A Warranted Distrust

What does the novel suggest about seeking truth even if it may lead to discomfort?

The world of Never Let Me Go is one that is riddled with mystery, deception, and broken lines of communication. Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and the other residents of Hailsham constantly waver between seeking out knowledge about their future and being unsettled by what little innelt6formation they can find. Through the experiences of the characters in which they seek out truth, the novel argues that social injustice is a consequence of willful ignorance. We can see this problem in our own lives as we choose to ignore difficult social problems for the sake of our own comfort.

One of the ways willful ignorance is propagated amongst the students of Hailsham and the Cottages is through the perpetuation of rumors. These rumors not only spread false information, they distract from the cruelties and injustices Kathy and her friends experience. The harm stemming from these rumors is evident in the scene in which Ruth tells Chrissie and Rodney that it is possible for two Hailsham students to qualify for an exemption from the normal donation process if they can prove they are “they [are] properly in love.” This rumor is harmful in two interconnected ways. First, it spreads misinformation which distracts from the ethical problems surrounding the use of clones for organ donations. These rumors the surround Hailsham blur the lines between what is truth and what is lies. Second, this misinformation ultimately turns the Hailsham students against each other, forcing the student aggression away from the perpetrators, the faculty and adults of Hailsham and the Cottages,  and toward other students. For example, Ruth claims that Tommy did not know of the possibility of the deferral program because “he isn’t like a real Hailsham student. He was left out of everything and people were always laughing at him.” These acts of aggression are prevalent throughout the characters’ relationships and breed distrust between students rather than a warranted distrust of authority.

These acts of aggression and misdirection in the novel are a trying to prove a point to us that is becoming increasingly relevant to our daily lives: We must actively and continuously work against those trying to distract us from injustice. Rather than submit to lies and deception, we must question those in positions of authority in order to protect the marginalized.

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.

Wanting is Weakening

“But to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power.

But there must be something he wants, from me. To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me. It’s like a small crack in a wall, before now impenetrable. If I press my eye to it, this weakness of his, I may be able to see my way clear.

I want to know what he wants.” (Atwood 136)

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the readers are introduced to a society in which individuals are distanced from each other via social stratification. Individuals from different classes are discouraged from associating with one another, Commanders and Handmaids, in particular, by law. So, how did this society come to be? What is the reason why formation of relationships are so discouraged and individuals are so emotionally isolated? This is a question that we have already begun to ponder in class. Through use of parallel structure, imagery and a conversational tone transparent to Offred’s perplexity, the above passage suggests that to expect something from another is a form of weakness. The passage further complicates relationships through attributing its formation to the revealing of such weakness, and thus arguing the vulnerability of human beings when we engage in relationships.

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Wanting leads to weakness. Revealing the weakness or vulnerability leads to the formation of relationships. There is something enticing about the realization of vulnerability. (http://www.thecoachpod.com/2016/03/14/cp55-the-power-of-vulnerability-2/)

The use of parallel structure in this passage functions to establish a universal truth. The phrases that involve parallel structure that we have been exposed to include “Like father, like son” or “Easy come, easy go”. The rhythm and flow created by such parallelism adds a matter-of-factly tone to the phrase. Thus, by stating, “To want is to have a weakness”, the narrator establishes that “wanting” as a form of “weakness” is a universal truth. In other words, the parallelism impresses to the readers that it is an undeniable truth that when one “wants” something out of another, they are “weakened”. Such matter-of-fact phrase, placed right after the first sentence asserting the Commander’s power effectively debunks the seemingly dominant male. It ultimately points the weakening of the Commander to the fact that he “wanted” Offred to come see him; by trying to form a relationship with Offred, he is thence weakened.

In addition to the parallel structure creating an instantaneous assertive tone, the overarching conversational tone places an honest ethos to the narrator. Phrases like “whatever it is” in “It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me” invites the readers into Offred’s internal confusion. The fact that she is being conversational in admitting her confusion in the exact idea of weakness then adds a more authentic voice to the fact that she was enticed by it. In other words, she honestly did not know how one is ‘weakened’ in response to the ‘want’ but was nonetheless lured by the idea of the Commander being vulnerable. The authentic voice created with the conversational tone then serves to reveal to the readers that the narrator herself is beginning to form a relationship with the Commander. The fact that she is enticed by the seemingly vulnerable Commander then implies that she ‘wants’ to figure him out. In effect, the passage establishes a mutual ‘want’ of relationship. This concept is further clarified by Offred’s last sentence in the passage when she says, “I want to know what he wants”. In her authentic voice, the readers are convinced to believe that she too ‘wants’ to get to know him, a seed to the development of a relationship, and is therefore also ‘weakened’. Offred’s engagement in ‘wanting’ acquaintance is leaving her vulnerable.

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Crack in the wall, representative of the peek into the Commander’s vulnerability (http://eastebuilder.co.uk/articles/view/184/Reasons+for+Cracks+on+Your+Walls)

Finally, the use of visual imagery highlights Offred’s transition from a passive female to one that actively seeks to learn about the Commander’s ‘want’ or ‘weakness’. Creating the image of a wall with a small crack, and illustrating Offred going up against it and pressing her eye to it gives the readers the image that Offred is actively engaging. In contrast to her reluctance to come up to meet the Commander, previously, the image created displays her moving towards the crack, or apparent weakness of the Commander. As a result, the visual imagery further strengthens the fact that Offred is actively taking initiative in forming the personal acquaintance. This image, in particular, is crucial given the circumstances of Offred being a Handmaid. It would be illegal for her to display any sign of visible action to get to know the Commander. Instead, the imagery helps communicate Offred’s below-the-surface level active initiative.

In such ways, the passage helps to underscore the vulnerabilities that branch from the formation of relationships. This is done through drawing a definitive link between ‘want’ or any desires for another, and the subsequent ‘weakness’ as drawn by parallelism, strengthened by an authentic voice and enhanced through imagery.