Never Let Me Go

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Themes and Colors
Maturation and “Growing Up” Theme Icon
Individual Goals vs. Social Expectations Theme Icon
Losing and Finding Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Humanity Theme Icon
Loving, Caring, and Donation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Never Let Me Go, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Losing and Finding Theme Icon

One of the characteristics of the novel’s structure is a pattern of losing and finding, both of people and objects. The primary place both of losing and finding is Norfolk, the seaside town in a “lost corner” of England, as explained in a geography class by the guardians to the students of Hailsham. Although this is primarily meant to imply that Norfolk isn’t easily accessible by motorway, Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy interpret it to mean, more whimsically, that Norfolk is the place in England to which all lost things are sent to be collected. When Kathy finds that her Judy Bridgewater tape has been taken from her footlocker, she wonders if it might not have “found” its way to Norfolk—even though she knows this is highly unlikely. Much later, at the Cottages, when Chrissie, Rodney, Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy decide to take a trip to Norfolk—and after the group realizes that Ruth has not in fact found her “possible”—Tommy and Kathy go off to a second-hand store, and do in fact find a copy of this tape.

More than the magic of Norfolk, which Kathy realizes to be a fantasy, this moment with Tommy forms a bond that allows them to “find” each other much later in the novel, as Ruth’s health falters and she recommends that Kathy serve as Tommy’s carer. Couples in the novel, too, are deeply concerned that they will lose one another once they are assigned as carers and then forced to be donors. Chrissie and Rodney bring up the idea that perhaps a postponement is possible for Hailsham students, although Tommy, Ruth and Kathy have never heard of such a thing. And Tommy does his best to work on his “animals” so that his donations, or art projects, might “match up” with those of the love of his life—whom he initially believes to be Ruth, but then realizes is Kathy. Finally, two larger, more abstract concepts are “lost”—Hailsham, and the notion of the characters’ innocence more broadly.

Hailsham is closed in the middle of the novel, after Kathy and her friends have left and moved on to the Cottages and their lives as carers and donors. Although Kathy does not know, at first, why Hailsham is closed, it is later revealed that Hailsham was an “experiment” in a certain kind of compassionate, school-like environment for clones. The shuttering of Hailsham, therefore, represents English society losing its sense of the humanity of clones. Tommy and Kathy, on hearing this, are struck with a double-layered sadness: they know that Hailsham is not coming back, and that no “postponements” are possible for clones; and they realize what Hailsham actually was, a holding-area for clones until they were old enough to serve as carers and donors. But despite losing these stories and rationalizations, which had made their lives more bearable, Kathy finds that her memories and joys at Hailsham remain real and true, that the lie of the place did not alter the truth and humanity of her experience there.

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Losing and Finding ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Losing and Finding appears in each chapter of Never Let Me Go. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Losing and Finding Quotes in Never Let Me Go

Below you will find the important quotes in Never Let Me Go related to the theme of Losing and Finding.
Chapter 3 Quotes

The gallery Tommy and I were discussing was something we’d all of us grown up with. Everyone talked about it as though it existed, though in truth none of us knew for sure that it did.

Related Characters: Tommy (speaker), Kathy H.
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

The Gallery is an example of a persistent and convincing rumor that is maintained among the students of Hailsham. It claims that the Headmaster of the school selects the students' best art to adorn a Gallery, one that is then, presumably, shown to others in some capacity—although the students are not allowed to leave Hailsham, and therefore do not know exactly where this Gallery could be.

This passage is important for several reasons. It demonstrates the Hailsham students' desire to learn about the world beyond the school's walls. The myth of the Gallery generates among the students a real interest in creative work, not just for self-expression but for a way to become, in a sense, "famous," an exhibited artist showing work to others. It also shows the way that stories of the outside world are generated within Hailsham, and how they attempt to explain what is ultimately beyond the donors' control. The students' lives, even after Hailsham, are circumscribed by their institutionally-determined role as people who will give organs to non-clones. But the students also live a kind of gentle fantasy, in which their art might be shown to the world, and their creative efforts might be praised alongside those of non-cloned individuals.


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If she doesn’t like us, why does she want our work? Why doesn’t she just leave us alone? Who asks her to come here anyway?

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), Madame
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 35-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Laura, a minor character in the story and one of Kathy's friends, approaches the Madame to ask about the Gallery. What surprises Laura—and Kathy, Ruth, and the others—is the utter "repulsion" they see on the Madame's face. Laura and the others have always had a sense that they are marked, or "other"—that they are students in a "special" school. But they do not quite understand what makes them special, even if they are told from an early age that they are clones, and that they will donate their organs to others.

The episode with the Madame thus makes clear for the first time that non-clones are deeply afraid of the clone students, even as they run their lives with precision and a degree of humanity, treating them to a boarding-school-like environment. Laura, Kathy, and Ruth feel like humans—they think, they emote, they wonder about their futures. Indeed, they arehuman, but the prejudice of non-clones against them keeps them separate and dehumanized, with no chance to change their own fates.

Chapter 6 Quotes

It’s not good that I smoked. It wasn’t good for me so I stopped it. But what you must understand is that for you, all of you, it’s much, much worse to smoke than it ever was for me. You’ve been told about it. You’re students. You’re . . . special.

Related Characters: Miss Lucy (speaker), Kathy H., Ruth, Tommy
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Lucy clearly wants to speak as forthrightly as possible to the students of Hailsham. She does not want to sugarcoat their futures. But Miss Lucy also most operate within the institutional structures of Hailsham—she cannot just yell out to the students, at least not at this point, what their violent fate must be.

This passage is an example of Lucy splitting the difference, doing her best to be honest to the students without jeopardizing her own position within the Hailsham structure. Smoking is not permitted for any of the Hailsham students because their health is paramount—it is, in fact, their primary contribution to society. Their organs must be as "pristine" as possible, which is why, before they even reach early middle age, the students begin donating to others who might need them. Lucy thus does not disrupt the established order of Hailsham—she is still invested in making sure the students don't smoke. But she hopes to explain the policy in more detail as a way of relating more directly and honestly to the student population, whom she clearly cares about.

I froze in shock. Then within a second or two, I began to feel a new kind of alarm, because I could see there was something strange about the situation. The door was almost half open . . . but Madame hadn’t nearly come up to the threshold. 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.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Madame
Related Symbols: The Judy Bridgewater Tape, The Judy Bridgewater Tape, Hailsham
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most important passages in the novel. Kathy believes that the song "Never Let Me Go" is about a mother who does not wish to "let go" of her child, and by dancing to herself in her room, miming this song, Kathy is participating in a fantasy of motherly love. Kathy, like some other Hailsham students, expresses a dim and abstract desire to have a family. She wonders what it would be like to care for someone in that way, to maintain that form of "normal" human connection she has witnessed in representations (film and book) of life outside the school's gates.

What Kathy does not quite realize, however, is what Madame knows all too well: Kathy can never have a family. She is condemned to a life in which she must "care" for others by giving of herself in the most serious and sustained way. Kathy's donation of organs is a kind of selflessness beyond anything conceivable for a non-clone. And though the reader is slowly putting together the nature of Kathy's sacrifice, it is Madame's teary understanding of Kathy's humanity, in this scene, that sets the stage for further revelations later on in the novel.

Chapter 7 Quotes

The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way. But I’m not. If you’re going to have decent lives, then you’ve got to know and know properly. . . . Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults . . . and before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do.

Related Characters: Miss Lucy (speaker), Kathy H., Ruth, Tommy
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another very important passage in the novel, and a scene in which Miss Lucy's relationship to the students changes somewhat. Before, Lucy has been content in maintaining Hailsham policy while also engaging with the students more directly and openly, telling them that they are special, that their lives will be determined by rules that don't necessarily apply for non-clones. Lucy has not, till this point, used the term "clone," but she nevertheless feels that the "special" status of Hailsham students must be addressed and explained to them.

What changes in this section is the directness with which Lucy addresses the students. She has overhead some of them discussing possible careers they might like to entertain in later life, and some of them, just before Lucy begins to speak, have said they would like to be actors. This, for Lucy, is simply too much, and she has to speak. She notes that any career other than organ donation, or caring for other donors, is utterly impossible for Hailsham students. Here the reader learns just how serious and unchangeable the fate of Hailshamites is—they have no choice regarding their future, and their lives are wholly predetermined.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Don’t you realize, we won’t be here together like this much longer?
I do realize that, Kath. That’s exactly why I can’t rush back into it with Ruth. We’ve got to think about the next move really carefully . . . . Like you say, Kath. We’re going to be leaving here soon. It’s not like a game any more. We’ve got to think carefully.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Tommy (speaker), Ruth
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the threads running throughout the novel is the love triangle between Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy. Ruth, who in many ways presents herself as someone who "knows the ropes" and is mature and world-wise, snags Tommy early on. They date for some time, and though their relationship seems largely happy, they break up toward the end of their time at Hailsham.

But Ruth quickly realizes that she wants Tommy back, and she enlists Kathy to help her do this. Kathy talks to Tommy, and when Tommy says he is weighing his options in getting back with Ruth, Kathy also seems to demonstrate real concern for Tommy, although she never tells him outright that she has romantic feelings for him.

Kathy's inability to assert herself quite so strongly as Ruth is therefore a refrain in the novel. Ruth, in Kathy's eyes, gets "what she wants." Kathy is more passive, she tends to listen, to offer advice when asked—but she has a harder time maintaining a romance, or even identifying to herself what she wants. The reader often has the feeling that he or she knows more than Kathy about Kathy's own emotional state.

Chapter 10 Quotes

For the first weeks after we arrived, she [Ruth] made a big deal of it, always putting her arm around Tommy . . . it wasn’t long before Ruth realized the way she’d been carrying on with Tommy was all wrong for the Cottages, and she set about changing how they did things in front of people.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Ruth, Tommy
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

What Kathy notes here, without offering her own opinion on the matter, is Ruth's ability to adapt her behavior quickly to her surroundings. Ruth is concerned, perhaps excessively so, with what other people think of her—she is always trying to seem "in the know," prepared for whatever the world will throw at her. Ruth enjoys showing Kathy that she, Ruth, acts like a grownup, while Kathy tends to follow behind, passively waiting for others to show her the way.

Thus Ruth felt at Hailsham that one demonstrated one's relationship status by openly embracing a partner in front of others—showing her possession of Tommy. When Ruth realizes that this is "uncool," that "the veterans" at the Cottages do not demonstrate their love in this way, she demurs, and instead touches Tommy in front of others in a more subtle or sly manner.

Kathy, for her part, announces these changes to the reader, sensing what they might tell him or her about Ruth. But Kathy refrains from saying too much on top of this—she does not blame Ruth openly for being so quick to court the favor of those around her. Only much later will Kathy speak with Ruth more honestly about the ways Ruth makes Kathy feel.

Chapter 11 Quotes

You were different. I remember. You were never embarrassed about your collection and you kept it. I wish now I’d done that too.

Related Characters: Ruth (speaker), Kathy H.
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a moment that occurs before Ruth's comment about Kathy's sex life at the Cottages, but that Kathy relates to the reader only after the other conversation. Ruth, because of her desire to seem mature, gets rid of her "collection" of gifts and other objects from Hailsham. She does not want to be tethered to memories of that place, the way that Kathy and perhaps Tommy do. Ruth looks only forward, into a future where she wonders whether she can't escape the life prescribed to her as a donor.

This passage also sheds light on Kathy's relationship to her own past and future. Kathy loves Hailsham—she thinks of it fondly, and when Hailsham closes later in the novel, Kathy mourns its loss even though she knows she can never go back there. Hailsham represents a time of companionship and learning—even though her "preparation" was to be a clone donor, and not for any other worldly future. But Kathy also has a sense of her own future that is in line with the one prepared for her at Hailsham. Kathy wants to be a caretaker—she looks forward to helping other people.

Chapter 14 Quotes

We all know it. We’re modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. We all know it, so why don’t we say it?

Related Characters: Ruth (speaker), Kathy H., Tommy, Chrissie
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Up till this point, Ruth has spoken to others as though she were not constrained by the cultural expectations of donors. For example, Ruth has made it seem that she might be able to work in an office, like her "possible." She has also asked some of the other couples at the Cottages whether it is in fact possible for donor couples who are in love to ask for a deferral of their donation duties, so that they might have more time together. All these utterances combined make it seem that Ruth really believes she has a life outside the predetermined course for all donors.

Here, however, Ruth blurts out what she really thinks. Ruth is aware not only that her clone life is unchangeable, but she knows, too, that she and the others are probably cloned from "undesirable" personages in society—that clones are at the absolute bottom of the social ladder, that they are used only to make sure that other, "normal" people can live. Ruth is devastated by this information, which is why she goes to such great lengths to make it seem that she is not concerned with it at all.

Chapter 15 Quotes

Well . . . I really wanted to find it [the cassette tape] for you. And when it looked in the end like it wasn’t going to turn up, I just said to myself, one day I’ll go to Norfolk, and I’ll find it there for her.
The lost corner of England! And here we are!

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Tommy (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Judy Bridgewater Tape
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

This joke between Tommy and Kathy about the "lost corner of England" is one that unites them. Tommy genuinely wishes to find another version of the Judy Bridgewater tape of "Never Let Me Go" for Kathy. He seems even to think that the version he finds in Norfolk will be the very same version that Kathy lost. Even though Kathy knows better, she is delighted to share in this caper with Tommy.

Tommy and Kathy's friendship is defined by this sort of reciprocal care and shared hopes. While Tommy is with Ruth, Kathy remains a good friend to them both, even making sure the couple gets back together before leaving Hailsham for the Cottages. Kathy's behavior toward Tommy and Ruth is thus an elaboration of her own selflessness. She is willing to put her friendship with each of them ahead of her underlying desire to be with Tommy in a romantic way.

Chapter 16 Quotes

God, Tommy, these must take so much concentration. I’m surprised you can see well enough in here to do all this tiny stuff. I wonder what Madame would say if she saw these.
I suppose I’ll have to get a lot better before she gets to see any of it.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Tommy (speaker), Madame
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

Kathy deeply enjoys seeing Tommy's work. She believes that the animals Tommy creates are a genuine and eccentric expression of Tommy's creativity, and she believes that Tommy really has a chance, in showing the animals to the "powers that be" (namely the Madame), to prove that the clones are worthy of at least some input into the course of their lives. In other words, Kathy likes the animals because they are an expression of what makes Tommy Tommy. And she likes, too, that the animals might be a way of convincing people in positions of power that clone creativity is akin to "normal" non-clone creativity.

Ruth, for her part, will use Kathy's initial response to Tommy's animals—a kind of quiet awe and surprise—and warp it, to make it seem that Kathy believes Tommy's work to be crude and upsettingly strange. In other words, Ruth will distort Kathy's feelings toward Tommy for her own ends. Ruth does this later on because she is threatened by Kathy and Tommy's intimacy—because she worries that Tommy really loves Kathy, and not her.

Chapter 18 Quotes

It was that exchange, when we finally mentioned the closing of Hailsham, that suddenly brought us close again, and we hugged, quite spontaneously, not so much to comfort one another, but as a way of affirming Hailsham, the fact that it was still there in both of our memories.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Laura
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Laura and Kathy, unlike Ruth, are attracted to Hailsham as a place and as an idea. For them Hailsham has been a source of real comfort. It was one of the highlights of Kathy's life—a time when she was surrounded by good friends and genuine companionship. Kathy takes great pains to point out to the reader that, after Hailsham, life for donors becomes increasingly isolated, until the donor has only one meaningful relationship remaining—that of the donor and the caretaker, who will also become a donor in due time.

Laura and Kathy therefore reconnect because they are happy to see each other. But, more importantly, they are happy to remind each other of a time they both shared, a time when they were embedded in a meaningful and sustained community. This is exactly what each of them, and many of the others donors, have been lacking since leaving Hailsham several years before.

Chapter 19 Quotes

I’d like you to forgive me, but I don’t expect you to. Anyway, that’s not the half of it, not even a small bit of it, actually. The main thing is, I kept you and Tommy apart. That was the worst thing I did. . . . What I want is for you to put it right. Put right what I messed up for you.

Related Characters: Ruth (speaker), Kathy H., Tommy
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

This outburst of Ruth's, which is designed as an apology to Kathy and to Tommy, is very similar to Ruth's outburst of several years before, when Ruth argues that they all know they are cloned from "undesirable" personages in society. In this case, Ruth again wishes to clear her conscience of something that has been weighing on her for some time, and that she has been trying to keep repressed or secret.

The primary difference, however, has to do with Ruth's relationship to other people. In her first outburst, Ruth argued against the existence of her own "possible" because she was so exasperated by her own lack of opportunity in the world. Her outburst was thus not so much directed toward others but toward her own despair. In this latter instance, however, Ruth realizes that her behaviors of the past have influenced the possibility of a relationship between Kathy and Tommy. Ruth wishes, in this case, to atone for something she has done wrong—to make it right while Kathy and Tommy are still alive and able to spend time together.

Chapter 21 Quotes

Poor creatures. What did we do to you? With all our schemes and plans?

Related Characters: Madame (speaker), Kathy H., Tommy
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Madame wonders aloud whether Hailsham was, after all, a good thing. The initial idea of Hailsham, as she goes on to explain, was to help clones to feel like members of society‚to make sure they had hobbies, friends, and fond memories—before becoming donors and caretakers. The idea undergirding the Hailsham system was thus a fundamentally humanist and benevolent one, even if the reality that that system supported was inhumane.

But as the Madame and Miss Emily go on to explain, the Hailsham system was something like a Band-Aid over a disturbed and upsetting system, wherein humans were used and "mined" to keep others alive. The enrichment that Hailsham therefore afforded the young donors came to seem, to many, like an ever-greater cruelty. Because, of course, neither Tommy nor Kathy could actually live the kind of "normal" life that was, in some sense, modeled for them at Hailsham. The Madame therefore reveals the ambivalence built into the institution of Hailsham: a desire to ready clones for their jobs without necessarily explaining directly what those jobs would be—to build up their hopes and dreams and then crush them.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I was thinking about back then, at Hailsham, when you used to go bonkers like that, and we couldn’t understand it. We couldn’t understand how you could ever get like that. . . . I was thinking maybe the reason you used to get like that was because at some level you always knew.
. . . That’s a funny idea. Maybe I did know, somewhere deep down. Something the rest of you didn’t.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Tommy (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:

Kathy realizes at the end of the text just how deep and intuitive Tommy's sense of himself has always been. Tommy has known, and been frustrated by, the total impossibility of a "normal" life for the clones. Tommy knew this, and harbored this frustration, even in his early days at Hailsham, when he used to get angry when others would make fun of him. Tommy saw what was at the end of the road, beyond the Hailsham gates, and he saw this far more clearly than anyone else.

Kathy, too, has sensed that clone life did not really fit in with the mirage of a more normal life that was made apparent to the clones at Hailsham. But Kathy was not so openly angry about this. Instead, Kathy's tone throughout the book has been one of wistfulness, a nostalgia touched with sadness but never completely angry. This feeling of the loveliness of the past, and the fact that the past can never be reclaimed, is something that knits Tommy and Kathy together by the novel's end.

Chapter 23 Quotes

. . . and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. . . . and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing . . . I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Tommy
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most affecting and beautiful passages in the novel. What becomes painfully clear, by the end, is the depth of Kathy's love for Tommy. Their romance has been, and remains, impossible. Each must die, and before that, each must care for another donor. Their lives cannot be changed. Their love, powerful as it is, cannot alter their circumstances.

But this does not mean that Kathy and Tommy cannot love each other. That is one of the deep and affirming lessons of "Never Let Me Go." Tommy and Kathy remain attached to one another even after Tommy's death, because Kathy tries as hard as she can to remember her friend and lover as he was, to place him in her mind among the beautiful fields of Hailsham. It is a great sadness that this past cannot extend indefinitely into the future. But the past really did happen—it was real. And Kathy insists on this reality until the end of her own life.