Student Question

How is the theme of otherness presented in Never Let Me Go?

Quick answer:

How is Kathy othered as a character and how does it affect the reader'

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Though we come to know protagonist Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy as real, feeling people, the story unfolds to reveal the strange lives they live as not-quite people. Kathy and her friends are clones who have been raised in a home for children and go on to become organ donors and caregivers in adulthood. As readers, we know that they have thoughts and feelings like any other person, but we must also accept (as they have done) that Kathy and her peers have very little agency in their lives. Despite their innate human qualities and capacities, they have been brought into the world and raised for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs. For this reason, I think that the rest of society has chosen to assume that they do not have human thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it is easier to accept the grey morality of harvesting organs from clones if one assumes they do not have thoughts and feelings-- or as Miss Emily says, "souls." 

The clones are marked as other from the moment they come into the world because their intended purpose in life is to donate organs to "real" people. These real people have a freedom that Kathy and her friends do not. Their lives come with a sense of openness and liberty in choosing how to spend one's life. Kathy was certainly offered some privileges not available to other clones, but even so, she spent her whole life in various dedicated institutions. This creates a very physical separation from the rest of society, but it does not compare to the mental and emotional separation she must have felt in knowing that her life's course and ending had already been determined. 

Kazuo Ishiguro crafted a very unsettling and powerful sense of otherness by writing the clones as people not especially different from the rest of society. It is not as though they had any outward characteristics which might set them apart, nor any strange behaviors or powers. The idea of a whole portion of society who know that they will die from organ donation and have been raised to accept it is almost unbearably sad. Yet Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy have accepted this part of their lives, and are certainly othered by that experience.

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