Forced Silence

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, the children often perpetuate ignorance by pretending that they live separate lives than the fates that have been forced upon them. In a similar vein, unspoken taboo in current, American society can prevent satisfaction in life from being achieved. The suppression of this speech is not strictly forbidden, but it is enforced through social contract, which at times can be stricter than laws that forbid activities.

This social enforcement of maintaining an understanding silence permeates a variety of aspects of life at both Hailsham and at the Cottage. However, when this understanding is broken, either by intent or by ignorance, the tension is visibly presented in the novel. For example, when Kathy directly asks about the life of a veteran after his stay at the Cottage, “there was a silence…there was a bit of shifting” (150). This reveals the awkwardness that prohibits a greater understanding of the situation. Additionally, when Ruth brazenly pretends to have knowledge of a subject that others realize that she does not, “there was an unspoken agreement to allow for a mysterious dimension” (123). This allows for facts to go unchecked and the perpetuation of ignorance and misinformation. Furthermore, Kathy imagines that there are two Ruths, a fake one and a real one. She assumes that “these two Ruths wouldn’t merge,” and thus, Kathy does not ever question Ruth about these two identities that she seems to possess (129).  However, when Kathy does bring up a topic to the ‘fake’ Ruth that was revealed to her by the ‘real’ Ruth, there are social consequences, and their friendship is strained. This strict social regime that prevents information from being revealed may be characteristic of teenage social life; however, for these children, it may be detrimental to the happiness that they gain out of life.

The presence of hidden, underlying truths that nobody approaches because of the fear of social backlash prevents a broader understanding of many pertinent topics in the lives of the children. Talks of life outside of Hailsham and the Cottage is quickly hushed up; people who leave the community are rarely talked about; even the opportunity to escape the donation stage of life for  few years, is mishandled and untruthful. This causes the children to suffer, because they are not able to maximize the utility from their short lives. By presenting this complex, social taboo, Ishiguro implies that the taboos in our current society may also be detrimental to our wellbeing.

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

To Seek or Ignore the Truth?

Part 1 of Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go describes the life of Kathy beginning with her times at Hailsham which in later parts starts to describes her times in the Cottages and ultimately as a carer. As we learn about this society, there are many mysteries which are left unanswered such as the requirement to be creative and the potential of clones. Through these mysteries, Never Let Me Go brings up the idea that people will decide to seek or ignore the truth depending on which is more beneficial for their individual gain.

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To seek or ignore the truth?

For example, throughout the time at Hailsham, all of the students were pressured to be gifted in the arts and creativity. If you were not a creative student, like Tommy, you were looked down upon. However, in one instance, Miss Lucy states that creativity is not truly needed to be successful which brought further questions in the minds of the students at Hailsham which she later denies. This change in answers drives Tommy to continue to seek out the actual truth over the years. All of the mystery surrounding creativity acts as the main motivating factor behind searching for the truth. Tommy’s innate curiosity spurs the movement towards discovery. For example, Tommy later hypothesizes based upon rumors that “things like pictures, poetry, all that kind of stuff […] revealed your soul” (Ishiguro 175). If two people were truly in love, they would be able to defer their donations. However, Tommy becomes disappointed when he finally realizes the actual truth; the large emphasis on the arts was mainly due to trying to make these clones more human than they actually are. By instilling this creativity within the clones, the guardians at Hailsham attempt to make the clones appear more human.  

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The imaginary animals Tommy continues to draw as he strives understand the true purpose of creativity

However, for others, people will decide to ignore the truth in order to better themselves. For example, in regards to the ideas of donations and cloning leading to the advancement of science and the discovery of new cures allowed for the general public to ignore where these organs came from. They solely were interested in the idea that “their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neuron shadows” (Ishiguro 263). People’s care for the own desires trumps their curiosity. People decide when the truth really is important or if it is better to ignore the truth for their own good. For example, if the general public were to not turn a blind eye to these children who are raised for the sole purpose of organ donations, they may feel bad for the children which would not be beneficial to them. So their solution is to completely ignore reality and live in this world of ignorance instead. 

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Ignoring the truth of the source of organ donations

As a whole, Never Let Me Go highlights the idea that humans are selfishly driven. They will decide to search or ignore the truth depending on which is better for the individual situation.

 

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.

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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.

 

Ignorance: Wasted Time and Unnecessary Conflicts

In Never Let Me Go, there are many unspoken topics and secrets. The knowledge of the kids at Hailsham and the Cottages is very limited, which encourages them to make their own theories and explanations. Therefore, ignorance is not bliss in Hailsham. The kids’ ignorance leads to a lot of wasted time and uncertainty. There is no consistency in the society of Never Let Me Go because there are constant holes in the kids’ knowledge about many topics.

Some of the kids in Hailsham and the Cottages believe in the idea of having a possible. Possibles are defined as “the people who might have been the models for you and your friends” (139). They believe that finding their possible will give them an insight into what their future could look like. In the second part of the reading, Ruth, Tommy, Kathy, Chrissie, and Rodney take a trip to Norfolk with a goal of finding Ruth’s possible that Rodney claimed that he saw. However, the whole idea of finding your possible and why you would try to find your possible is unclear to the five of them. In frustration, Ruth says, “If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter. You look in rubbish bins. Look down in the toilet, that’s where you’ll find where we all came from” (166). Not fully understanding the idea of a possible creates frustration in Ruth, leading her to make her own conclusions out of anger. Ruth is applying her conclusion that she made out of anger to all Hailsham kids. She states that all of them originated from trash. Ruth’s ignorance about their origins leads to unnecessary anger and an awkward atmosphere in the car ride. Also, the five of them spent a lot of the day in Norfolk finding and following Ruth’s possible. Similar to the situation with Ruth and possibles, Tommy also makes his own theory about what art is used as evidence for (174-175). Because the kids do not know why Madame takes their art and puts it into her gallery, Tommy puts pieces together and creates his own theory. He assumes that Madame takes their art and puts it into her gallery so that she has evidence for whether or not two people are truly in love. If their art matches, then it means the two are truly lovers.

There are so many things that are unclear in Hailsham. In the novel, ignorance creates uncertainty, which leads to inconsistency. The topics that are not fully explained in Hailsham are still somewhat explained (like what art is used for), which creates many holes in the Hailsham kids’ knowledge. Because of this, there is a constant state of caution throughout the kids. The holes in their knowledge force them to always be careful about what they talk about since the topics that have holes in them are usually forbidden topics. The ignorance in Hailsham just leads to wasted time thinking about what could be. A lot of the kids’ time is used trying to put pieces together and creating explanations for unexplained topics. Also, ignorance leads to conflict because sometimes a theory of one person might not be accepted by another. For example, Tommy came up with a theory about their art being used as evidence for whether or not two lovers are actually in love (174-178). However, when Tommy tells Ruth about his theory, Ruth completely shuts his idea down, which ends up creating tension in the friendship of Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy (194). In this novel, ignorance does not do anyone any good, for it can lead to wasted time and unnecessary conflicts between good friends.

Sources:

  1. Possible picture: http://sr.photos3.fotosearch.com/bthumb/CSP/CSP992/k12979861.jpg
  2. Art picture: https://d1ee3oaj5b5ueh.cloudfront.net/2013/11/528c9d9c57565.jpeg
  3. Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Truth and Relationships

Never Let Me Go portrays Ruth and Kathy as best friends, each privy to the other’s thoughts and emotions. However, in part two of the novel, their relationship begins to unravel as their priorities change: Ruth is focused on impressing the veterans, while Kathy is interested in understanding the truth behind Hailsham’s purpose. Using metaphors and syntax, Never Let Me Go presents the interactions between Ruth and Kathy to undermine the notion that relationships are built on trust; thus, to successfully seek truth, an individual must be willing to forgo relationships even if doing so causes discomfort.

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Is Kathy merely a pawn at Ruth’s disposal?

Despite Kathy and Ruth being best friends, the power dynamics in their relationship are largely unbalanced: Kathy often defers to Ruth, who uses that knowledge to manipulate Kathy and maintain control. However, Kathy questions Ruth’s behavior when she asks Ruth, “‘Why do you always hit Tommy [Ruth’s boyfriend] on the arm like that when you’re saying goodbye? You know what I mean’” (123). The short syntax of “You know what I mean” reflects Kathy’s direct confronting of Ruth in order to find out the truth. Kathy also points out that Ruth’s actions are not representative of “normal life” (124) and that Ruth is blindly copying Chrissie and Rodney, two veterans that Ruth is trying to impress. However, Kathy immediately realizes that she had “made a mistake…It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to” (124). Kathy’s acknowledgement that she “made a mistake” indicates the power Ruth has over her because Kathy is much more likely to apologize than Ruth is. Furthermore, by comparing her relationship with Ruth to a chess game, Kathy reveals the calculated scheming underlying their so-called friendship: both Kathy and Ruth are hyper-aware of each “move in chess” they make. Kathy is also constantly in “this panic” because Ruth does not offer any real stability and constancy. Thus, when Ruth lashes back with an intimate detail Kathy had confided in her about, Kathy walks “off without another word” (125).

However, Kathy remains friends with Ruth because Ruth is still her closest confidant. Although there are other instances in which Kathy calls Ruth out (for example, when Ruth pretends to have forgotten certain aspects of Hailsham), Kathy’s desire to help Ruth outweighs her seeking of the truth—when Ruth encourages the incorrect idea that Hailsham offers its inhabitants special privileges, Kathy plays along with her ruse. Furthermore, when Tommy tells Kathy about his Gallery theory (that art can be used as evidence for love) and Ruth makes fun of it, Kathy is unable to stand up for Tommy. Due to the nature of her relationship with Ruth, Kathy does not definitively expose Ruth’s lies and manipulation. Ultimately, Kathy’s search for truth remains unfinished because her relationship with Ruth takes precedence.

References:

  1. Chess (http://wallpaperswide.com/chess_game_3-wallpapers.html)
  2. Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Culture of Silence: Ignorance is Not Bliss

In Kazuo Ishigaro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, ignorance is not bliss as the failure to explicitly and directly address the identity and lives of the children who grew up in Hailsham creates a dual reality in which the societal members experience discomfort for which they are unable to attribute cause, which suggests for our society that choosing to ignore reality does not eliminate the consequences but prevents adequate diagnosis and treatment.

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The novel is introduced from Kathy’s perspective and from her we learn a lot about the society’s publically undiscussed topics. Unmentioned topics include sex, becoming carers, donations, and now “possibles” (Ishiguro 139). Kathy explains, “Since each of us was copied at some point from a normal person, there must be, for each of us, somewhere out there, a model getting on with his or her life” (Ishiguro 139). We are just now learning that the children from Hailsham are cloned individuals and that their ‘possibles’ are the normal individuals from which the children were cloned. It is remarkable that Kathy seems to mention this just by chance due to the sighting of Ruth’s possible and that this is just accepted without any critical examination by Kathy. She does not make the logical leap that she was cloned to be an organ reservoir for her possible and that this is the reason for her existence. She doesn’t consider the meaningfulness of this information. Kathy simply mentions it in passing and admits that it is not something that is discussed. To simply ignore this reality that she lives in does not make her life blissful in any meaningful way. Yes, perhaps it would be discomforting to acknowledge the cruel reality of life but to fail to acknowledge one’s identity and reality will not change the consequences but rather limit ability to act. Instead of experiencing discomfort from recognition of their reality, the children from Hailsham go on to experience trouble from the consequences of donating their organs and discomfort from creating a culture in which many things are not discussed. Kathy experiences substantial discomfort when Ruth breaks the unspoken rule to not use secrets as weapons in their fights (Ishiguro 129). In this case the culture of silence directly creates discomfort due to failure to discuss leading to unrealistic expectations. Certainly this failure to discuss issues of importance is something that we can find in our personal lives and in our own society in many areas such as race relations, climate change, and economic inequality. Ignorance is certainly not bliss as failure to address these issues carries real consequences.

 

Literature Cited:

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

Blog Prompt for Week 15

As I mentioned in class, your final blog post will be based on the discussion questions you formulated in your groups. Keep in mind that this post should be based on the reading due for next Tuesday (11/29). Also, don’t choose your own question–challenge yourself to answer another group’s question in order to expand your thinking on the novel.

Here are the prompts you guys came up with today:

  • What evidence in the novel points to how the children perpetuate the conformity of Hailsham? How do they prevent information from being revealed? What opportunities do they lose in the process?
  • What is art being used as evidence for?
  • Is ignorance bliss in Hailsham? Are the kids truly ignorant of their true identities? What role does ignorance play in the novel?
  • What does the novel suggest about seeking truth even if it may lead to discomfort?

Happy blogging and, more importantly, happy Thanksgiving!

Little Acts of Vengeance

“Then I find I’m not ashamed at all. I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there. I hope they get hard at the sight of us and have to rub themselves against the painted barriers, surreptitiously. They will suffer, later, at night, in their regimented beds. They have no outlets now except themselves, and that’s a sacrilege. There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow, walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating shapes.” (40)

In this passage, the anger and resentment that lies beneath the surface in Offred is brought to the forefront, as she engages in what would be considered scandalous behavior and justifies it. Offred’s candid diction and angered tone help readers understand the resentment she feels toward her situation, which seem to foreshadow a larger rebellion taking place within her.

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Offred begins by saying “I’m not ashamed at all,” showing her blatant lack of remorse at flirting with the guards who are similarly a product of the society they live in and are in charge of opening the gates to the place she considers hell. What is surprising is Offred acknowledges her “power” in this situation, which she normally lacks in this society, where she only possesses a “freedom from” but not a “freedom to.” Normally not being in control of her life seems to have enabled her to recognize the situations in which she does have some power, especially concerning people socially ranked below her, such as the guards. Thus, it is interesting that she says, “I enjoy the power” and uses the metaphor of a dog bone to describe the way in which she reels in the guards by their sexual desires.

As readers, we get a sense of Offred’s anger and resentment toward her situation as she describes her desire of watching the guards suffer. She says, “They have no outlet now besides themselves, which is a sacrilege.” Offred recognizes not only the power she holds, but she chooses to use this power to make those around her suffer. This latter part is the one in which we as readers are enlightened to her absolute hatred and loath towards her situation and her desire to take vengeance in the smallest way possible, even if it is by engaging the sexual desires of those she is forbidden to interact with. Offred’s tone thus points to her rebellious nature and seems to shadow an uprising she may lead later on in the novel. This seems to become evident in her reference to herself as a “retreating shape,” or one that is gone for now but will come back later to strike.

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Reversing the Control

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing. (Atwood 135)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood “speculates” a society in which the structure of freedom rights is reversed from what America accepts today. If our society is structured to emphasize the freedom for citizens to act how they wish with less concern for the consequences of one’s actions, Atwood’s depicted society is structured against citizens acting however they wish in order to provide a “freedom” from the worry of the consequences of one’s actions. In order to accomplish such a structure, Atwood’s society diminishes much of women’s freedom of choice and seems to place most of the power in the hands of the men, creating a hierarchy of power. In the passage above, Offred has a moment of reflection in which she forms a conclusion that goes against the structure of the society illustrated by Atwood as a way to fight internally against the basis of the society she lives in.

Offred first defines that what she is reflecting about is the power dynamic exchanged between two individuals. She considers both those with power, “who can own… who can do,” and those without power, who are owned or acted upon. The relationship between the two is shown through the use of symmetric sentence structure in this passage. The short sentences in the beginning and end and the two parallel sentences in the middle with “[m]aybe it isn’t” show an exchange. However, this seemingly symmetric structure is interrupted when Offred interjects with what “it is about,” making a symbolic break in society’s hierarchy structure.

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An exchange between those with power and those without power

One of the most obvious devices of this excerpt is the repetition of the word “maybe” at the beginning of each sentence. This word is intimately related to the action of speculation. In this short reflection, Offred is speculating a different society than the one she lives in, without the hierarchy of control. By speculating this different society, she tries to create a new world for herself in which perhaps she is in control.

This passage as a whole begins by arguing against the fact that control is what defines Offred’s society. Offred lists examples of what society “isn’t about,” all of which depict a comparison between those with power, who perform actions, and those without control that are acted upon. By dismissing this comparison between those with power and those without, she again defies the basic structure of power in society. Near the end of this reflection, she chooses to put importance in action of forgiveness. Forgiveness opposes the idea of “get[ting] away with it,” which defines her current society. Her decision to put importance on forgiveness brings power to those “without power” because only those “acted upon” can forgive others, while those “acting upon others” must receive forgiveness. Thus, the role of those acting and those acted upon, in this case, are reversed, effectively creating a society with a reversed power dynamic in Offred’s own world.

 

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/vveUXPW3VZQ/maxresdefault.jpg

Mass Media: Informant or Indoctrinator?

“The anchorman comes on now… What he’s telling us, his level smile implies, is for our own good. Everything will be all right soon. I promise. There will be peace. You must trust. You must go to sleep, like good children. He tells us what we long to believe. He’s very convincing. I struggle against him. He’s like an old movie star, I tell myself, with false teeth and a face job. At the same time, I sway towards him, like one hypnotized. If only it were true. If only I could believe.” (Atwood 83)

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale continually explores the subject of government control. As the reader attempts to understand how the society came to be, he/she looks to the information propagated by the leaders in Gilead.

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Acting akin to a parent, the media can ‘spoon-feed’ information to the viewer.

Atwood uses anchorman’s dialogue to show the government-sponsored infantilization of the populace. The anchorman uses short, simple syntax as one would use to talk to a small child. He even requests that they act “like good children,” submitting to the government’s parental-like authority. Just as children are taught to not question their parents when they make decisions on the children’s behalf, so too is the populace told that they “must trust” in the government. The anchorman tells them “I promise,” as if he carried a sort of credibility. The people must trust because the anchorman says so.

To contrast with the anchorman’s message, Atwood uses complex syntax when Offred is thinking for herself. This is similar to throughout the entire novel, as thought is portrayed as Offred’s primary means of defiance. Every other chapter is “Night,” describing how Offred attempts to remember the past, giving her hope that society has the ability to change if it has changed before. She attempts to tell herself that “he’s like an old movie star” to destroy any credibility that he has an anchor, but she is not powerful enough to fully deny the power of his words.

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The media functions almost exclusively to elicit obedience.

In addition to Atwood’s utilization of syntax, she also uses diction relating to hypnosis to subtly show the extent of the government’s control. Earlier in the novel, we have seen Aunt Lydia’s attempt to teach morality to the handmaids in brief, definitive instructions, similar in its intent to Brave New World‘s hypnopaedic slogans. Atwood expands on this instruction in this passage of the media, as the anchorman tells the people “you must go to sleep.” Additionally, Offred shrewdly points out that she moves towards the TV, “like one hypnotized.” He assures them, in this altered state, that “everything will be all right soon.” Atwood shows that for this indoctrination to take place, it is preferable, in the government’s perspective, for the people to not fully be conscious.

 

By portraying the media as infantilizing and hypnotic, Atwood asserts that the media has a functional role in the continuation of society. The media operates to comfort its citizens in order to keep the status quo. This will work best if the people are not even fully aware that this is taking place.