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.
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.
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.