Kathy remarks to the reader that, in some way, she consider her conversation with Tommy by the pond, when they were thirteen, to be the “marker” between eras at Hailsham. Before this time was a “golden period” when the worries of the world did not intrude, but afterward, Kathy and the other students began to realize that their lives were predetermined, and that their time after Hailsham would not be so idyllic as it was there. In particular, Kathy notes a conversation some students had with Miss Lucy in class one day, when Lucy seemed to acknowledge that, perhaps at other “schools” like Hailsham, electric fences were used to keep students in. The other students joke about the fences, but Miss Lucy seems to be referring to real-world events when she says the electric fences can cause “terrible accidents.”
Like the discussion of the school’s woods earlier in the novel, this remark of Lucy’s, regarding the possibility of an electric fence, points to the world outside Hailsham. Specifically, it makes Hailsham and that world seem entirely at odds. Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy aren’t students at an elite boarding or prep school—they are something like prisoners, even if they are kept in a pleasant environment. The guardians might more accurately be called guards. And they will remain prisoners for the rest of their lives—even though they technically have some freedom of movement—their future is determined.
Kathy states that Miss Lucy always seemed “a little different from the other guardians,” and a conversation between Lucy and a class of students, including Kathy, in the pavilion later on seemed to prove this point. The class is gathered there to avoid the rain, and Miss Lucy is the only guardian watching them; some of the students are discussing their dream jobs after Hailsham, and one says he’d like to move to America to pursue an acting career. But Lucy stops him before he can go any further, and tells the assembled students she has some things to say to them.
The beginning of an immensely important sequence in the novel. Lucy feels she can no longer pretend that Hailsham students are just like “normal” students, and that their futures resemble normal “human” futures. To Lucy, it is far more humane for Hailsham guardians to refer in detail to the students’ actual futures, rather than to obscure their jobs under abstract talk of “giving” and “rule-following.”
Lucy tells the students that none of them will be going to America, none will have acting careers: she tells them that, instead, their lives have one purpose, which is that their bodies will be used for the harvesting of organs, which they will donate until they die. The students do not revolt when Lucy speaks—they seem only puzzled that she is telling them this information with such emotion, since, technically, all the students at Hailsham, by age thirteen, understand their fates. Lucy then stops speaking after “revealing” this information, and tells the group they can go out and play in the fields.
In a novel like The Hunger Games, at this point the students would rebel and seek freedom. But Ishiguro is after something different in this novel. The students hear the news of their lack of freedom and rather than revolt they just kind of accept it, because they've always sort of known it, and prefer to avoid thinking about it. In this way, the students come to be an extreme representation of all people: after all, everyone is going to die eventually, everyone's freedom is constrained in that way, and most people life their ordinary lives by just not thinking about that aspect of their future. And so the clones learn that they are clones, and then just go on living.
Kathy and Tommy discuss this even much later, when Kathy is Tommy’s carer, and Tommy offers a theory for how Hailsham prepared its students for their fates. Tommy believes that Hailsham very carefully calibrated the revelation of information regarding the donation procedures, so that, in the back of their minds, the students always knew what was going to happen to them—perhaps even before they were of an age that would enable them to understand this information. This meant that Miss Lucy’s outburst could only remind the students of information with which they had already become comfortable.
Tommy shows a large amount of self-knowledge, and a great deal of astuteness regarding the educational system at Hailsham. The other students, who consider Tommy a bit “slow,” don’t catch on to Hailsham’s strategies for some time; but Tommy knows that Hailsham wanted to educate a group of willing clones, who had no qualms donating their organs, as efficiently and humanely as possible. Lucy’s ideas—that the clones ought to know more about their lives, in more detail—interrupted this Hailsham plan, and therefore Lucy’s contract with Hailsham was terminated.
Kathy also recalls how Miss Emily began talking to the students about sex—which, for the students, meant no possibility of babies (the students are all sterile). Miss Emily stressed that it was important that no student get an STD from another, but she also noted that sex between students was an acceptable activity, fundamentally different from sex between “normal” people, because for those people, babies were a very real possibility. In all, Kathy recalls that many conversations with the teenaged students at Hailsham revolved around health and wellbeing, with an eye to keeping them ready for their eventual donations.
The idea of human sexuality without even the slightest possibility of pregnancy is handled elegantly by Ishiguro, who at once allows sex to become somewhat trivialized among Hailsham students, and who also acknowledges the intricacies and mysteries of sexuality for young people. Even though the guardians know that sex among clones shouldn’t be taboo, since clones can’t have children, they nevertheless have trouble encouraging wanton sexual relationships between students.
Kathy remembers a particular story, again involving Tommy, who cuts his elbow in a small accident and goes to the Hailsham infirmary to have it bandaged. Afterward, some of the other male students tell him that he must keep his elbow straight at all times until the wound heals, since otherwise his elbow could “unzip” and seriously injure him, harming his long-term health. Tommy, conscientious about doing as the guardians tell him and protecting his health, keeps his arm straight for days, even asking Kathy to splint it straight for him. But Tommy eventually finds out that the others have been making fun of him, and though he does not have a tantrum, the phrase “unzipping an organ” becomes slang among the Hailsham teens for “donation.”
Here “unzipping” is another indication of the methods Hailsham students use to cope with the horrors and difficulties of their future careers. It seems that, as adulthood approaches, the attitude of the clones toward their fates becomes resigned, slightly ironic, and mostly lighthearted. But this attitude belies a deeper anxiety about sickness and death, as evidenced by Ruth later in the novel—in which she suffers from two “bad donations,” and becomes so physically weak she can barely perform even the simplest of tasks.
As the chapter ends, Kathy recalls that Tommy asked her, during the later period of his donation, why the students didn’t think more about Miss Lucy, who risked a great deal to tell the students more information about their futures than the other guards would. Kathy admits she does not know why she didn’t think about Miss Lucy more, during her time at Hailsham.
Once again, Tommy demonstrates his ability to empathize with others. In this case, Tommy sees from Miss Lucy’s perspective, and recognizes how difficult it must have been for her to educate a group of young people who essentially have only one possible future—and a cruel, brutal future at that.