Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go Chapter 6 Summary
How It All Goes Down
- We're still inside the pencil case flashback. After their private chitchat, things are a little weird between Kathy and Ruth. Ruth seems scared that Kathy will spread the truth about the pencil case, and Kathy feels bad about the whole thing. Yet they can't seem to fix it. We're thinking this is probably because they never actually talk out their problems.
- Then one day in art class, another student named Midge asks Ruth where she got her pencil case. When Ruth doesn't know how to answer, Kathy steps in and saves the day. She tells Midge that they can't reveal where the pencil case came from. It's a secret that only the privileged few get to know.
- Playing into Ruth's pencil case story seems to have done the trick, and the two are friends again. Since Kathy and Ruth haven't yet discovered the fine art of talking about their problems, Ruth tries to show Kathy her appreciation with a kind gesture.
- And Ruth gets her chance to be nice when Kathy loses her favorite cassette tape.
- Kathy tells us that this tape is her most precious possession. It's an album called Songs After Dark by Judy Bridgewater, and she just loves it. (There's a whole lot of stuff to read into this tape, so tune into "Symbols" for more. Oh, and Judy Bridgewater isn't a real singer, but check out "Brain Snacks" for some speculations on her real-life doppelgangers.)
- Kathy even listens to the tape nowadays while driving. Of course, she doesn't have the original one because it got lost, which is a bummer. Instead she has "the one Tommy and I found in Norfolk years afterwards—but that's another story I'll come to later" (6.21).
- For now, we get to hear about the original tape. Well, kinda-sorta. You know Kathy doesn't like to tell a story without a lot of interruptions, so here's the first one she gives us: an explanation about why Norfolk was such a big deal.
- Back at Hailsham, Miss Emily always taught lessons about England's geography. She uses maps and pictures from a calendar to give visuals for the different counties. Hmm, using calendar pictures to explain geography might give us a hint about the level of resources Hailsham has… or doesn't.
- But Miss Emily has no calendar pictures for Norfolk, no matter how many times she gives a lesson on it. And she calls it a "lost corner" because it juts out to the east (6.26). (By the way, Norfolk is a real place in England, and it really does jut out to the east.)
- The students latch onto this "lost corner" phrase because they called Hailsham's lost-and-found the "Lost Corner." Someone even claims that Miss Emily said that everything that gets lost in England ends up in Norfolk, so it really is a Lost Corner same as Hailsham's. And this idea just sticks.
- Eventually, when they get a little older, this notion that Norfolk is a lost-and-found for the whole country becomes a joke. But when they were younger, Kathy and her friends really believed that trucks would gather lost items from all over England and deliver them to Norfolk. We have to admit, a country-wide lost-and-found sounds pretty amazing.
- Oh, and Kathy also says, for the first time, that when they were young they knew very little about what lay beyond Hailsham. Apparently they never left Hailsham to see the "world outside" while they were growing up (6.29).
- So with all this hubbub around Norfolk being a Lost Corner and all, it was pretty crazy for Tommy and Kathy when they actually found the tape she'd lost when they were visiting Norfolk.
- And that takes us back to the original tape that Kathy lost, but not for long. Kathy tells us about the cassette's cover, which showed Judy smoking a cigarette. Smoking was entirely banned from Hailsham. So Kathy's next interlude in the cassette tape story is a flashback about smoking, among other things.
- One day in class at Hailsham, Miss Lucy was giving a lecture about smoking when Marge K. asked if she had ever smoked. Miss Lucy says she has, but that it's still a very bad thing to do.
- And it's especially bad for students of Hailsham because "keeping yourselves well, keeping yourselves healthy inside, that's much more important for each of you than it is for me" (6.39).
- Now that she's older, Kathy wonders why none of the students asked Miss Lucy for an explanation about why they're so different from the guardians and people outside Hailsham.
- Back to the tape again. Kathy's favorite song is track three, titled "Never Let Me Go." Hold on just a sec. The song and the book have the same title? Yep, and you can read more about that in "What's Up With the Title?"
- Kathy's favorite part of the song is the line "Baby, baby, never let me go" (6.46). And because she's eleven and not the best listener ever, Kathy thinks this song is about a woman who can't have kids but then miraculously has a baby. (At this point, we kindly recommend an edifying musical break. Go listen to Ace of Base's "All That She Wants" with the idea that the line "all that she wants is another baby" refers to an actual diaper-clad newborn and not a lover. And then you'll get an idea of how Kathy's misinterpretation went down. Plus, Ace of Base is simply good '90s fun.)
- One cheery afternoon, Kathy goes to her dorm room to listen to "Never Let Me Go" really loudly. As the song plays, Kathy enjoys a little make-believe. She picks up a pillow and, holding it like a baby, she sings "Baby, baby, never let me go" to her pillow-child (6.50).
- All of a sudden, she sees Madame watching her from the doorway and, get this, Madame is crying. And not just crying, but sobbing.
- This really freaks Kathy out, but she doesn't want to tell anyone about it.
- By the time Kathy talks about this incident with Tommy a few years later, they've learned that Hailsham students can't have babies, which is really sad. Tommy says that Madame was probably just upset because she knew that Kathy couldn't have a child.
- But Kathy points out that the whole baby thing was all in her own head. So how on earth could Madame have known that she was thinking about an actual baby? Hmm, good question.
- A few months after Madame saw Kathy with her pillow-baby, Kathy's tape goes missing. And she's super sad about it.
- Remember how Kathy started talking about the tape because it was connected with the pretty pencil case and how Ruth wanted to repay Kathy for standing up for her? Well Kathy connects the dots here, finally.
- Ruth tries really hard to find Kathy's tape, but can't. Instead, one day Ruth gives her a different cassette tape that she found at a Sale. Kathy is disappointed that it's not Judy Bridgewater, but feels happy at Ruth's thoughtfulness.
- And thirty-one-year-old Kathy still has the tape to this day. It's extra special to her because we learn some sad news: "now Ruth has gone" (6.70).
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