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.
Losing and Finding ThemeTracker
Losing and Finding Quotes in Never Let Me Go
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
. . . 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.