Never Let Me Go dives into a dystopian world where the lives of ordinary people are extended through an integrated program of clones. The clones are created for the sole purpose of donating their organs. The story begins with Kathy H, a clone from Hailsham, presenting as a carer. A carer takes care of “donors” who donate their organs. They continue to donate around 3 or 4 organs until they “complete” which is an alternate meaning for death. Kathy retells us the events and story of her life as a carer which leads us to the theme, which is the inevitability of loss, whether it be people, memories, or items, etc. Ishiguro conveys his theme with the use of symbolism that gives a lot of underlying messages.
One main symbol is the title of the book, Never Let Me Go, as it is actually a song in Judy Bridgewater’s album, Songs After Dark, on a cassette tape that belongs to Kathy. The song carries the depth of human love while being in fear of losing loved ones around, hence showing the inevitability of loss. While listening to the song, Kathy “imagined a woman who’d been told she couldn’t have babies, who’d really, really wanted them all her life” (Ishiguro, 70).
Kathy interprets this song as a love song from a mother, who wasn’t able to conceive, to her child, who she was miraculously able to have. This would go on later to show that is it physically impossible for clones to have children. Kathy however would take comfort in the song and dance to it often, getting lost in the song, to the point of where she was caught by Madame as, “She was out in the corridor, standing very still . . . . And the odd thing was she was crying.
It might even have been one of her sobs that had come through the song to jerk me out of me dream.” (Ishiguro, 71). Kathy, though she never directly said so, had most likely subconsciously, always wanted a child of her own. Other than that she was often seen, “swaying about slowly and time to the song, holding an imaginary baby to her breast” (Ishiguro, 71). This just solidifies how she yearns for an emotional connection. It sadly is not possible, it is inevitable that she will never be able to conceive. It also shows that she values emotional and physical connections, however the book continues to push through with its theme, as she loses both Tommy and Ruth at the end of the book, no matter how much she loved them.
Ishiguro continues to show symbolism through Kathy’s relationship to Ruth over time. At this point, both Kathy and Ruth has grown up and moved on with their own lives. As they drift apart, Kathy continues to stay attached and wistful to memories of Hailsham while Ruth tries to “fit-in” and find her place within new people and places. It’s gotten to the point of where Kathy holds on so much to the memories that Ruth wanted to be free as she gets angry at Kathy, saying “Ruth’s got big new friends” (Ishiguro 124), and that she’s “managed to move on” (Ishiguro 124).
This made their relationship rather tense and uncomfortable within the cottage they were residing at, and the fact that Kathy was Ruth’s carer didn’t make it any better. This can show the loss of friendship and memories made. While exploding, Ruth also brought up some personal matters, more so some personal information.
This was a rather harsh betrayal to Kathy as this information was shared while sharing drinks and according to Foster, “whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion.” (Foster 8). This incident hurt Kathy and led to the end of their friendship, symbolizing the loss of friends within the theme of inevitable loss. Eventually they talked things out towards the end of the book, but strained relationships can never become the same. This symbolizes that actions can also be symbolic and emphasizes the loss.
Symbolism is prominent throughout the book in many different ways, and one of the interesting objects of symbolism is an office. An open-plan office is mentioned several times throughout the book on many different occasions, and can be symbolizing the loss of future. The students have always been told that their “lives are set out for them. They’ll become adults, then before they’re old before they’re even middle-aged, they’ll start to donate their vital organs.
That’s what each of them was created to do” (Ishiguro, 81). It can be similar to a well or prison, you see the exit but all you can do it stare at it and never leave. The office was seen as a dream that one could never achieve. The open-plan office was especially Ruth’s dream, she had always wanted to work in one and thought she possibly could when there was a chance that her “possible” was working in one in Norfolk. However, that dream was shattered when the person in Norfolk was not her “possible”. It solidified her chance of never getting her dream. This indicates that the office is seen as a symbol of hope, but more so as a symbol that signifies a lost future, a life of no choice.
Throughout the book, Ishiguro’s use of symbolism is the most prominent, whether it be in people, places, things, etc. The symbols reinforced the inevitability of loss in many different aspects. Throughout many moments in the book, symbolism has shown that no matter how hard you try, at one point, it is inevitable that you will lose things out of will. The use of symbolism gave the story a deeper, underlying meaning, making the readers think and dig deeper for the hidden thoughts and truths behind the text. This gave many different perspectives to the story whether it be in the point of view of a professor or student, and all came to the conclusion that it is inevitable in life to lose things as we live on.
Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor: a Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. revised ed., Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, 2005.