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.

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.