Never Let Me Go Themes

  • Human cloning and its ethics are foundational themes in Never Let Me Go. Main character Kathy attends a special school for clones called Hailsham, where she's taught to passively accept her fate. Only later does she learn that the general population is debating whether or not clones have souls—a fact that she herself assumed to be obvious.
  • Ultimately, every clone in Never Let Me Go meets the same fate: after undergoing too many "donations," or surgeries in which their organs are harvested, clones die in the hospital. Clones are informed of their fates at an early age and taught to accept it, which makes death a mere matter of course in their world.
  • The theme of art grows in importance as the novel progresses. In the beginning, the students at Hailsham prize artistic talent, with the result that Tommy, who lacks in artistic ability, gets teased by the other students. Only later do Kathy and Tommy learn that their art was used by the guardians at the school to argue that clones have souls—a subject of some debate. 

Themes

Acceptance is one of the stronger themes in Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. It is also one of the more annoying themes, according to many critics. The theme is played out through the characters who are clones, such as Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. Though they sometimes have questions about their existence and the roles that they play as organ donors, they accept their plight without a fight. Although Miss Emily, the head of their boarding school, and her accomplice Madame, attempt to prove that the student/clones have souls by encouraging them to produce art and then displaying it, there is no discussion about the clones' rights in making decisions about their lives. They are told they are organ donors, and the clones go along with this determination made not by themselves but the adults they look up to.

The lines between love, sex, and friendship are often blurred in Never Let Me Go. Kathy's love for Tommy blossoms at Hailsham, where students become sexually active in their teens, but Tommy dates Ruth instead. The situation is complicated by the fact that Hailsham students are confused about the school's official policy about sex. On the one hand, clones are infertile by design and so are freed from the fear of getting pregnant. On the other hand, sex is never explicitly encouraged. Many more students say they're sexually active than actually are. When Ruth and Tommy first break up, Kathy squanders her opportunity to connect with him because of her promise to Ruth, who asks Kathy to speak to Tommy on her behalf. A love triangle forms, with Kathy left alone to watch as Tommy and Ruth get back together. Much later, on her deathbed, Ruth admits that she seduced Tommy just to keep him and Kathy apart. Once freed from that relationship, Tommy is able to date Kathy, with whom he has always had a special connection. By this time, however, Tommy has already begun his "donations," and the surgeries leave him weak. Kathy's role as a carer eventually divides the lovers, in large part because Tommy feels Kathy doesn't understand his situation. In the end, Kathy and Tommy break up and become something like friends again. The lines between love and friendship remain blurred, however, and Kathy still watches over Tommy up until his final "donation."