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Kazuo Ishiguro's characterization of Tommy in Never Let Me Go and the exploration of his outsider status

Summary:

Kazuo Ishiguro characterizes Tommy in Never Let Me Go as an outsider through his emotional outbursts, social awkwardness, and difficulty in fitting in with his peers. His status as an outsider is further explored by his unique perspectives and behaviors, which isolate him from the other characters, highlighting themes of individuality and societal exclusion.

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How does Kazuo Ishiguro explore the concept of being an outsider through the character Tommy in Never Let Me Go?

From the beginning of the novel, Tommy is a character who is out of step with his Hailsham peers. In the early pages of the book, Ishiguro uses the character of Tommy to illustrate two ways a young person can interpret the experience of being an outsider.

Tommy is a boy who feels his emotions deeply, and the others treat his outbursts as commonplace and amusing. From a young age, Tommy is taunted and baited by the other boys, and most of the girls find his humiliation entertaining. Though he is known to be a sensitive soul, prone to temper tantrums since he was very small, he is considered to be the source of his own problems, which is a common interpretation of negative situations many outsiders face even today. This comment on the state of being an outsider is the first one Ishiguro makes through the character of Tommy: to be an outsider is to be vulnerable and worse, to be subject of blame by the mainstream party as the cause of their own difficulties.

Later, Tommy is singled out by Miss Lucy, and he interprets her unusual confidences in him as evidence that he is special, which is another common occurrence for outsiders: often, at first, outsiders receive different treatment than others, and in their innocence, they interpret the treatment as a positive experience. Only later does this kind of situation seem more complicated. Tommy, however, seems to maintain some semblance of this innocence as he matures, which makes his disappointment later in the novel all the more poignant.

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How does Kazuo Ishiguro explore the concept of being an outsider through the character Tommy in Never Let Me Go?

Tommy has difficulties with discipline and social conformity. He acts out in school and his misbehavior gets him into trouble. The society portrayed in Ishiguro's novel imagines a subculture in which young people are raised in regimented ways to prepare them to be organ donors. They are expected to follow strict rules to safeguard their physical well-being, and are kept sheltered from the world at large. Tommy's tendency to disobey the rules at school show he has a strong-willed personality. He is also an artist and uses his drawings to help prove to Madam that he deserves a deferral because his artistic temperament (as well as his long-time love for Kathy) makes him special.

Tommy also manages to survive three donation procedures with no apparent ill effects, whereas it is said that many donors only survive two, or at least experience severe health problems after their first donation. His urge to survive and his violent outburst at being told there are no deferrals reinforce the idea that he is very aware of his unique individuality, and that the system is unfair in its relegation of him and Kathy to the pool of organ donors who are effectively raised for slaughter (perhaps a commentary on huge corporate agriculture practices). The fact that they are clones does not detract from Tommy's strng sense of his own individuality.

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How does Kazuo Ishiguro explore the concept of being an outsider through the character Tommy in Never Let Me Go?

One way that Ishiguro is able to use Tommy to explore ideas of love and loss is in how Tommy strives to find hope in both.

Ishiguro constructs Tommy as highly optimistic.  He strives for the confirmation that everything is going to be ok.  This can be seen early on in the story when he talks about how he felt after speaking with Miss Lucy: "Well... The thing is, it might sound strange. It did to me at first. What she said was that if I didn’t want to be creative, if I really didn’t feel like it, that was perfectly all right. Nothing wrong with it, she said."  It is clear that Tommy seeks hope.  Part of the reason why he has his temper tantrums and "short fuse" is because he wants everything to be fine.  As a result, he can be easily baited.

Tommy is not emotionally distant from restoration. His natural response to hurt is to find hope.  Whether it was in proving his artistic capacity or appealing for a deferral because he is in love with Kathy, he displays optimism. Even if his desire for hope might cause greater challenge, Tommy never loses it.  Ishiguro might be suggesting that the only potential way to deal with the harrowing conditions of love and loss is holding onto hope and never letting go.

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How does Ishiguro characterize Tommy in Never Let Me Go?

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Tommy is a character who struggles to fit into Hailsham. As he finds a vocabulary to express some of his difficulties, he begins to understand how he can belong to this community in particular and, by extension, to any community. Through his changing relationships, first problematically growing closer to Ruth and then later being deeply involved with Kathy, he extends himself into genuine emotional relationships. The love that he and Kathy share as they move to the Cottages joins them into a family.

The contrast between Tommy’s and Kathy’s personalities rounds out the novel. Kathy seems more level-headed—although this may be only because her perspective is presented—and balances Tommy’s impulsive, rash behavior. By the time Tommy fully understands what his destiny has been all along, he is disheartened by having been so horribly cheated of a future, but he is no longer the rebellious child. In this regard, Tommy seems to stand for the evolution of the society in which they all live, as everyone has come to accept the clones’s sacrifices that enable the originals’s survival. But his growth and maturing, especially his evolving love for Kathy, bring home the point that the clones are fully human as well.

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How does Ishiguro characterize Tommy in Never Let Me Go?

Tommy is characterized as a loner, despite the fact that he eventually becomes friends with Kathy and dates Ruth. His tendency as a youngster at Hailsham to give in to his emotions and to throw tantrums makes him different from the rest of the students, Kathy explains. As well, Ruth describes Tommy as a boy who is often left out of group activities and mocked for being different, and she even goes as far as to say Tommy isn't a real Hailsham student. All of these details give the reader the sense that Tommy is a bit of an outcast, which makes his sense of belonging that comes along later in the book when he becomes a donor all the more poignant. Ironically, in order for Tommy to be included and to feel like a part of a bigger community, he must give up his organs, the parts of him that make him alive.

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