Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
In Never Let Me Go, Kathy H. is the big cheese. She's the head honcho. The big kahuna. The VIP. You catch our drift: Kathy is seriously important. Of course, when a book starts out with a line like "My name is Kathy H.," you can be pretty sure this Kathy gal is going to be the apple of our reading eyes.
Kathy's important not just because she stands front and center on a stage including three total protagonists. Kathy's also the character we stick with throughout the entire story. We never ever leave her side, and we learn all about the other protagonists through her eyes.
So this means we follow her while she's working in her job as a carer, and hop backwards with her for each flashback. She takes us on journeys to her school years at Hailsham and to her slightly more adventurous days at the Cottages. You might say that we get to watch Kathy grow up. Actually, let's rephrase that: we watch Kathy as she looks back and watches herself grow up.
Kathy Behind the Wheel: A Fearless Gal in Charge
As a storyteller, Kathy's got the power. And she takes full advantage of it, too. She's in control of how we learn information and this gives her license to tell us what she wants when she wants, which can get a wee bit frustrating at times. (For more on Kathy's role as the narrator, go check out "Point of View" and then come back.)
But Kathy's not just taking charge in her role as storyteller. She takes control in her own life as well. We have to admire just how self-assured Kathy can be sometimes. When she makes a decision, the girl sticks to her guns and doesn't waver one bit.
Case in point: after having a tiff with Ruth (no surprise there), Kathy makes a huge life decision without hesitation: "It wasn't long after that I made my decision, and once I'd made it, I never wavered. I just got up one morning and told Keffers I wanted to start my training to become a carer" (17.35). Kathy sure does have guts. Leaving the Cottages is going to be one of the biggest changes in her entire life, but she goes for it with gusto, and doesn't seem to regret it after the fact, either.
Kathy's go-getter attitude also makes her a stellar carer. She's good at taking care of donors while they are recuperating, and facing down the depressing festival of depressingness that is that career. And she's also good at taking care of herself. Being a carer means Kathy spends a lot of time alone, and she relishes being Miss Independent.
Kathy in the Passenger's Seat: Sometimes She's Just Along for the Ride
Despite all her go-getter qualities, we're sorry to say that our dear powerful Kathy can sometimes be a pushover. Yes it's true: even Kathy, queen of the road and carer above all carers, becomes passive sometimes. (But you, dear Shmoopers, can fight against this lethargy. Go scope out the "Passivity" theme and then join us back here.)
First, there's the obvious: Kathy doesn't fight against the life that's been set out for her or try to run away. She accepts that she's going to become a donor and she even looks forward to it, which sounds a little crazy to us. Run Kathy run! But nope, no running for Kathy. She doesn't even lodge a complaint with the higher ups… whoever they are.
Kathy can also be passive in her friendships. When it comes to fighting with Ruth (and, let's be honest, it comes to that a lot), Kathy doesn't always stand up for herself. Let's go back to the Cottages for a peek at passive Kathy. At the Cottages, Ruth tells Tommy that Kathy thinks his animal drawings are ridiculous. We know this is a straight-up lie, but Tommy doesn't. And what does Kathy do as this blatant fib takes its ripple effects through the group? Absolutely nothing. Come on Kath, stand your ground:
But I didn't say or do anything. It was partly, I suppose, that I was so floored by the fact that Ruth would come out with such a trick. I remember a huge tiredness coming over me, a kind of lethargy in the face of the tangled mess before me. It was like being given a math problem when your brain's exhausted, and you know there's some far-off solution, but you can't work up the energy even to give it a go. Something in me just gave up. (16.60)
When faced with Ruth's trickery, Kathy crumbles. Let's get real here: she doesn't even try to defend herself. It's as if Kathy's so overwhelmed that it becomes impossible for her to do anything at all. There's just something about Ruth that makes her Kathy's kryptonite.
So Kathy can be both a powerhouse and a bit of a pushover. Do you think one of these qualities is more dominant in our leading lady than another?
When Pushy Meets Pushover
This clash between the different sides of Kathy's personality points to a larger point in the novel. Why don't these clones ever stand up for themselves? Why don't they try to buck the system, or even run away to Zihuatenejo or something?
Kathy's passive acceptance of her fate as a clone isn't just because she's a bit of a pushover. We think it's because she wasn't even aware of her fate for a large portion of her formative years. And maybe, just maybe, by the time she found out, it was already too late. Maybe if she'd been given a chance to know what was really going to go down earlier in her life, she would have taken a stand.
Still, her passive acceptance of hers and Tommy's fate is a bit of a mystery to Shmoop. What would you do if you were in a similar situation? We'd like to think there'd at least be some hysterical sobbing somewhere in there. But not for Kathy. She's stoic through and through.Kathy's Timeline