Art as the Test for Being Human

In Never Let Me Go, students at Hailsham are taught to utilize their creativity to create their best work. If the work (a drawing, poetry, or anything similar) is deemed exceptional, then a woman named Madame takes the work to an unknown location for an unknown reason to the students. In the first part of the novel, Miss Lucy initially soothes Tommy by telling him that he does not need to be creative, but she later rescinds this statement. Tommy, consequently, lags significantly behind his peers at Hailsham and at the Cottages in terms of how many works he has created and how many of his works have been taken to the Gallery.

Interestingly enough, Tommy is the one who gives the reader a hint about the art’s true purpose when he explains his theory to Kathy at Norfolk: “Suppose two people come up and say they’re in love. She can find the art they’ve done over years and years. She can see if they go” (176). In Tommy’s theory, we see the synthesis of two nebulous aspects about Hailsham producing a cogent hypothesis. The first aspect deals with why Hailsham students are pressured to create art; the second concerns the rumor that Hailsham students are special because they can delay their fate of becoming donors by having a serious relationship with another Hailsham student. Tommy’s theory suggests that art is used as evidence to determine whether or not two Hailsham students are truly in love or whether they are simply trying to avoid their fates.

Tommy’s theory is the main argument about the purpose of art found in Never Let Me Go in part two, and it points to some interesting ideas about human value. Even though art can supposedly show whether two people are meant to be together, the art still has to be judged. Tommy suggests that “[Madame] could decide for herself what’s a good match and what’s just a stupid crush” (176). Importantly, it is not the art that objectively makes the decision, it is Madame’s subjectivity that ultimately leads to a conclusion. This suggests that an outsider can judge the relationship between two people and seem to have a more accurate idea about the reality than the partners do themselves. Moreover, the students’ art is created in their childhood; judging two people’s adult life based on their childhood efforts emphasizes the idea that the children that are meant to be donors are static individuals. That is, because their futures have been decided, the students cannot change and are not really people who grow and adapt to their surroundings.


Are Hailsham students actually static?

If donors aren’t seen as totally human, then why is there the option for Hailsham students to delay their donation? One can infer that any individual student does not constitute a person but that the combination of two Hailsham students does lead to humanity. This matching of two students has nothing to do with birth or population because the donors biologically cannot have children. Thus, the option to delay donation if there is love implies that to be human means to be something more than just an individual. Being human consists of relating to another human being. This focus on ties rather than individuals is present throughout the novel because Hailsham students are encouraged to stick together and retain their ties to Hailsham. Kathy is adamant about keeping her old friends close and repeatedly tries to prevent Ruth from changing too much.

In short, art is used as evidence to show that two Hailsham students truly love each other which shows that they are indeed humans. However, this understanding of art is solely based off of Tommy’s theory, but Tommy’s theory is certainly the most believable explanation given in the book. If true, the theory suggests that the students at Hailsham are static individuals who only have value if they are partnered with another Hailsham student.



One thought on “Art as the Test for Being Human

  1. Hi Saad,

    I thought the part where you discuss how “it is Madame’s subjectivity that ultimately leads to a conclusion” is especially intriguing because it demonstrates the lack of control that the students in Hailsham ultimately hold: despite their best efforts to create art, Madame—a person who does not know them personally and does not attempt to—deems whether their art is valuable or not. The other idea you bring up—that “judging two people’s adult life based on their childhood efforts emphasizes the idea that the children are meant to be donors are static individuals”—is also very interesting because art, usually regarded as a form of self-expression, now prevents individualism. The dilemma over the purpose of the art also begs the question: what qualifies Madame to have the authority to determine the students’ fate based on art they created in their childhood? Furthermore, an individual’s art is not enough to defer becoming an organ donor; it must be combined with another person’s art to be considered, thus suggesting that an individual holds no value on his or her own.

    According to Tommy’s theory, then, the criteria of being human has expanded from being able to produce art to having the capacity to form genuine human relationships. However, even if a student expresses love for another through art, they may not be considered for a deferral due to Madame’s subjective judging. There is also a chance that Tommy’s theory is simply not true—Madame may see the students as clones, rather than humans, despite their art. Ultimately, despite having the chance to produce art and prove their humanity/human worth, the students at Hailsham still have no autonomy or independence because their fates have already been predetermined.


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