At a Glance

  • 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.

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Analysis

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Structure

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.

Setting

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...

(The entire section is 1,904 words.)