Study Guide

Never Let Me Go Chapter 4

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Chapter 4

  • Adult Kathy drops a doozie on us out of the middle of nowhere: she's not going to be a carer by the end of the year. And she's happy about "the chance to rest" (4.1).
  • It's not totally clear what she means by "rest" here, but since we've only heard about two career options and the other one involves mysterious "donations," we're not sure we like the sound of it.
  • Kathy says this coming change has gotten her taking all these trips down memory lane. She wants to think about the early years at Hailsham and her time with Ruth and Tommy.
  • And looking back she realizes that the interest they took in Madame was actually a really big deal: "it was the start of a process that kept growing and growing over the years until it came to dominate our lives" (4.1).
  • Remember how Kathy likes to take us on crazy flashback adventures intermixed with mysterious explanations? Well get ready for another one.
  • Reminiscing about Madame and the Gallery reminds Kathy of her talk with Tommy by the pond. And after that talk Kathy thought about something perplexing Miss Lucy had said in class one day. And that comment in class one day had come about during a period known as the "tokens controversy."
  • (In case you're wondering where this fits into the order of events, the tokens controversy happens a couple years after the Madame-spider debacle, but three years before Tommy and Kathy's pond-side chat.)
  • So here's how the tokens controversy went down. Kathy and her friends are ten years old and they've started to care a lot about their "collections." Each student at Hailsham has a box where they keep the personal possessions they've picked up at the Exchanges and Sales (which Kathy still hasn't explained). And in order to collect possessions, you need tokens.
  • The students start debating whether they should receive tokens when their best art is taken by Madame for the Gallery. One student, Roy J., talks to Miss Emily, the stern head guardian, about it. The guardians decide to give the students some tokens for artwork taken by Madame, but remind the students that having their work selected is also an honor.
  • One day in class with Miss Lucy, they all discuss this tokens business. One girl asks Miss Lucy why Madame takes their artwork anyway. And Miss Lucy says that it is for a good reason, and she hopes they'll find out more someday. Gee, thanks Miss Lucy. That cryptic answer really helps us figure this whole mess out.
  • All this tokens talk leads Kathy to tell us about Sales. The Sales happened once a month and everyone would get totally psyched about them. A van from the outside world would bring a load of goodies, and the students could use their tokens to purchase them.
  • This was their only chance to put something into their collection from the world beyond Hailsham, so Sales were a pretty big deal.
  • Most of the time the Sales were awesome because you bought cool things and hung out with your friends. But sometimes people would fight over the same item, and this meant a lecture for everyone from Miss Emily during the morning assembly.
  • Miss Emily's lectures during these assemblies could be confusing. She would ramble about those who would "thwart us" but none of it ever made much sense to Kathy and her friends (and even less to us).
  • Even so, Miss Emily always made one thing super obvious: "we were all very special, being Hailsham students" (4.23).
  • But despite going on about Miss Emily for awhile, Kathy tells us that she doesn't really want to talk about this. What she really wants to tell us about is Ruth and how they became friends.
  • Ruth wasn't Kathy's first friend, but Kathy does have a "vague memory" of Ruth from when they were around five or six years old (4.45).
  • It all started in the sandpit. Ruth was angry at some girls who were playing near Kathy. And Kathy, being a wise kid, tried to make it clear that she wasn't with those girls. She didn't want to incur the wrath of Ruth.
  • After this encounter in the sandpit, nothing memorable happened between Ruth and Kathy until they were seven years old. That's when Ruth came up to Kathy one day during lunch and asked if she'd like to ride one of her horses. Well, you know, imaginary horses, but still cool.
  • Kathy joins Ruth and rides around on her imaginary pets. Ruth is kind of nice when she lets Kathy ride her best horse, Thunder. But then she's also kind of bossy and mean when she gives Kathy orders about how to ride the horses and put them away in the stables.
  • Then, out of the blue, Ruth invites Kathy to be part of Miss Geraldine's secret guard.