Never Let Me Go is an example of a “bildungsroman,” or a novel of one person’s education. In this case, Kathy H., the narrator and protagonist, details her education at Hailsham and “the Cottages,” and then her career as a “carer.” The novel is characterized by Kathy H.’s disappointments, anxieties, and moments of happiness as she gets older, and becomes closer with her two friends Tommy and Ruth. Kathy and the other characters recall life at Hailsham with great fondness. As young people at “school” there, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are mostly free to make art, speak to one another, and take a schedule of relatively undemanding courses. Of course, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth learn that their lives at Hailsham are not exactly carefree—they cannot really leave the campus, and their guardians’ job is to look after them and to make sure that they do not get into trouble or “harm their bodies.”
Gradually, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth learn that they are clones, and that, when they grow older, they will serve as organ donors for the rest of the population. But this fact—so gruesome-seeming to the reader, and to the outside world—is conveyed delicately to the Hailsham students. Even when Miss Lucy tells the assembled students in her class that they cannot make plans for their future—that their lives are entirely predetermined—the students are no so much shocked as they are embarrassed and confused, since Miss Lucy’s outburst is so unlike the typical behavior of the guardians. In a way, then, the novel’s enormous revelation from the reader’s perspective—that the students at Hailsham are clones forced to farm out their organs—is not the students’ greatest revelation. Indeed, the students undergo the kinds of personal developments and changes that all teenagers and new adults undergo, despite the fact that their end is predetermined.
Different characters mature in different ways. Ruth does not really abandon her anger, self-absorption, and desire to appear “in the know,” although she does weaken over time, and her relationship with Kathy becomes more intimate. Ruth does recognize that Kathy and Tommy are in love, however, and after at first thwarting their relationship eventually does her best to bring them together, telling Kathy she ought to be Tommy’s carer. Tommy, on the other hand, loses his youthful impetuosity and tendency toward “temper tantrums.” Although he remains somewhat naïve and less witty than Ruth and Kathy, he cares a great deal for Kathy, and the two have a small amount of time together before Tommy’s final donation. Kathy becomes a skilled carer, which allows her to continue in this role far longer than her peers. In particular, she uses her “care” relationship with Tommy and Ruth as a way of reconnecting with them, even as other students from Hailsham drift away from their youthful acquaintances. Kathy experiences tinges of sadness after Ruth and Tommy die, but accept her next role as a donor.
Maturation and “Growing Up” ThemeTracker
Maturation and “Growing Up” Quotes in Never Let Me Go
So I reached forward and put a hand on his arm. Afterwards, the others thought he’d meant to do it, but I was pretty sure it was unintentional. His arms were still flailing about, and he wasn’t to know I was about to put out my hand. Anyway, as he threw up his arm, he knocked my hand aside and hit the side of my face.
Well . . . . The thing is, it might sound strange. It did to me at first. What she said was that if I didn’t want to be creative, if I really didn’t feel like it, that was perfectly all right. Nothing wrong with it, she said.
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.
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?
I accepted the invisible rein she was holding out, and then we were off, riding up and down the fence, sometimes cantering, sometimes at a gallop. I’d been correct in my decision to tell Ruth I didn’t have any horses of my own, because after a while with Bramble, she let me try her various other horses one by one, shouting all sorts of instructions about how to handle each animal’s foibles.
When it came down to it, though, I don’t recall our taking many practical steps towards defending Miss Geraldine; our activities always revolved around gathering more and more evidence concerning the plot itself.
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.
And you didn’t want to do it in the fields even when it was warm enough, because you’d almost certainly discover afterwards you’d had an audience watching from the house passing round binoculars. In other words, for all the talk of sex being beautiful, we had the distinct impression we’d be in trouble if the guardians caught us at it.
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.
Come to think of it, I suppose you haven’t been that slow making friends with at least some of the veterans.
You were different. I remember. You were never embarrassed about your collection and you kept it. I wish now I’d done that too.
You know, Ruth, we might be coming here in a few years’ time to visit you. Working in a nice office. I don’t see how anyone could stop us visiting you then.
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!
Well, Kathy, what you have to realize is that Tommy doesn’t see you like that. He really, really likes you, he thinks you’re really great. But I know he doesn’t see you like, you know, a proper girlfriend. Besides, you know how Tommy is. He can be fussy . . . . Tommy doesn’t like girls who’ve been with . . . well, you know, with this person and that.
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.