A Warranted Distrust

What does the novel suggest about seeking truth even if it may lead to discomfort?

The world of Never Let Me Go is one that is riddled with mystery, deception, and broken lines of communication. Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and the other residents of Hailsham constantly waver between seeking out knowledge about their future and being unsettled by what little innelt6formation they can find. Through the experiences of the characters in which they seek out truth, the novel argues that social injustice is a consequence of willful ignorance. We can see this problem in our own lives as we choose to ignore difficult social problems for the sake of our own comfort.

One of the ways willful ignorance is propagated amongst the students of Hailsham and the Cottages is through the perpetuation of rumors. These rumors not only spread false information, they distract from the cruelties and injustices Kathy and her friends experience. The harm stemming from these rumors is evident in the scene in which Ruth tells Chrissie and Rodney that it is possible for two Hailsham students to qualify for an exemption from the normal donation process if they can prove they are “they [are] properly in love.” This rumor is harmful in two interconnected ways. First, it spreads misinformation which distracts from the ethical problems surrounding the use of clones for organ donations. These rumors the surround Hailsham blur the lines between what is truth and what is lies. Second, this misinformation ultimately turns the Hailsham students against each other, forcing the student aggression away from the perpetrators, the faculty and adults of Hailsham and the Cottages,  and toward other students. For example, Ruth claims that Tommy did not know of the possibility of the deferral program because “he isn’t like a real Hailsham student. He was left out of everything and people were always laughing at him.” These acts of aggression are prevalent throughout the characters’ relationships and breed distrust between students rather than a warranted distrust of authority.

These acts of aggression and misdirection in the novel are a trying to prove a point to us that is becoming increasingly relevant to our daily lives: We must actively and continuously work against those trying to distract us from injustice. Rather than submit to lies and deception, we must question those in positions of authority in order to protect the marginalized.

Only Seeking Comfortable Truths

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go allows readers to deeply consider the relationship between truth and its accompanying discomforts. The scene in which the children at Hailsham test for Madame’s reaction to seek the truth and are consequently hit with an uncomfortable reality of being viewed in a negative light largely sets a precedent in how the children “seek truth” in the latter half of the novel. Many situations in this book demonstrate the curiosity Kathy and her friends have towards uncovering truth but also illuminate the reservations that present themselves when discomforting possibilities are considered.

Kathy herself demonstrates the difficulty in allowing oneself to find the complete truth in her friendship with Ruth. The two of them find themselves in an unfavorable place in their relationship when they take stabs at each other’s sore spots in a passive aggressive argument. In this scenario, as Ruth asks, “We’re still friends, aren’t we?”, Kathy is prompted to consider how her friendship with Ruth truly works (125). Kathy reflects that “there were two quite separate Ruths,” one that she liked, and one that she disliked (129). However, just as Kathy begins to truly reflect on the difference between these two Ruths and begins to realize that sometimes the Ruth she confides in “merges” with the Ruth that puts on airs, she stops delving deeper into the implications of the merging of the two Ruths. Kathy does not pursue further her reflection because she fears losing her closest confident; thus, she simply returns to the comfort of having the “typical evening sessions,” despite her gradual understanding that doing so has accompanying risks. Kathy also does not even consider Ruth’s point of view that “[she] had been the one to first violate an understanding” after the argument until the present (129). She only comes to see this truth in the present rather than at the time of the event because the barrier of hindsight removes her from the discomfort of considering Ruth’s viewpoint. At the time of the argument, considering Ruth’s point of view would have made Kathy feel that she herself was in the wrong, which would have been a difficult truth to swallow.

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Even more evidence of the kids of Hailsham avoiding uncomfortable truths is the situation surrounding the discussion of “possibles”. The children knew about the idea that were made as copies of “normal” people out in the real world, known as their “possibles”. Many of them came up with theories as to what could be learned from their “possibles”, such as the idea that “when you saw the person you were copied from, you’d get some insight into who you were deep down, and maybe too, you’d see something of what your life held in store” (140). This speculation and the other speculations that they discuss all contain rather positive outlooks. However, with all the speculation they had surrounding their “possibles”, one blaring conclusion that they fail to draw is that their “possibles” may be related to their donations. The idea that these “possibles” could be the very people that the children are intended to donate their organs to is absent from their discussion. Any particularly uncomfortable theories are unmentioned, and when “[they] were near terriotory [they] didn’t want to enter, the arguments would fizzle out” (139). If they instead considered such negative theories, the idea of searching for their “possibles” would probably not be such an exciting prospect.

Kathy and her friends often enjoy speculating about truths to satisfy their curiosity surrounding certain mysteries. However, when they seem to sense discomfort that could accompany a possible conclusion, they seem to avoid these possibilities in favor of retaining the comfort of ignorance. Ultimately, the children of Hailsham only seek truth under condition that they maintain what is comfortable for themselves.

Finding Comfort in Deception

Throughout the novel, Hailsham students (especially Ruth) repeatedly suppress and alter the truth in order to maintain their level of comfort. The students’ primary discomfort originates from the fact that they are different from those in the outside world, as they are genetically copied from a possible and are raised for the sole purpose of donations. To compensate, they turn to methods of escapism, such as reading books and lewd magazines. Each method evolves into its own form of deception, as students claim to read books they have not read and pretend that they have not seen these magazines that they have indeed read. Of the books, Kathy reflects that, “…there was an unspoken agreement to allow for a mysterious dimension where we went off and did all this reading” (123).  The others perpetuate the conformity of this, allowing it to continue by through ignoring what they know are outright lies.

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Through reading books, scanning lewd magazines, and creating false fantasies, the students attempt to escape their harsh reality, if only for a moment.

Additionally, Ruth attempts to create a new narrative for Hailsham students which Kathy corroborates through her silence. By placing Hailsham students at a more elite level, Ruth creates an imaginary universe in which Hailsham students are able to rebel against their status and achieve the role they truly want. Kathy states that, “Ruth did say a few things every now and then to encourage the idea that, sure enough, in some mysterious way,a separate set of rules applied to us Hailsham students…she seemed confident I wound’t give her away. And of course, I didn’t” (145). In doing so, although the veterans begin with a higher social status than the Hailsham newcomers, Ruth allows for Hailsham students to have a higher status simply due to their educational background. She speaks of an amazing office job, implying that as a Hailsham student she has a higher chance of reaching this goal than those who attended different schools. Ruth fabricates the narrative to both enhance her status as a Hailsham student and create a fantasy that all are able to enjoy and convince themselves that it could occur. Through this, though the students most likely know that this cannot occur, they are all able to indulge in the fantasy for a brief period of time.

Escape from the Truth

In Never Let Me Go, the characters undergo a constant struggle in the process of identifying who they really are. From the behavior and thoughts of the characters, the readers can sense a note of ambivalence: they would like to stay ignorant of their fates, but external forces are always trying to push them to find out more – Madame’s fear, Ruth’s possible, rumor about deferral – these events gradually reveal what is ahead of them and lead them closer and closer to the truth.

According to Kathy’s story, the characters enjoy being ignorant of their future. Kathy shows deep nostalgia to the short interval of leaving Hailsham and becoming donors and carers: “[I]t was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were…we somehow managed to live in this cosy state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries” (142). Being ignorant of their future is “a cosy state”: procrastinating on knowing her fate relieves her anxiety and her doubts. It is a great time that everyone can freely picture the countless possibilities in their future. One can be a firefighter or an office receptionist, and all of the imagination will be long gone once the characters become carers and donors.

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Therefore, it is surprisingly common for the characters to stay silent and pretend they are ignorant when they are close to find out what their future is. When they first notice that veterans are leaving to take “courses” that they clearly know “have to do with becoming carers”, the “big hush” and the “understanding” that not to refer to the trips show the reluctance of the characters to confront the purpose of their creation (132). According to Kathy, it is “a territory [they] didn’t want to enter” (139). Also, before the five start on the journey to find Ruth’s possible, Ruth flinches when she is so close to find out her model. She acts as if the car crisis is seriously jeopardizing the trip – “it looked like the trip might have to be called off” – but actually this is Ruth trying to evade it (146). People all have the experience of putting off chores with ridiculous excuses such as not having the favorite cleaning cloth, and similarly, Ruth is using the car crisis to put off what she finds unpleasant and in this case, somewhat intimidating: finding out her model, which indicates her pre-determined identity and future.

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Some may argue that the pretended ignorance is nothing more than burying their heads in the sand, but psychologically speaking, it is the characters’ coping mechanism. Staying ignorance, even pretending to be ignorant means an extra day of carefree, happy time for them. They have an obscure concept of what is ahead of them, and they subconsciously find it unpleasant. Therefore, they don’t ask questions and they do what they can to hide from the truth: if the ugly fact has to be confronted one day, why not just wait until the day come? The characters behaviors and thoughts speak to the reader that, for them, ignorance is bliss.

Leaders and Followers

In this world, there leaders, and then there are followers. In the world of Hailsham, this sort of dichotomy decides social status. In Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, Never Let Me Go, the students of Hailsham consistently conform to the standards oFollow The Leaderf whomever they consider to be a leader, and they avoid questioning too often, thus losing the opportunity to gain valuable information and knowledge about the world around them. Thus, by definition, the vast majority of Hailsham students are, by definition, followers. This especially true for Ruth and Kathy, but doesn’t quite ring true for Tommy, who traditionally filled the role of social outcast at Hailsham. However, when Ruth began dating Tommy, and the three were sent to the Cottages after their time at Hailsham, their stories became permanently intertwined. Continue reading

Seeking Truth to Find Motivation

Seeking truth is difficult. We know this through our own lives when we flee from confrontation and clarification. In fleeing from facing truth, we flee from discomfort or “awkward” situations. For the characters of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, this discomfort is rooted in the possibility that as organ donors, they are constantly judged on how they are like “inside…reveal[ing their] soul[s]” based on their artwork (Ishiguro 175). We see such tendency to avoid confronting truth through Kath’s response to Tommy’s theory that the artworks are designed to keep a track record of their capability to love. In particular, her efforts to divert from reaching the cold truth are accentuated when she realizes the extremely low chance of Tommy’s deferral, according to the theory. Prior to this realization, Kath still asks for further detail about the theory, asking questions like “so what are you getting at?” and nodding in agreement (175-176). However, once it strikes her that because Tommy hasn’t been chosen for his artwork, ever, she convinces him and herself about the flaws of the theory. She says, “maybe the art’s just one out of all kinds of different ways” (177). Even when she ponders the fact that the Madame watching her dancing to the song Never Let Me Go further confirms Tommy’s theory, she oversimplifies this by saying “I was just thinking over what you said, that’s all” (177). Important to note is that inherent to avoiding truth is lingering ambiguity.

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Often we deny, reject and suppress truth because it discomforts us. Tommy does so in response to Miss Lucy’s urge to accept the importance of art and Kath does so in response to Tommy’s theory of why the Gallery is pivotal to their survival. This rejection of truth prevents progression to motivation to alter the consequences.(https://ifunny.co/tags/rejecting/1424795240)

Through Tommy’s effort to discover the purpose behind the artworks, he is motivated to start creating his own artwork (187). In other words, by confronting the truth that his theory leads to his very low chance of deferral, he finds motivation to try to survive by creating whatever artwork he can. This is ironic because previously he had avoided creating artwork to socially survive; he had found comfort in denying the pressure to produce art, and possible reasons to do so. By creating a marked shift in Tommy’s efforts and products, the novel points to the fact that a confrontation to truth and reality is necessary to define our own goals in life. Prior to the formulation of his theory about the Gallery, Tommy avoids thinking about artwork, apparent through his apathetic responses to Miss Lucy’s warning. While Miss Lucy constantly pushes him to accept that artwork “is important”, he repeats, “It’ll be alright, Miss” (108-109). This very act demonstrates his flee from truth and discomfort from regret in not having done art his whole life, and the possibly threatening consequences. In this scene, ambiguity as to why the artwork may be important and what function the Gallery serves is highly ambiguous. Further, Tommy does not have goals in life than simply walking the path paved for them as organ donors. However, when Tommy comes up with the purpose and importance of art, he produces ingenious artwork himself. He fights to survive, “draw[ing] with obsessive precision” (187). In such ways, the novel highlights the difference between passively accepting a given future, marked by ambiguity and flee from discovering truth, and actively hoping for a different future, achieved only after truth is (somewhat, through active theorizing) revealed. In sum, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go points at the necessity of clearing ambiguity and seeking truth even when it leads to discomfort because it is only after understanding true consequences that we find motivation to take control of our own lives– to do whatever we can to work future to our favor.

Works Cited

Ishiguro, Kazuo. “Part Two.” Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Art and Humanity

In Never Let Me Go, art serves as the symbol for “true” humanity and as a mechanism to inspire and persuade the masses. Throughout the novel, readers are gradually shown how art is considered crucial to the development of humans, particularly for love. For example, Tommy says, “She told Roy that things like pictures, poetry, all that kind of stuff, she said they revealed what you were like inside. She said they revealed your sou.” (130). Tommy hypothesizes that art serves as proof for authorities that the love between two people is real. Tommy here reveals a fundamental theme of the novel; creativity and the ability to imagine and create is what ultimately characterizes humans as themselves, and art serves as a mechanism of displaying this creativity.

Readers can see this concept particularly in the evolution of Tommy’s drawing. He moves from drawing out childish elephants to saying, “If you make them tiny, and you have to because the pages are only about this big, then everything changes. It’s like they come to life by themselves.” (187). Tommy has the idea that drawing things smaller is what makes them “come to life,” a phenomenon showing his ability to think on the next level. Rather than drawing on the most basic dimension, Tommy now expresses his desire to Kathy to create material that was previously unknown. Here, we see Tommy thinking for himself and trying to express himself originally. It’s not simply the ability to create, but rather the ability to imagine that differentiates him from others at Hailsham.

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In fact, the ability to create is what can particularly inspire and move the masses. Miss Emily explains, “That was why we collected your art. We selected the best of it and put on special exhibitions…’There, look!’ we could say. ‘Look at this art! How dare you claim these children are anything less than fully human?’” (230). Evident in this statement is the idea that even the simple concept of art entails a special ability to create, and this ability, according to Miss Emily, is what characterizes people as human. The fact that Hailsham students were engaging in art was enough to convince others that they were human.

However, Tommy’s art shows us the dichotomy in Miss Emily and Hailsham’s version of art and his idea. Hailsham simply uses the “idea” of art and this ability to create as a propaganda measure for proving “humanness.” What Tommy does instead—try to imagine and create and see art as a metaphor for love—is far more representative of humanness than the idea that Miss Emily and Hailsham propagandize. Thus, art in the novel serves as the line dividing “real” humanness from the fake one and shows readers how the ability to imagine, not simply draw, is what characterizes humans as themselves.

Ignorance Maintained By Conformity

In Never Let Me Go, the contrast between Ruth’s behavior and Tommy and Kathy’s behavior at the Cottages reveals that conformity perpetuates ignorance, preventing people from exploring provocative ideas that can allow them to improve their lives.

At the Cottages, Ruth tries to conform to the behaviors established by the veterans in order to seem mature and wise. For example, the veteran couples use special gestures when interacting with each other; Kathy discovers that “when [she] arrived, it was what was going on and Ruth was soon doing it to Tommy” (121). Despite the fact that the gestures were artificial and copied from TV shows, Ruth still mimics the behavior because she wants to fit in with the veteran couples. Viewing the veterans as mature role models, she does not question their behavior and is unable to realize the meaninglessness of her actions.

Is what you see the truth? (storify.com)

In contrast, Kathy is observant and questions the veterans’ behaviors. For example, Kathy realizes that the gestures are copied from the TV and confronts Ruth about mimicking Chrissie and Rodney’s gestures, saying, “It’s not what people really do out there, in normal life” (124). Kathy realizes that rather than appearing wise and mature, Ruth is behaving in meaningless, silly ways by conforming to the veteran’s artificially contrived behaviors. While life at the Cottages is meant to expose them to “normal life,” Ruth’s attempts at conformity prevent her from obtaining a realistic perspective into how “normal” humans live, causing her to remain ignorant about her role as a clone and how different her life is compared to “normal” couples.

When Chrissie and Rodney bring up the rumor of deferrals for Hailsham students, Ruth again tries to gain their acceptance by lying about having heard of the deferrals at Hailsham. As a result, Chrissie and Rodney become “convinced [Hailsham students] know all about it” even though “no one said anything like that at Hailsham” (174). By conforming to Chrissie and Rodney’s expectations, Ruth prevents Chrissie and Rodney from learning the truth that the deferrals never existed at Hailsham. As a result, the veterans have false expectations and hopes and blindly obsess over the possibility of deferrals without exploring other alternatives.

Conformity leads nowhere (www.psych2go.net)

Tommy, unlike Ruth, directly rejects the rumor, saying “I don’t remember anything like that at Hailsham” (155). He instead reflects back on his experiences at Hailsham, realizing “there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense back then” (174), in order to try to uncover more information about the rumor and about Hailsham. Tommy’s unwillingness to conform allows him to think critically about whether deferrals could actually be possible. By attempting to “make sense” of his past at Hailsham, Tommy is reflective and perceptive, unlike Ruth who is narrow-minded and dismissive. Thus, conformity prevents people from perceiving and reflecting on new ideas that can offer knowledge about their identity and purpose in life.

Deceptive Bliss

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, ignorance is temporary bliss, a distraction and a delay from confronting the horrifying realities the students face. The purpose of ignorance in the novel for Hailsham is to prevent the social structure from descending into chaos, as the students would have no motivation to even live after coming to terms with their identity.

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Hailsham is responsible for brainwashing its students to be ignorant, thinking it would be the best for them. However, this manufactured ignorance only aggravates their eventual destruction and anguish. Photo from: http://www.educationviews.org/sexuality-gender-brainwashing-masquerading-anti-bullying-program/

By this point of the novel, Miss Lucy has revealed the concept of donations to the students, so the students are not truly ignorant of their true identities. However, they are ignorant in their programmed psychological self-distractions that delay their realization of the harsh truth that they are merely organ donors. However, Hailsham students nonetheless “didn’t think much about [their] lives beyond the Cottages” since they are trained psychologically to forget about their realities as organ donors (116). This is because Hailsham assigned the students to write essays on “a topic that would absorb [them] properly for anything up to two year” (115). The purpose of these essays is to distract the students from fully confronting their pitiful situations as organ donors. This essay assignment “will pop into [Kathy’s] head for no reason. Then [she] quite enjoy[s] sitting there, going through it all again,” thus proving Hailsham’s embedding of this mental distraction into the psychology of its students (116). Even in the setting of the Cottages, the students lived in a “cosy state of suspension in which [they] could ponder [their] lives without the usual boundaries,” showing that bliss can never be obtained without inquiring into one’s condition (143). The characters are dissatisfied without knowledge of their identity, as Ruth “responded only in sulky monosyllables” on her way to Norfolk (148).

Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy all soon face angst in determining their own reasons to keep living this life that has been set out for them. For instance, Kathy flips through magazines in an effort to find her possible, “check[ing] each model’s face before moving on” to the next one (135). She also admits later on that this habit is “just something [she] does” (181). Ruth scours Norfolk for her possible in order to “glimpse [her] future” (140) and gain “some insight into who [she was] deep down” (140). Characters in the novel instinctually search for their identity, since humans are naturally only concern with their selves, and seek for knowledge into their current condition. The teachers at Hailsham are able to realize this and made the decision to shelter the students from many harsh realities. However, they failed to account that ignorance inevitably builds up to “something dark and troubling gathering behind [the] eyes” of students (194). Thus in this case, the proposed remedy has made the sickness worse, as building a false sense of hope has proved disastrous for Hailsham students.

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Ignorance created by the Hailsham teachers only leads students onward to eventual heartbreak, defeat, and a fall into utter hopelessness. Photo from: http://whidbeycamanoislands.com/things-to-do/heritage/history-of deception-pass-bridge/

Through ignorance, the society of Hailsham is able to allow the students to pursue the unachievable ideal of a human life. However, this form of ignorance only serves to distract the students from facing reality, and help the characters “have a bit of fun pretending” or misconstruing their realities in order to satisfy themselves (166). The students merely live in a bubble with a fake sense of comfort, and it is ultimately themselves who choose to break the bubble with their own curiosity. This paradox of an environment drives a temporary feeling of bliss, of pretending to know certain matters that are clearly false. Thus, ignorance in the novel serves to build up for the eventual heartbreak and downfall of the characters and their relationships.

Citations:

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage Books, 2005. Print.

Photos from:

Island County Historical Society. Guss, Elizabeth. “Deception Pass Bridge – Today and Yesterday.” Whidbey and Camano Islands. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Donnelly, Gregg. “Sexuality and Gender Brainwashing Masquerading as an Anti-bullying Program.” Education News. N.p., 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Ignorance Perpetuates Injustice

For the students in Hailsham, they believe that ignorance is bliss. For us as readers, we recognize how this ignorance is in fact not bliss. Through the students’ ignorance of their purpose in life, we see how the students themselves perpetuate the society that uses them solely for organ donation. Though it is easy to accept and conform to the lifestyle designated upon one at birth, the novel suggests that it is always better to seek truth to prevent unethical practices from continuing.

Many of the students from Hailsham did not question the institution of Hailsham, life after Hailsham, their greater meaning of their life—and this might have been because they did not want to know the answers. Thus, most of them chose to give the benefit of the doubt, having “dream futures” they “didn’t regard…as fantasy” (142). This ounce of hope brought happiness and joy to them in the short time they lived before completing which is not necessarily a bad thing. The students took refuge in this “cosy state of suspension” where they discarded everything that the guardians taught them and dreamed about the possibilities of their lives (143). Even when they were told that they would be organ donors, they repressed the knowledge sometimes because they wanted to return to the blissful state of not knowing their futures. For them, ignorance is bliss because the knowledge is a burden.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” -Confucius

However, by examining how this ignorance allowed the continuation of unethical practices, the readers recognize how the novel suggests that this seeking truth is necessary for equality and righteousness. The ignorance that the students sought contributed to the perpetuation of social injustices. Because the students never wanted to believe they were created solely for organ donation, they never challenged this practice and instead held on to the shred of hope that their lives had greater meaning. Even when Ruth “knew all along it was stupid”, she was still hopeful that she would find her possible for a glimpse at her hypothetical future (166). The students repressed the knowledge that possibles do not indicate anything in their futures because they wanted so hard to believe that they themselves could one day hold an office job, or a supermarket worker. However, though they find solace in this belief, ultimately it is detrimental—their hopes will be destroyed, they will donate then complete, and this unethical system will continue on for future generations. On the contrary, if they acknowledged that they were created for organ donation, perhaps they could find a way to cease this practice of clones. This concept can be applied to our society since there may be practices we are unwilling to accept and believe that they don’t exist or are not harmful, but it is this ignorance exactly that allows these practices to continue.

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Scene from Never Let Me Go (2010) when Ruth discovers her possible is not actually her possible and is filled with disappointment.