Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun is a science fiction novel that imagines how humanity might progress (or regress) in the near future. One of the most important futuristic concepts in the novel is a process called “lifting.” Although the precise mechanics of lifting are intentionally left vague, it seems to refer to a procedure that parents choose to have done on their children at a young age for the purpose of increasing their intelligence. Although lifting comes with benefits (it is a prerequisite for every elite college except one), it also comes with serious drawbacks. Josie, for example, contracts a grave illness as a result of being lifted, and she nearly dies from it. Although Josie tells her mom (the Mother) that she doesn’t regret being lifted, the benefits are unclear, since her neighbor Rick is also very intelligent even though he is “unlifted.” This suggests that perhaps the real benefit of lifting is its social value and how it helps preserve the illusion of meritocracy by giving wealthy students (Josie’s family is richer than Rick’s) a tangible way to “prove” their worth. Although lifting is a fictional concept, it has clear parallels to the pressures and challenges that real prospective college students face today, like applications and standardized tests—which may not be as deadly as Josie’s fictional illness but can nevertheless cause students to neglect their mental or even physical health. Ultimately, lifting represents not just the dangers of rigid educational systems but also how supposed progress often comes with serious side effects that must be weighed against the benefits.
Costs and Benefits of Progress ThemeTracker
Costs and Benefits of Progress Quotes in Klara and the Sun
When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window. So we were able to watch the outside—the office workers hurrying by, the taxis, the runners, the tourists, Beggar Man and his dog, the lower part of the RPO building.
“Klara, you’re quite remarkable,” Manager said, keeping her voice soft so as not to disturb Rosa and the others. “You notice and absorb so much.” She shook her head as though in wonder. Then she said: “What you must understand is that we’re a very special store. There are many children out there who would love to be able to choose you, choose Rosa, any one of you here. But it’s not possible for them. You’re beyond their reach. That’s why they come to the window, to dream about having you. But then they get sad.”
The kitchen was especially difficult to navigate because so many of its elements would change their relationships to one another moment by moment. I now appreciated how in the store—surely out of consideration for us—Manager had carefully kept all the items, even smaller ones like the bracelets or the silver earrings box, in their correct places.
“I suppose they have a point though,” he said. “I don’t belong here. This is a meeting for lifted kids.”
“These folks surrounding her. Am I to assume they’re aliens? It almost looks like instead of a head, they have, well, a giant eyeball. I’m sorry if I have this all wrong.”
“What I really wished to ask you, Klara. The real request, the deeper one. Would you ask Josie to try and persuade Rick? She’s the one person who might change his stance. He’s very stubborn, you see, and also—I suspect this—rather afraid. And who can blame him? He knows the world out there won’t be easy. But Josie’s the one capable of getting him to see this differently. Will you speak to her?”
“Don’t want to die, Mom. I don’t want that.”
“It’s okay. Okay.” The Mother’s voice was soft, at just the same level mine had been.
“I don’t want that, Mom.”
“I know. I know. It’s okay.”
I turned the corner of the L and saw Josie there, suspended in the air. She wasn’t very high—her feet were at the height of my shoulders—but because she was leaning forward, arms outstretched, fingers spread, she seemed to be frozen in the act of falling. Little beams illuminated her from various angles, forbidding her any refuge. Her face was very like that of the real Josie, but because there was at the eyes no kind smile, the upward curve of her lips gave her an expression I’d never seen before. The face looked disappointed and afraid.
“You know, Klara. I don’t even know what this is about. But I want what’s best for Josie. Exactly the same as you. So I’m willing to grasp at any chance that comes our way.”
I turned to him with a smile and nodded. “Yes,” I said. “Then let’s try.”
“Now Rick. You said just now you’re not seeking favoritism. Then let me ask you this. If that is really the case, then why am I sitting in front of you now?”
Its body was a different shade of yellow, its dimensions a little greater—and its ability to create Pollution more than a match for the first Cootings Machine.
The Sun was illuminating her, and the entire bed, in a ferocious half-disc of orange, and the Mother, standing closest to the bed, was having to raise her hands to her face.
“Klara deserves better. She deserves her slow fade.”
When she was mid-distance, she stopped and turned, and I thought she might look back one last time at me. But she was gazing at the far distance, in the direction of the construction crane on the horizon. Then she continued to walk away.