Escape from the Truth

In Never Let Me Go, the characters undergo a constant struggle in the process of identifying who they really are. From the behavior and thoughts of the characters, the readers can sense a note of ambivalence: they would like to stay ignorant of their fates, but external forces are always trying to push them to find out more – Madame’s fear, Ruth’s possible, rumor about deferral – these events gradually reveal what is ahead of them and lead them closer and closer to the truth.

According to Kathy’s story, the characters enjoy being ignorant of their future. Kathy shows deep nostalgia to the short interval of leaving Hailsham and becoming donors and carers: “[I]t was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were…we somehow managed to live in this cosy state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries” (142). Being ignorant of their future is “a cosy state”: procrastinating on knowing her fate relieves her anxiety and her doubts. It is a great time that everyone can freely picture the countless possibilities in their future. One can be a firefighter or an office receptionist, and all of the imagination will be long gone once the characters become carers and donors.

why-do-people-procrastinate

Therefore, it is surprisingly common for the characters to stay silent and pretend they are ignorant when they are close to find out what their future is. When they first notice that veterans are leaving to take “courses” that they clearly know “have to do with becoming carers”, the “big hush” and the “understanding” that not to refer to the trips show the reluctance of the characters to confront the purpose of their creation (132). According to Kathy, it is “a territory [they] didn’t want to enter” (139). Also, before the five start on the journey to find Ruth’s possible, Ruth flinches when she is so close to find out her model. She acts as if the car crisis is seriously jeopardizing the trip – “it looked like the trip might have to be called off” – but actually this is Ruth trying to evade it (146). People all have the experience of putting off chores with ridiculous excuses such as not having the favorite cleaning cloth, and similarly, Ruth is using the car crisis to put off what she finds unpleasant and in this case, somewhat intimidating: finding out her model, which indicates her pre-determined identity and future.

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Some may argue that the pretended ignorance is nothing more than burying their heads in the sand, but psychologically speaking, it is the characters’ coping mechanism. Staying ignorance, even pretending to be ignorant means an extra day of carefree, happy time for them. They have an obscure concept of what is ahead of them, and they subconsciously find it unpleasant. Therefore, they don’t ask questions and they do what they can to hide from the truth: if the ugly fact has to be confronted one day, why not just wait until the day come? The characters behaviors and thoughts speak to the reader that, for them, ignorance is bliss.

Leaders and Followers

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 oFollow The Leaderf 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. Continue reading

Ignorance Maintained By Conformity

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.

Is what you see the truth? (storify.com)

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.

Conformity leads nowhere (www.psych2go.net)

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.

Ignorance Perpetuates Injustice

For the students in Hailsham, they believe that ignorance is bliss. For us as readers, we recognize how this ignorance is in fact not bliss. Through the students’ ignorance of their purpose in life, we see how the students themselves perpetuate the society that uses them solely for organ donation. Though it is easy to accept and conform to the lifestyle designated upon one at birth, the novel suggests that it is always better to seek truth to prevent unethical practices from continuing.

Many of the students from Hailsham did not question the institution of Hailsham, life after Hailsham, their greater meaning of their life—and this might have been because they did not want to know the answers. Thus, most of them chose to give the benefit of the doubt, having “dream futures” they “didn’t regard…as fantasy” (142). This ounce of hope brought happiness and joy to them in the short time they lived before completing which is not necessarily a bad thing. The students took refuge in this “cosy state of suspension” where they discarded everything that the guardians taught them and dreamed about the possibilities of their lives (143). Even when they were told that they would be organ donors, they repressed the knowledge sometimes because they wanted to return to the blissful state of not knowing their futures. For them, ignorance is bliss because the knowledge is a burden.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” -Confucius

However, by examining how this ignorance allowed the continuation of unethical practices, the readers recognize how the novel suggests that this seeking truth is necessary for equality and righteousness. The ignorance that the students sought contributed to the perpetuation of social injustices. Because the students never wanted to believe they were created solely for organ donation, they never challenged this practice and instead held on to the shred of hope that their lives had greater meaning. Even when Ruth “knew all along it was stupid”, she was still hopeful that she would find her possible for a glimpse at her hypothetical future (166). The students repressed the knowledge that possibles do not indicate anything in their futures because they wanted so hard to believe that they themselves could one day hold an office job, or a supermarket worker. However, though they find solace in this belief, ultimately it is detrimental—their hopes will be destroyed, they will donate then complete, and this unethical system will continue on for future generations. On the contrary, if they acknowledged that they were created for organ donation, perhaps they could find a way to cease this practice of clones. This concept can be applied to our society since there may be practices we are unwilling to accept and believe that they don’t exist or are not harmful, but it is this ignorance exactly that allows these practices to continue.

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Scene from Never Let Me Go (2010) when Ruth discovers her possible is not actually her possible and is filled with disappointment.

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.

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.