Why was the option of running away, building a regular life in the "real world", never considered? They had the dreams, hopes, skills and opportunity. How come no one ever thought of trying to escape their designated purpose?
The characters were being brainwashed from the moment they were born(?) to believe that was their destiny. By the end the narrator WANTS to begin donating. They have no real hopes, no real skills for any sort of real profession and no real opportunities except to play the hand dealt to them. The only glimmer of hope they hang onto is this one that their going into the program can be deferred if they are truly in love. It's pathetic and it is supposed to be pathetic.
From the moment they've been born, they've been very carefully raised. Raised to see the world and their place in it in a very specific way. They can't imagine doing anything other than what they've been told they are to do because they've always thought of it as just the way it is. They see their fate just as the natural order of things, inescapable.
Unfortunately, that's not a true depiction of human nature. Someone _always_ rebels. I think it's one of the major weaknesses of the book. The author was trying to create a metaphor. While it works on that level I suppose, it is crippled by its lack of connection to reality.
If rebellion is truly part of human nature (and I'm not sure that's true), does the fact that the clones don't try to rebel imply that they are in fact less than human? I would also suggest that they do try to rebel, but that their rebellions (Tommy's refusal to be an artist, Ruth's attempt to find her double, the visit to the former Farm resident) are indicative, on a small scale, of the type of "rebellious" behavior most of us engage in during our lives. Do we really rebel, or do we fool ourselves, as the characters do, into thinking we are rebelling and thus satisfy some psychological need?
maybe the delusion about "truly being in love" being their ticket to a deferrment comes from the fact that deep down they sense that none of them truly do seem to be in love, or seem to be capable of being in love...at least in a mature and satisfying type of way. Kathy and Tommy are the closest to being in love, but over the course of their lives together, they can never seem to take a stand about each other, about their feelings for each other, in order to get on track with their relationsp. Kathy walks away from Tommy (when he starts dating Ruth, when he returns to ruth after a break up) always avoiding any conflict with her "stab in the back", splitting, triangulating friend Ruth. If she were truly in love with Tommy and knew how to love, she would have been with him much sooner on (same goes for him) to hell with Ruth. They are all passive, submissive--perhaps genetically engineered that way, perhaps because of how they were raised.
As someone said in the reader comments, this book can be read in so many ways, all different and probably all valid.
I thought all the characters were quite like us "normals-abnormals." Love doesn't work out for many and so Kathy and Tommy's belated love, after he's given three donations was doomed as much by his health and position as by all you suggested imho.
These kids were all well educated, read a lot, did art etc. We know from the eerie atmosphere almost from the get go that something huge is amiss. That they are clones. No parents. ETc. I just finished reading this yesterday, all day, and I can't tease out what worked or what didn't for me.
But I found it heartbreaking especially because unlike in other novels of clones (one by the great author of "Lost in Translation" none of the characters are eerie. In fact, they are superior kinds of people. Kathy's astute impressions of moods between she and Ruth and other kids and teens are beautifully rendered.
So, I do not think they did not know how to love at all. What they didn't have was any choice about how they would live, that's what struck me as so sad. Runaway couple would have been good but also would have betrayed the world this author imagined.
I think that's the whole point of the novel. He is constantly reminding us of the irreconcilable tension between our hopes for happiness and our fear that we can't really pull it off. Every small hope they have throughout the novel is quickly followed by a reluctance to face its implications for fear of being disappointed. Even if they rebelled, I think Ishiguro is reminding us that that tension would continue on a different scale whatever our circumstances, and that unfulfilled hope will never end, and therefore neither will our fear of rebellion, even if we succeed in doing it sometimes.
Actually, I think the fact they never consider running away is what makes the novel British, as opposed to American. I'm an American expat living in the UK, and there is definitely a very different cultural attitude when it comes to individuals/social conformity. Americans place a higher value on individuality, whereas in Britain people who stand out too much or achieve too much must be cut back down to size. Here, you're supposed to stay in your box. I've noticed this in my staff at work - whereas in the US my employees would perform above their job description hoping to be promoted, here they perform to their job description in the hopes of being promoted, at which time they will perform to the new job description.
In other words, asking why the clones don't run away is a very American question. Our cultural myths celebrate those who escape their beginnings or who act above and beyond what society determines for them. But there is no British equivalent to Horatio Alger that I can think of.
Ishiguro explored similar themes in The Remains of the Day; part of Stevens's struggle is his inability to see past his role in life until it was too late. Which is, again, IMO a far more British preoccupation than American - our heroes tend to break free and take action, and when they don't it is far more of a tragedy.
This discussion reminded me of how Kathy spoke of the woods around Hailsham and of how terrifying they were to the students. Their terror was based on a ghastly rumor that no one ever questioned or challenged. And how would they know to do so. By keeping the students isolated from the rest of society, their creators were able to effectively condition and shape them. If one's mind is effectively shackled, there's little need to shackle the body. These students were human cattle and the combination of nurturing their self expression, allowing them second hand possessions, while isolating them in a controlled environment served to make them docile enough to accept their ultimate purpose. They have no real nurturers or parent-types in the guardians. The guardians,in fact, remind me of farmers more than anything, trying not to develop emotional attachment to their cattle because they know to see that cattle as pets is unwise. As for why no student tried to escape their fate, I ask this: how do we know that there were no escapees? In the carefully modulated environment of Hailsham and the Farm, who would tell the students of such a thing if it had been attempted? That's like a farmer leaving the gate open. Perhaps, the story of the boy who was found dead in the Hailsham woods was created to deter runaways. And perhaps, that rumor was based on a real incident of a runaway. But since we hear the tale from Kathy, we are subject to her impressions and conclusions.
I disagree. I think the tragedy of the characters' lack of ability to even think of escaping is one of Ishiguro's main points in this book.
The title works as a metaphor for the whole book, in a way - if we asked Kathy what "Never Let Me Go" means, she would tell you it was the title of a song on a secondhand tape that she listened to (and misunderstood) as a girl - but as readers, we can see that it refers to the creation of a situation where human beings are trapped so deeply by their own selves (due to their lifelong conditioning) that the concept of fleeing a dreadful end (which they do realize is dreadful) doesn't once even occur to them. The book is completely told through Kathy's perspective - and she is incapable of conceiving of fleeing and joining society - so it cannot be brought up explicitly in the book.
It is clear that it has occurred to Ishiguro, however, when he gives us the scene where the children are discussing the prison camps with electrified fences, and the guardians are explicitly uncomfortable. The fences around these people are not electrified, nor tangible, but they are just as real - and they continue to exist even when physical 'freedom' is granted.
A recent book by Alvaro Cuenca about the British colony in Uruguay, and its descendants, tells of two young men, educated in the British school, who enlisted in the RAF during WWII and subsequently lost their lives in battle. This book suggests that the British system of education, with its emphasis on sports, companionship, obedience to prefects and teachers, in fact prepares students for compliance with the requirements of "king and country". Another line of thought is that I know a great many children whose future is laid out for them, who in effect have no future: all those who are born into marginal families in the slums surrounding large cities. In them we may see cases of individual rebellion (drugs, crime), but as a group they do not seem to question their destiny. I think this is because, as with the characters of Never Let Me Go, they are so involved in the business of everyday life that they never even consider the possibility of a complete change.
Because this way, the novel has an adult and humanistic approach, instead of being just an action movie. If the clones run away, practical details become the focus and you get "Blade Runner". Now Blade Runner is a great film with its own merits, but this is a great book of a different genre.
I don't think the reason they don't run away is that they have been brainwashed or are unable to do so. To each his own explanation, but I like Bubar's explanation for all of the clones' behavior except Kathy. After all, would there be so many people to go to war if rebellion was part of human nature?
But in Kathy's case I like to think she's making a very deliberate decision to fulfill her duty: She is obviously more intelligent than her friends and has been much longer around, so that she is better informed and could probably make it in the world if she wanted to escape.
But she knows the purpose with which Hailsham was created and why it was closed, so she chooses to write down her testimony and fulfill her destiny, to show future generations that clones are inferior to no one. If she used her superior education to run away she would be confirming that humane treatment for clones is meaningless.
Furthermore, one of the theses of the book is that belonging is necessary to personal identity. In my view the episode when Kathy follows a clown who carries a bunch of balloons is where the central idea of the book is laid down: she identifies with the balloons and fears for them to be let loose, she imagines them asking the clown never to let them go.
Maybe they were brainwashed from birth but it seems to have also been a forbidden topic at Hailsham to discover what they were going to end up as after all the donations. Seems like Ruth was the only one with some marginal thoughts of escape or deferring. I found that the narrator seemed to be insightful yet unconcerned about future in a bizzare way.
The characters' apparent lack of compulsion to rebel isn't the only thing thing that is patently missing from this novel--like Margaret Atwood said in a review in Slate (http://slate.com/id/2116040/#in), the characters never eat or smell much of anything in this book, and it's something that one only really notices after it is pointed out to them.
I am torn between thinking that Ishiguro deliberately left rebellion out of the picture as merely a plot device, or if he meant to say something about the characters' humanness. After all, if this was just another novel about clones breaking out and violently overthrowing the status quo, it would plant the novel firmly in sci-fi territory. Therefore, leaving that very charged element out of the novel enshrines the centrality of feeling and emotion, something that I like in other novels by Ian McEwan and Chris Bohjalian. From other reviews on Amazon, it appears that the other Ishiguro novels share this common theme, though I have yet to sample them.
I try to find parallels to Ishiguro's clones and our own normal world. Do we really rebel? In our own way, we try to do things a little differently, but truly rebel? We are so preoccupied in our daily lives, to belong to our world which is what kathy and friends are doing too.
In our world, we too have a limited number of years to live [i agree its progressively increasing, yet is limited] - are we paying any special attention to how we are living it? Or are we so obsessed with oil for our cars that will take us to work each day, cheap plastic toys that supposedly make our children's life better, that we do not stop to question our own actions? Arent we all trying hard to fit into the mould of our normal world, the way generations of humans have been living. Arent we all trying to make the best of what we have in our normal world - i truly believed Kathy was trying to make the best of her world.
The fact that the clones don't rebel or run away is actually one of the key observations of human nature that the novel makes.
We like to think of ourselves as rugged individuals, and here in America that's actually a key element of our national psyche. But even though we live in a society that's specifically geared towards innovation and creativity, there are very few individuals who actually break the mold in any way. Those that do tend to come from environments that specifically encourage this type of achievement. Sir Richard Branson came from a powerful moneyed family. Bill Gates went to Harvard.
The vast majority of us go on to live perfectly satisfying, ordinary lives - "satisfying" being defined by the expectations that we're bombarded with from our earliest days. It's not a stretch to think that a class of human-like replicants could be created, in our image, who could be molded to serve mankind just as animals are. And as a testimony to the effectiveness with which an organized society could control this population we have thousands of years of chattel slavery.
The power of this novel, in my opinion, is that the horror of this situation is so real. Think of the millions of slaves that toiled in America's relatively recent past. In grade school we're taught about John Brown and about Nat Turner, but with these very minor exceptions American society was able to terrorize millions of slaves into docile submission over the period of hundreds of years with virtually no uprisings or bloodshed.
This novel asks us a lot of questions about the nature of our humanity, the brutality of our society, the way that relationships are formed and the way the see the world around us. But the novel's most powerful message was in the way that it presented such seemingly inexplicable behavior - the clones' willing march towards death - in a way that is easily recognizable as a core part of our human nature. That is what is disturbing.
Here's a practical reason. Suppose I'm a clone and want to run away. How will I live? I can't get a job without the right kind of papers. At best I might live as a kind of illegal immigrant. And yes, they were certainly conditioned to believe that they had only one possoble destiny. It reminds me a little of the first lines of the old Baltimore Catechism:
Who made me? God made me.
Why did God make me? To know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world . . .
Traveler: I'm interested that you consider rebelliousness as a key, and perhaps defining, trait of human nature -- and that, therefore, characters who never rebel aren't "true" depictions of humanness. (Please correct me if that's not what you're saying.) The problem there is that rebelliousness is a culturally-taught trait; different cultures have vastly different views on it, from exalting it (as American society often does) to viewing it as a low crime. Can you really define human nature by a cultural trait, and then say that someone who doesn't exhibit that trait isn't really human?
The way I look at it is, there probably was a "student" somewhere that considered leaving. A student like Tommy who maybe figured things out early and instead of submitting to his fate, tried to get away. Given how sheltered the students are from the real world and the happenings around them, it would have been probably been taken care of quickly and dispelled as a rumor, though. And if it did not happen at Hailsham it seems they would not have heard of it at all during those years anyway. They would not have been told.
Not to mention, if they had heard about a rebel, most would probably just wonder why and not question it further due to the nature of their upbringing. You never really catch any of the characters feeling sorry for themselves or their fate. I think a rebel would be a foreign idea to most of them. Kathy and Tommy do not even ask for escape themselves, they ask for deferment. This means they still realize completely what they "have" to do in life. It's strange and heartbreaking to normal people, and I'm sure the cultural factor plays in as well. All part of what makes this novel so special.
Like another poster remarked there are some noticeable "lacks" in what the clones do that gives the observant reader a bit of additional mystery. Obviously the central question to the entire book is: Why didn't they leave? But the answer (unless the author ever deigns to tell us his secrets) is hopelessly lost in possibilities. My conclusions:
1) They aren't actually human, but rather a nice functional simulcrum. They seem oddly without initiative. Without someone reminding them or telling them or working things like a checklist they don't seem to reach for much. Notwithstanding some essential question each seems to have, as far as the daily living, they seem without compulsion. Perhaps they are lacking in some of the gray matter by design. Intelligent, but without ambition. Artistic, but without artistic need. Eloquent, but without much to say. For me, Kathy seems to remain unaware, entirely, of that fact even as she writes her memoirs and prepares for donation. And that is the key to it for me as the number one solution. She should search for that awareness and question it.
2) Brainwashing. That is the easy answer but not entirely without merit. If that were the case though, and they were entirely human, then I think we would have had some bread crumb dropping about people who simple are gone...the runaways. After all, they lived with the same kids and would have noticed absences.
I disagree with this. As other reviewers have pointed out, those at the powerless end of power structures often do not "rebel" in the sense you mean - as J. Bubar has said below, the more simple, everyday "rebellions" can be seen as the only rebellion they feel plausible. Opportunities, for those who grow up in a world without them, are nonexistant.
Funny, because I had this exact same argument with some friends regarding people living in 3rd world conditions. Those in power are usually in power because they have convinced the "others" that this is the way things are supposed to be, that each group occupies a necessary niche... whether this takes the form of brainwashing, threats to limit freedom, or threats against one's life.
I feel the novel does a really good job of, as many others have pointed out, suggesting these very loaded topics between-the-lines.
I felt this way too: that their "being in love" felt unconvincing, that they didn't quite understand what love was, and particularly that their comprehension of sex and the possible emotional states involved was oddly surface.
The idea that they were genetically engineered not to feel true emotion is really interesting and thought-provoking...
Agreed. The focus on everyday, banal actions was a really interesting way for Ishiguro to address the differences between how we view ourselves in the world and how we actually act in the world. The students seem like sheep - blindly following, hoping, and (as Kathy closes the narrative) "heading to wherever they're supposed to be"... but these are very human qualities. Just as all humans facing everyday issues, the students were faced with much stronger (and unknown) forces they could not control or fully understand. So they went about their lives. It gives the book a really sad tone of trying to make the best out of helplessness.