Never Let Me Go


Kazuo Ishiguro

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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.
Life, Death, and Humanity Theme Icon

Although the clones have different biological “beginnings” from other human beings in England—who are glimpsed only fleetingly in the novel, with the exception of the staff at Hailsham—they live lives notable for their fundamentally “human” qualities. That is, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy must learn to live with one another, cope with romantic failures and excitements, and confront the realities of their own deaths. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy and the other clones are remarkably passive regarding acceptance of their fates—that they must donate their organs and then “complete.”

At first, Ishiguro appears to play with the reader’s expectations about this gruesome form of social donation: he reveals information about the donations slowly, and clearly intends for the impersonality of this system to shock. But, as the novel goes on, Ishiguro makes a more masterful and exciting point—that, in fact, the shock we feel at the definitiveness of the clones’ fate, and their willingness to go along with it, ought to cause us to think about our own lives, the constraints we accept in them, and the inevitability of our own demise. This “second shock,” then, shows us that perhaps our own fates are not so different from the clones’. Although we have a greater variety of choices in our lives, we also must die, and as we approach death, we have about as much choice as do the clones; whether we “accept” our deaths or not, we will eventually die.

What is most shocking, too, is the willingness of “normal” members of English society to hold the clones at arm’s length. Although the reader begins to recognize that Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are just like us, the novel’s “normal humans” insist on dismantling institutions like Hailsham, and the notion of “postponements” and other human facets of clone life are revealed to be baseless rumors. Much of Kathy’s adult life has been a lonely one, driving around the country’s highways and checking in on the donors for whom she cares. The irony here, then, is complex. Kathy’s loneliness is not so dissimilar from the loneliness of any normal human professional. But because UK society has decided the clones are fundamentally different from them, they tightly circumscribe the life-possibilities of the clones. At the same time, however, the reader sees, in the clones’ transition from student to carer to donor, similar emotions to “normal” growing up, normal romantic life, normal professional development.

The reader, in this way, feels fully prepared to acknowledge the humanity of the main characters, even as society of the novel pushes them to the margins. Kathy is nevertheless able to salvage, from this, a life of genuine human connections and experiences. Although she owns little and has no family, she does have her deep and abiding friendships with Tommy and Ruth, which give her great comfort, even as she approaches her time as a donor.

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Life, Death, and Humanity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Never Let Me Go related to the theme of Life, Death, and Humanity.
Chapter 3 Quotes

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:
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:

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
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The point about Chrissie—and this applied to a lot of the veterans—was that for all her slightly patronizing manner towards us when we’d first arrived, she was awestruck about our being from Hailsham. It took me a long time to realize this.

Related Characters: Kathy H. (speaker), Chrissie
Related Symbols: Hailsham
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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: