Never Let Me Go Analysis

  • Kathy H. acts as both as the narrator and protagonist of Never Let Me Go. The events of the novel are narrated from her first person point of view, allowing the narrative to shift back in forth in time as needed. Kathy's passive nature is reflected in her narrative voice, which is tinged with a quiet sadness.
  • Ishiguro titled Never Let Me Go after a song by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater. Kathy listens to the song in her room, imagining that the singer is addressing a baby she was told she could never have. One day, Kathy hugs a pillow to her chest, dancing with it as if it were an infant, only to be caught by Madame.
  • Never Let Me Go has three primary settings: Hailsham, a boarding school for clones; the Cottages, the shabby, converted farmhouses where they await their first donations after graduating from Hailsham; and the donor recovery centers, where Kathy works as a carer. Each setting gets progressively bleaker, reflecting the events of the novel.


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)


Although Never Let Me Go is structured as a mystery in which much is concealed from the reader, its most important plot point is disclosed about a third of the way through the novelnamely, that the narrator has been cloned by a society which intends eventually to harvest her vital organs. The postponement of this crucial piece of information in the novel’s first one hundred pages allows the reader to bond with the narrator, the sensitive and intelligent Kathy H., who might otherwise be greeted by the reader in the same way her society sees her: as other than human. Additionally, the initial withholding of such information indicates Kathy’s reluctance to confront the reality of what is going to happen to her and to her friends, fellow clones who have been educated at the seemingly exclusive Hailsham School.


The school, in an isolated rural setting that segregates the clones from the rest of the society, also serves as a buffer for the children, protecting them to some extent from their true situation while they receive an education, develop creatively, and form close friendships. Despite Hailsham’s good works, however, Kathy’s retrospective monologue exposes a ruthless and conspiratorial aspect to the school, as if the institution were a sham predicated on repression and denial and calculated to lull the students into a false sense of security.

Miss Emily, the headmistress, is most concerned with protecting the children from a clear knowledge of their fates; it is she who represents the consensus among the guardians at the school that the children should not told about what is going to happen to them. Only one renegade teacher, Miss Lucy, especially galled by the children’s unsuspecting innocence, explicitly tells them how little they can expect from life. Miss Lucy’s outspokenness notwithstanding, Kathy comes to feel that, on a deep level, all the students had seen some glimmerings of the truth of their situation.

Character Development

When she is assigned to look after the psychological well-being of those who are in the process of donating their organs, Kathy confronts the reality of death for the first time. She finds that the constant nearness to the suffering and death of her fellow clones compels her to look back on her life at Hailsham, a reevaluation in which she recognizes not only the strangeness of her years there but the degree to which the peculiarity of the students’ situation is masked by a veneer of normality.

Evaluating her childhood in the light of her knowledge of what will be her fate, she develops a double perspective, so that the more innocent way she once saw her childhood competes with the way she has revised her impressions now that she is an adult. For instance, Kathy begins to recognize the level of deception practiced at Hailsham, and, even more, begins to comprehend the puzzling behavior of her two closest friends, whose characters, like her own, have been formed by the psychological pressure implicit in their circumstances.

Kathy and her friends, Ruth and Tommy, know they will never marry, never have children, never have real jobs, and that, soon after leaving Hailsham, they will be placed in a hospital for the purpose of organ harvesting. This knowledge has damaged each of their personalities in different ways. Kathy responds by becoming muted and passive. Her best friend, Ruth, rebels against the message that her existence is of little value and compensates with self-serving fantasies, self-aggrandizing power plays, and attempts at entitlements of one kind of another. Determined to make herself special in any way she can, she blocks the naturally developing romance between Kathy and Tommy until it is almost too late, keeping Tommy as her own lover and scheming against the trusting Kathy behind her back.

While Ruth becomes manipulative and selfish, Tommy responds to his situation at Hailsham with anger, which, in an environment that socializes its students to compliance, establishes him as an undesirable outsider. Tommy also refuses to cooperate with Hailsham’s emphasis on creativity, refusing to produce the works of art expected of the students. It is the artwork of the students that preoccupies the third major adult figure at Hailsham, Madame Marie-Claude, whose job it is to collect the best of the students’ works for a mysterious gallery intended to demonstrate that the Hailsham clones, contrary to popular opinion, have...

(The entire section is 1840 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Booklist 101, nos. 9/10 (January 1-15, 2005): 783-784.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 2005, p. B6.

The Economist 374 (March 19, 2005): 87-88.

Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 11.

London Review of Books 27, no. 8 (April 21, 2005): 21-22.

The Nation 280, no. 19 (May 16, 2005): 28-31.

National Review 57, no. 11 (June 20, 2005): 53-54.

The New Republic 232, no. 18 (May 16, 2005): 36-39.

The New York Times 154 (April 4, 2005): E1-E8.

The New York Times Book Review 154 (April 17, 2005): 16.

The New Yorker 81, no. 6 (March 28, 2005): 78-79.