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 of 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.
Ruth in particular tended to follow whatever was considered the social norms of whatever place she was living in. At the Cottages, Ruth attempted to model her relationship after Chrissie and Rodney’s relationship, despite the fact that those sorts of relationship practices were not followed at Hailsham, where Tommy and Ruth’s relationship began. Even at the Cottages, many of the relationship behaviors used came from television. In fact, the veterans at the Cottages were conforming to another societal standard themselves. On page 120, Kathy “noticed about these veteran couples at the cottages—something Ruth, for all her close study of them, failed to spot—and this was how so many of their mannerisms were copied from the television.” Kathy, in turn, was a follower of Ruth. Ruth was always a clique leader at Hailsham, and that role translated to the Cottages, at least for Kathy. On page 194, Ruth tried to tell Tommy that Kathy thought his animal drawings were a poor idea. She even says, “It’s not just me, sweety. Kathy here finds your animals a complete hoot.” Ruth is a special case in the novel, since she is at once both a leader and a follower. She is a leader in that many of her peers defer to her in order to know what their own opinion should be and how to act, but she is also a follower since almost none of her behaviors are self-created or original. Kathy even chose to leave the Cottages once other students started to leave, as “more and more students were going off to be carers, and among [her] old Hailsham crowd, there was a growing feeling that this was the natural course to follow.” (197).
Tommy, however, frequently defied social norms. This started at Hailsham, where he would have temper tantrums and never have his artwork picked for the gallery. This led to him becoming somewhat of a social outcast. However later, when Ruth decided that he was yet again acceptable and they began to date, he retained some of his independence. This led to Tommy being one of the few true leaders in the novel. For example, on page 167, Chrissie, Rodney, Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy were visiting Norfolk to try to see Ruth’s possible. They ended up deciding to split when half the group went to visit an old Cottage veteran. Kathy didn’t want to go visit this old veteran, but was unable to say no alone. It took Tommy to decide them, when he said, “I’ll stay with Kath. If we’re splitting, then I’ll stay with Kath.” This scene shows the reader that it is quite difficult for the characters to act independently, especially alone, but that there is strength in numbers. However, Tommy is one of the few characters in the novel who is able to act on his own.
Another issue in the novel is that the characters are unwilling to question the world around them. By not questioning, they lose out on valuable opportunities to gain knowledge about the world around them. For example, when they try to find Ruth’s possible, Chrissie says, “Well, I think we’re agreed, aren’t we? That isn’t Ruth.” (164). Chrissie makes this conclusion without actually having questioned Ruth’s possible, and does not know that the possible is not Ruth’s genetic origin. She fails to question the woman or investigate further. Rather, the group gives up as soon as they get the chance to meet or question the woman. This results in a lost opportunity to gain knowledge for them. Earlier in the book, Hailsham students would get mad at each other for asking questions, such as the case of Marge of page 68. Marge tried to ask Miss Lucy if she had ever smoked, and in return, the students tried to
make “Marge’s life and utter misery,” (68). By not asking questions, the characters remain in the dark about many things, and thus the readers, who may be more inclined to ask questions than the characters, are also left with very little information about what the Hailsham students even are.
Overall, the way in which the characters in Never Let Me Go behave lead them to be categorized as leaders, followers, or in the case of Ruth, both. Their behavior also leads them away from asking important questions about their existence and the realities around them. Thus, the characters create for themselves a world of ignorance. In their minds, ignorance may allow for bliss, but it is unknown how their ignorance will affect them once they leave the protection of the cottage.