his alienation ultimately fueling his violence and destruction.

For the cloned people in Never Let Me Go, the process of coming to terms with their fate dominates much of the novel. Kathy’s voice shapes the reader’s understanding of her own ultimate fate and of the dystopian world that Ishiguro has created. By making the conditions of her life seem normal and matter-of-fact from her perspective, the author accentuates their horror to the reader, as he offers a picture of a society that not only accepts cloning but deliberately utilizes it to benefit the “originals” who can have themselves replicated. While we do not meet any characters who parallel Victor, as the first practitioners, we do hear about teachers involved in bringing up the children who they knew would be sacrificed to benefit others. Given that Kathy and her friends are not “originals,” do they have rights as human beings? The author does not place them in rebellion but leaves open the question of their possible justification in taking an active stance to alter their situation—or if they might turn on their creators as Victor’s creature had done decades earlier.

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