Study Guide

Never Let Me Go Passivity

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Passivity

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. (4.1)

Here, Kathy sounds like an old woman. Yet she's just thirty-one. To us, this seems like an early age to be ready to "rest" (a.k.a. give away your organs and die). But Kathy's always expected to complete around this age, so it's not a big deal.

Chapter 16
Kathy H.

But I didn't say or do anything. […] 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)

Sometimes Kathy can be a really strong gal, but here she just gives up. In fact, she doesn't even try to find a solution to her squabble with Ruth and Tommy. Yet even though Kathy has thrown in the towel, she still gives us some mighty powerful imagery. Can't you just picture Kathy sagging down because she's so exhausted?

Chapter 19
Ruth

"I was like you, Tommy. I was pretty much ready when I became a donor. It felt right. After all, it's what we're supposed to be doing, isn't it?" (19.61)

To us, the idea of being "ready" to donate your organs sounds pretty crazy. But to Ruth, it's what she's "supposed to be doing." She doesn't see becoming a donor as a defeat or a sign that she's given up. Instead, it's more like she's finally reached the goal that society set for her. She has finally fulfilled her purpose.

Kathy H.

"It's funny," I said, "remembering it all now. Remember how you used to go on about it? How you'd one day work in an office like that one?"

[…]

"Don't you sometimes think," I said to Ruth, "you should have looked into it more? All right, you'd have been the first. The first one any of us would have heard of getting to do something like that. But you might have done it. Don't you wonder sometimes, what might have happened if you'd tried?"

"How could I have tried?" Ruth's voice was hardly audible. "It's just something I once dreamt about. That's all." (19.90, 92-93)

For all her dreaming, Ruth never actually tries to work in an office. And as Kathy points out to her, if you don't try, then you definitely won't succeed. To Ruth, it's as if there was no point in trying in the first place. Way to have a positive attitude, Ruth. Here Ruth's submissive outlook seems pretty different than the younger, more defiant powerhouse we got used to seeing.

Chapter 22
Kathy H.

I caught a glimpse of his face in the moonlight, caked in mud and distorted with fury, then I reached for his flailing arms and held on tight. He tried to shake me off, but I kept holding on, until he stopped shouting and I felt the fight go out of him. (22.95)

Tommy is upset after he and Kathy have visited Miss Emily and learned that there are no deferrals. We'd be pretty upset, too. Tommy's tantrum in this cow field is one of the few moments where we see one of the clones fighting against the role society has given them, even though it doesn't do him any good. And in the end, even Tommy gives in and stops fighting once and for all.

Miss Emily

"I can see," Miss Emily said, "that it might look as though you were simply pawns in a game. It can certainly be looked at like that. But think of it. You were lucky pawns. There was a certain climate and now it's gone. You have to accept that sometimes that's how things happen in this world." (22.41)

This idea that the Hailsham students are pawns in a game makes a lot of sense to us. Just like pawns, they have very little control over their lives. Instead, someone else is pushing them around the board and they passively follow suit. We're thinking that this sounds like the least fun game of chess ever.

Chapter 23
Tommy D.

Then he said: "I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it's just too much. The current's too strong. They've got to let go, drift apart. That's how I think it is with us. It's a shame, Kath, because we've loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can't stay together forever." (23.30)

Gosh that's a powerful image, and a mighty sad one. There's something so final in the way Tommy talks about letting Kathy go. To Tommy, there's nothing they can do to change their fate. It just is what it is, so they may as well give in.

"I mean, don't you ever get tired of being a carer? All the rest of us, we became donors ages ago. You've been doing it for years. Don't you sometimes wish, Kath, they'd hurry up and send you your notice?"

I shrugged. "I don't mind. Anyway, it's important there are good carers. And I'm a good carer."

"But is it really that important? Okay, it's really nice to have a good carer. But in the end, is it really so important? The donors will all donate, just the same, and then they'll complete." (23.24-26)

Tommy's being quite the killjoy here. The way he figures it, everyone donates and completes, so why bother working so hard to be a carer? Do you think Tommy is being pessimistic? Or is he just being realistic?

Kathy H.

I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be. (23.49)

In the very last line of the novel, Kathy shows no signs of resistance. Kathy even has her car and we know that driving has a lot to do with freedom in this novel. But in the end, Kathy's car isn't going to carry her to liberty. Instead, she's going to submit to her fate, and drive herself to wherever she's "supposed to be."

Once I'm able to have a quieter life, in whichever centre they send me to, I'll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that'll be something no one can take away. (23.47)

For Kathy, society might be able to take away her vital organs, but they won't take away her connection with Hailsham. Kathy sounds almost defiant here, even as she talks about yielding to her fate. She might be ready for a "quieter life" in a recovery center, but that doesn't mean she's willing to let go of her memories.