Study Guide

Ruth in Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro


Ruth is Kathy's best friend and her arch nemesis. It really depends on the day. Sometimes Ruth is so nice that we want to reach through the page and give her a hug. But most of the time, we kind of want to strangle her, too, because she can be just plain awful. She also spends a few years dating Tommy, which throws a wrench in the three musketeers thing these main characters have going on. As his girlfriend, she'll turn on the charm, but then switch it off just as quickly. As you can see, the girl's a real peach.

It's almost like Ruth has two personalities in one body. Kathy even says this herself: "I'd had this notion there were two quite separate Ruths" (11.15). To be honest, this split personality takes its toll on Kathy's patience. And on ours for that matter.

So let's break down the two sides of Ruth.

Ruth #1: (Almost) the Poster Child for Good Friends Everywhere

Sometimes, Ruth can be a profoundly loyal friend. True, these moments are few and far between. But when they happen, they're real gems. Remember when Ruth tries so hard to find Kathy's lost Judy Bridgewater tape? That was super sweet. And what about the time that Ruth consoles Kathy after she's broken up with Lenny? Another gold star for Ruth. See? Ruth can be selfless and caring at the best of times. Plus, she's always down for a late night cup of tea and a long heart-to-heart.

But what keeps Ruth from being a good friend all the time? Well, there are oodles of reasons, but here's the one that stands out to us: competition. Let's get real here. Our leading trio is made up of two girls and one guy. Just think of Harry Potter (gender ratios reversed, of course). Whenever there's a trio like this, competition is bound to crop up. It's basic friendship math.

And who do you think Ruth feels the most competition with? We'll give you a hint (not like you need it): her name starts with a "K" and ends with an "athy."

Yet in the end, Ruth really tries to make up for all her slip-ups as a friend. She tracks down Madame's address for Kathy and Tommy so they can apply for a deferral. Sure, Ruth was the one to keep those lovebirds apart in the first place. But she works hard to make amends and get those two crazy kids together.

There's so much to say about Ruth's unique brand of friendship. Itching to read more? Jet over to the "Friendship" theme and quotes where it's no surprise that she pops up a lot.

Ruth #2: That Selfish Bossy Pants Who Will Throw You Under the Bus

Right out the gate, we know Ruth is going to be trouble. Even when she's just an itty bitty kid playing in the sandbox, Ruth is already stirring up drama and telling people what to do. As the leader of the secret guard, she'll kick anyone out who so much as looks at her the wrong way. She's a regular seven-year-old tyrant.

The problem is that Ruth wants to be the leading lady all the time. It goes without saying that this version of Ruth can be super selfish. She's more interested in being cool and impressing people than she is in being nice to her friends, especially Kathy and Tommy. This means sometimes she's willing to purposefully leave Kathy out or make Tommy feel like the outcast, just so long as she doesn't get the boot.

Take, for example, that blow-up Ruth has in the churchyard by the Cottages. She's just found out about Tommy's theory on Madame's Gallery and is not pleased at all: "Tommy's been telling me about his big theory. He says he's already told you. Ages ago. But now, very kindly, he's allowing me to share in it too" (16.45). Ruth's not keen on playing second fiddle. Can you hear the snarky sarcasm? We know, we know, it's hard to miss.

But once Ruth becomes a donor, she trades in her bossy pants for… passive pants? She certainly stops being quite so feisty and selfish all the time. While "nice Ruth" might be a pleasant change from "mean Ruth," it's also an indication of just how much the donations have changed her.

A New Ruth

What is it about those donations that have changed the closest thing this book has to a villain? Why does Ruth have this change of heart? We think it's because she realized something that Kathy has been keenly aware of for quite some time—all these clones have is each other. Maybe Ruth let her unhappiness feed her jealousy. Maybe Ruth was just a control freak. But in any case, by the end of the novel, she's let go of the past and hopes for a brighter future for her friends. That, ladies and gentlemen, is quite the transformation. And good thing, too, right? Otherwise this book might have been even darker than it already is.