Study Guide

Never Let Me Go Memory and the Past

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Memory and the Past

Chapter 1
Kathy H.

Or maybe I'm remembering it wrong. (1.16)

Sometimes—okay, a lot of times—memory plays tricks on us. But this confession doesn't exactly inspire our confidence in Kathy as a storyteller. If she can't even remember her story, how are we supposed to trust her?

Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hailsham. I might pass the corner of a misty field, or see part of a large house in the distance as I come down the side of a valley, even a particular arrangement of popular trees up on a hillside, and I'll think: "Maybe that's it! I've found it! This actually is Hailsham!" (1.8)

Kathy really wants to find her old digs. While driving, Kathy likes to reminisce about Hailsham and keep an eye out for it, just in case. In fact, we might even say Kathy is obsessed with finding her old home. Look at how excited she is when she thinks she's found it! Three exclamations!

Chapter 4
Kathy H.

I won't be a carer any more come the end of the year, and though I've got a lot out of it, I have to admit I'll welcome the chance to rest—to stop and think and remember. I'm sure it's at least partly to do with that, to do with preparing for the change of pace, that I've been getting this urge to order all these old memories. (4.1)

Do you find it funny that Kathy says she wants to "order" all these old memories? To us, they are almost always out of order. Kathy's flashbacks are jumbled together and she likes to hop between them at random. But then again, maybe Kathy didn't mean she wanted to order her memories chronologically, but with some other system.

Chapter 7
Kathy H.

The earlier years—the ones I've just been telling you about—they tend to blur into each other as a kind of golden time, and when I think about them at all, even the not-so-great things, I can't help feeling a sort of glow. (7.1)

Looks like Kathy's wearing a big old pair of rose-colored glasses when she's looking at the past. To be fair, it does sound like Hailsham was a pretty awesome place to grow up.

Chapter 9
Kathy H.

I saw Harry fleetingly a couple of years ago at the recovery center in Wiltshire. […] I suppose there's no reason I should have any special place in his memory. We'd never had much to do with each other apart from that one time. To him, if he remembered me at all, I'd just be this daft girl who came up to him once, asked if he wanted sex, then backed off. (9.8)

Kathy understands that Harry may remember their experiences together differently than she does. In fact, she's been going on about Harry for pages and how important he was to her decision to have sex. In contrast, Harry might not remember Kathy at all. Even though they probably have shared memories of Hailsham, this is a reminder to Kathy that not everyone's memories are the same.

Chapter 10
Kathy H.

But then again, when I think about it, there's a sense in which that picture of us on that first day, huddled together in front of the farmhouse, isn't so incongruous after all. Because maybe, in a way, we didn't leave it behind nearly as much as we might once have thought. Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and—no matter how much we despised ourselves for it—unable quite to let each other go. (10.13)

Kathy and her friends all have a tough time letting go of their shared past. What do you think of the image Kathy gives us here? To us, it sounds a bit like nesting dolls. Not only can the huddling friends not leave the past behind, but it's as if they keep their past selves tucked "somewhere underneath" their current ones.

Chapter 11
Kathy H.

I suppose, in general, I never appreciated in those days the sheer effort Ruth was making to move on, to grow up and leave Hailsham behind. (11.16)

Moving on can be hard to do. Ruth tries to move on from Hailsham by getting rid of her "collection." We can't imagine Kathy doing something like that. Kathy isn't exactly known for her ability to let go of the past. Why do you think Ruth is so intent on severing ties with Hailsham? What makes her so different from Kathy in that respect?

But when I think about it now, I can see things more from Ruth's viewpoint. (11.16)

For Kathy, hindsight is 20/20. She's often so wrapped up in her own head, that she doesn't see things from anyone else's point of view. But when she's looking backward, Kathy gains a bit more insight. She's finally able to understand what other people might have been thinking.

Chapter 22
Kathy H.

"There was a time you saw me once, one afternoon, in the dormitories. There was no one else around, and I was playing this tape, this music. I was sort of dancing, with my eyes closed and you saw me."

"That's very good. A mind-reader. You should be on the stage. I only recognised you just now. But yes, I remember that occasion. I still think about it from time to time."

"That's funny. So do I." (22.67-69)

While they are standing in front of Madame's house, Kathy realizes that she and Madame are both remembering the same thing. Both ladies have thought about the dancing girl a lot over the years. In many ways, they share this memory together, which is kind of sweet.

Chapter 23
Kathy H.

I was talking to one of my donors a few days ago who was complaining about how memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don't go along with that. The memories I value most, I don't see them ever fading. I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy, but I won't lose my memories of them. (23.44)

Kathy loses a lot of things throughout this novel, but the one thing she really doesn't want to lose is her memory. She believes her memories are fade-resistant. What do you think? We've seen Kathy admit to some memory loss before, so can we trust that her memories won't fade over time?