Only Seeking Comfortable Truths

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go allows readers to deeply consider the relationship between truth and its accompanying discomforts. The scene in which the children at Hailsham test for Madame’s reaction to seek the truth and are consequently hit with an uncomfortable reality of being viewed in a negative light largely sets a precedent in how the children “seek truth” in the latter half of the novel. Many situations in this book demonstrate the curiosity Kathy and her friends have towards uncovering truth but also illuminate the reservations that present themselves when discomforting possibilities are considered.

Kathy herself demonstrates the difficulty in allowing oneself to find the complete truth in her friendship with Ruth. The two of them find themselves in an unfavorable place in their relationship when they take stabs at each other’s sore spots in a passive aggressive argument. In this scenario, as Ruth asks, “We’re still friends, aren’t we?”, Kathy is prompted to consider how her friendship with Ruth truly works (125). Kathy reflects that “there were two quite separate Ruths,” one that she liked, and one that she disliked (129). However, just as Kathy begins to truly reflect on the difference between these two Ruths and begins to realize that sometimes the Ruth she confides in “merges” with the Ruth that puts on airs, she stops delving deeper into the implications of the merging of the two Ruths. Kathy does not pursue further her reflection because she fears losing her closest confident; thus, she simply returns to the comfort of having the “typical evening sessions,” despite her gradual understanding that doing so has accompanying risks. Kathy also does not even consider Ruth’s point of view that “[she] had been the one to first violate an understanding” after the argument until the present (129). She only comes to see this truth in the present rather than at the time of the event because the barrier of hindsight removes her from the discomfort of considering Ruth’s viewpoint. At the time of the argument, considering Ruth’s point of view would have made Kathy feel that she herself was in the wrong, which would have been a difficult truth to swallow.

truth-hurts

Even more evidence of the kids of Hailsham avoiding uncomfortable truths is the situation surrounding the discussion of “possibles”. The children knew about the idea that were made as copies of “normal” people out in the real world, known as their “possibles”. Many of them came up with theories as to what could be learned from their “possibles”, such as the idea that “when you saw the person you were copied from, you’d get some insight into who you were deep down, and maybe too, you’d see something of what your life held in store” (140). This speculation and the other speculations that they discuss all contain rather positive outlooks. However, with all the speculation they had surrounding their “possibles”, one blaring conclusion that they fail to draw is that their “possibles” may be related to their donations. The idea that these “possibles” could be the very people that the children are intended to donate their organs to is absent from their discussion. Any particularly uncomfortable theories are unmentioned, and when “[they] were near terriotory [they] didn’t want to enter, the arguments would fizzle out” (139). If they instead considered such negative theories, the idea of searching for their “possibles” would probably not be such an exciting prospect.

Kathy and her friends often enjoy speculating about truths to satisfy their curiosity surrounding certain mysteries. However, when they seem to sense discomfort that could accompany a possible conclusion, they seem to avoid these possibilities in favor of retaining the comfort of ignorance. Ultimately, the children of Hailsham only seek truth under condition that they maintain what is comfortable for themselves.

Seeking Truth to Find Motivation

Seeking truth is difficult. We know this through our own lives when we flee from confrontation and clarification. In fleeing from facing truth, we flee from discomfort or “awkward” situations. For the characters of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, this discomfort is rooted in the possibility that as organ donors, they are constantly judged on how they are like “inside…reveal[ing their] soul[s]” based on their artwork (Ishiguro 175). We see such tendency to avoid confronting truth through Kath’s response to Tommy’s theory that the artworks are designed to keep a track record of their capability to love. In particular, her efforts to divert from reaching the cold truth are accentuated when she realizes the extremely low chance of Tommy’s deferral, according to the theory. Prior to this realization, Kath still asks for further detail about the theory, asking questions like “so what are you getting at?” and nodding in agreement (175-176). However, once it strikes her that because Tommy hasn’t been chosen for his artwork, ever, she convinces him and herself about the flaws of the theory. She says, “maybe the art’s just one out of all kinds of different ways” (177). Even when she ponders the fact that the Madame watching her dancing to the song Never Let Me Go further confirms Tommy’s theory, she oversimplifies this by saying “I was just thinking over what you said, that’s all” (177). Important to note is that inherent to avoiding truth is lingering ambiguity.

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Often we deny, reject and suppress truth because it discomforts us. Tommy does so in response to Miss Lucy’s urge to accept the importance of art and Kath does so in response to Tommy’s theory of why the Gallery is pivotal to their survival. This rejection of truth prevents progression to motivation to alter the consequences.(https://ifunny.co/tags/rejecting/1424795240)

Through Tommy’s effort to discover the purpose behind the artworks, he is motivated to start creating his own artwork (187). In other words, by confronting the truth that his theory leads to his very low chance of deferral, he finds motivation to try to survive by creating whatever artwork he can. This is ironic because previously he had avoided creating artwork to socially survive; he had found comfort in denying the pressure to produce art, and possible reasons to do so. By creating a marked shift in Tommy’s efforts and products, the novel points to the fact that a confrontation to truth and reality is necessary to define our own goals in life. Prior to the formulation of his theory about the Gallery, Tommy avoids thinking about artwork, apparent through his apathetic responses to Miss Lucy’s warning. While Miss Lucy constantly pushes him to accept that artwork “is important”, he repeats, “It’ll be alright, Miss” (108-109). This very act demonstrates his flee from truth and discomfort from regret in not having done art his whole life, and the possibly threatening consequences. In this scene, ambiguity as to why the artwork may be important and what function the Gallery serves is highly ambiguous. Further, Tommy does not have goals in life than simply walking the path paved for them as organ donors. However, when Tommy comes up with the purpose and importance of art, he produces ingenious artwork himself. He fights to survive, “draw[ing] with obsessive precision” (187). In such ways, the novel highlights the difference between passively accepting a given future, marked by ambiguity and flee from discovering truth, and actively hoping for a different future, achieved only after truth is (somewhat, through active theorizing) revealed. In sum, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go points at the necessity of clearing ambiguity and seeking truth even when it leads to discomfort because it is only after understanding true consequences that we find motivation to take control of our own lives– to do whatever we can to work future to our favor.

Works Cited

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

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.

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.

 

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.