Kazuo Ishiguro’s book “Never Let Me Go” tells us the story of an alternate history of the United Kingdom. In the dystopian novel, Ishiguro tells the story of three clones – Kathy H., Tommy D. and Ruth (who presumably also has an initial for a last name, but that’s never mentioned) – who are bred to provide their organs to prolong other people’s lives. However, during their shared, short lives, a love triangle unfolds and it is becoming increasingly clear that the book will not have a happy end.
One of the central underlying questions of the book is whether or not clones have souls. Most people agree that they do have souls, because they’re people and fall in love. However, looking at Ishiguro’s style, the characters in the book and the world they live in as well as basic knowledge of organ donations as well as cloning lead to the following conclusion: All clones but Tommy D. have no soul. And that Hailsham – the boarding school where the clones spent their youth – was closed down because it was either proven that clones have no souls or science has managed to eradicate any traces of the soul.
In the book, Ishiguro makes a point of making the shocking reveal of the clones being there for spare parts as un-shocking as possible. Because, in fact, he has told us many times before that this is what’s going on, he just never spelled it out explicitly. So when that finally happens, it comes as no surprise. Even the characters in the book themselves are not surprised because they have been told bits and pieces of the truth over the years. What is far more shocking than that is Kathy H.’s inability to have any kind of motivation to do anything as well as her inability to face any kind of emotion, going as far as to avoid it at all costs. And the fact that the clones willingly submit to being butchered in the end, not even making an attempt at survival. All, except Tommy D. This leads to the conclusion that Ishiguro tells readers way more about his world than apparent. It’s just not spelled out explicitly.
The World of Never Let Me Go
Medical science is far more advanced, albeit with technology that is years behind the technology we know from the early years of the 21st century. With technology from the 1950s (as evidenced in the movie’s title card that was put there with Ishiguro’s approval), humanity has successfully managed to clone humans. By the end of the story, we are in an alternate version of the 1990s. Kathy D. is 31 years old at the time she has to go in for her first donation. This means that Kathy and her fellow clones of the same age were created between 1959 and 1969, the early days of the cloning program.
Clones are generally accepted to be on a lower tier than humans. The boarding school Kathy lives at during her youth – Hailsham – is isolated from the rest of the world. The only contact with people who have contact with the outside world are the teachers there. Clones are obviously not supposed to mingle with society in their early years. Hailsham is strategically built at the bottom of a valley.
Hailsham stood in a smooth hollow with fields rising on all sides. That meant that from almost any of the classroom windows in the main house—and even from the pavilion—you had a good view of the long narrow road that came down across the fields and arrived at the main gate. The gate itself was still a fair distance off, and any vehicle would then have to take the gravelled drive, going past shrubs and flowerbeds, before at last reaching the courtyard in front of the main house. (p. 34)
This makes surveillance much easier. Should a clone decide to go wandering, it should be easy to spot. Furthermore, the young clones are discouraged from leaving Hailsham grounds by horror stories of the woodland that surrounds the house. Also, should it come down to the point where clones need to be eradicated for any reason, the attacking force would have a highly advantageous position, holding the high ground no matter what direction they would be attacking from.
Society regards clones as subhuman. In the 1970s, there was a small but vocal group that advocated that clones did in fact have a soul, but they lost. Hailsham was, as it is revealed in the later part of the book, one of the strongholds of this movement. Hailsham shut down and the cause was lost. However, during Kathy’s youth, they get items from the outside world, all of which are banged up and strongly resemble charity donations. It is later stated that not all the schools had these luxuries. There is constant effort made to dehumanize the clones at every chance society gets. They’re kept isolated for all of their lives but are allowed to move freely among the humans. Interaction is discouraged, seeing as the humans react with disdain and disgust to the clones. This is because the “normal” in the book know what the reader doesn’t: Clones aren’t exactly human. Curiously enough, clones have human names.
There still is a free market. Cassette tapes are still sold and bought, as is food. Money and monetary exchanges are common place. The clones are taught to handle tokens, a worthless substitute for money, at an early age, buying things at so-called Sales. With a free market come social strata. There are poor and rich people. Clones are generally kept at a state where they are too rich to die and too poor to have decent lives.
Hailsham and similar facilities
There are numerous facilities that raise clones. Hailsham is said to be one of the more luxurious ones. Given the experiments to find out if clones have a soul, this is not surprising. If there are clones and multiple schools, it is to be assumed that there’s a Kathy H. clone in more than one school. This makes sense in the context of a scientific experiment where the same subject is put in different situations. If there is a soul, the Kathy at Hailsham would turn out the same as the Kathy in any other school. It is entirely possible that every clone housing facility is made up of the very same clones.
There are multiple classes at Hailsham, all of which entirely populated by clones. Yet, in the book, clones of the same person never meet, even though economical thought strongly suggests that a person is cloned more than once. Clones are not individuals. Clones are mass produced. If there were only the clones at Hailsham, they would not be such a political issue.
The clones of “Never Let Me Go” are highly engineered. The clones are sterile and they appear to be unable to take off their tracking bracelet. These things are quite probably done to them pre-natal or shortly after birth, seeing as other than a nurse on call, Hailsham does not seem to have advanced medical equipment undoubtedly needed to engineer a clone.
This indicates that there are larger facilities that create clones. After they’re born and nursed to an age where they walk and talk, they’re shipped off to schools like Hailsham where they are educated and kept healthy. These facilities treat clones not as people, but more as a product.
This would also explain the naming convention. Names like Tommy D. are most likely not names but a model number. Maybe Tommy D.’s original was called Thomas. D could be an indicator where the clone was made, similar to a “Made in China”-label. Or it could be that Tommy is the fourth run of the model. Same goes for Ruth and Kathy H. An argument for the case that Tommy D. is part of the fourth run of the Tommy model is the fact that all the children at Hailsham have initials close to the beginning of the alphabet. Later years presumably move on in the alphabet.
There is no issue with tissue rejection during donations. This indicates that the clones are universal donors, because it does not matter who they were cloned from. Ishiguro insinuates that they’re cloned from low-lives. These people are far more likely willing to donate their genome for money, seeing as it is very probably in poor taste to be wealthy and donate gene samples. Thus, it will fall to people who are desperate for money to donate their genes.
But she just carried on: “We all know it. We’re modelled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. We all know it, so why don’t we say it? A woman like that? Come on. Yeah, right, Tommy. A bit of fun. Let’s have a bit of fun pretending. That other woman in there, her friend, the old one in the gallery. Art students, that’s what she thought we were. Do you think she’d have talked to us like that if she’d known what we really were? What do you think she’d have said if we’d asked her? ‘Excuse me, but do you think your friend was ever a clone model?’ She’d have thrown us out. We know it, so we might as well just say it. If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter. You look in rubbish bins. Look down the toilet, that’s where you’ll find where we all came from.
This is further cemented by the fact that there is still a free market and thus, there are lower and higher social strata. The fact that goods – such as cassette tapes – in the outside world are still bought and sold is proof that capitalism prevails. Were clones made from the people who could afford to have themselves cloned for spare parts, the clones would not be allowed to roam freely but kept close to their original, should a traumatic injury happen. But other than the tracking device in their wrists, Kathy and her fellow clones are free to travel. Adapting a human system to be a universal donor takes tremendous changes to the entire system.
Mind of a clone
Furthermore, it is stressed that the clones must remain healthy at all costs. Smoking is something not just frowned upon but outright demonized, because it would damage donor lungs. This extends to mental health as evidenced in Ruth’s rant (above) in Norfolk.
Clones – with the exception of Tommy – exhibit no traits of either clinical depression or resistance to anything they’re told. When Ruth tells the children of the plot to kidnap Miss Geraldine, her classmates are ready and willing to accept that as factual truth. When they get expelled from the group of the Secret Guardians – Ruth’s group of protectors of Miss Geraldine – they also readily and willingly accept that. No tear is shed, no lasting animosity is recalled. When Kathy, Ruth and Tommy visit the art gallery in Norfolk and are confused for regular people, they endured a long lecture about an artist despite the fact that they were not interested in it.
Clones also readily accept their fate as donors. They make – again, with the exception of Tommy – no effort to prolong their lives. Even after all her friends have died slow and agonizing deaths, Kathy still goes along with it. Her elegiac tone throughout the book indicates that she does not agree with the way her life went.
However, all clones show different characteristics. None of which – again, with the exception of Tommy – resemble human reactions or can be traced back to basic human traits. Basic emotions, however, seem to be intact. The clones appear to feel the urge to mate, even though they’re sterile, although Kathy has a very matter of fact approach to it and they feel sadness when their friends have completed, which is the slang-term for them having had so many operations that they died.
- Kathy is unable decide anything. She has no will of her own, goes along with whatever is the strongest impulse in her surroundings. She enjoys music, though. She takes a liking to Tommy, but immediately backs down when Ruth claims him as hers, with no resistance. She is unable to face any kind of emotion unless inescapably confronted with it. She never acts on any impulses to the point where she most likely has none. She also appears to not feel. Her recounting of her life’s story is fact-driven and very often lacks emotional connotation, resorting to a matter-of-factly explanation of events. When she and Tommy are told that there is no such thing as a deferral program, she looks at Tommy before showing any kind of emotional response.
- Ruth has no personality. She appears to be the leader of the children in the early chapters of the book set at Hailsham due to her having her loyal Secret Guard around her. However, she adopts whatever traits she sees. A kidnapping is not something a child has a concept of on its own, unless it witnesses it in a movie or is being told about it by an adult. She has seen one chess move and claims to know the game. She adopts mannerisms of the people on television and tries to blend in with the older clones at The Cottages. Ruth also readily and willingly supports blatant falsehoods after being told that something like that might exist. Her attempt at redemption before her third and final donation is most likely something she also picked up on television.
- Tommy is the only one who shows the will to live. He is the only one to actively try to take control of his destiny. When his plan of getting a deferral, he feels agony. He is angry. But he is mentally unable to escape his fate.
The conclusion: The clone’s brain chemistry has been altered. Their personality has been artificially streamlined to be as little at risk of depression or suicide as possible. They’re engineered to not put up a fight of any kind, be it even something like suicide. Any and all action is something that they are literally unable to do. Most likely, their bodies have been altered so that their bodies produce an inordinate amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of happiness. Further, their amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fight-or-flight reactions has been dramatically altered as clones generally seem to be unfazed by anything – again, with the exception of Tommy. This most likely also goes for adrenaline, another neurotransmitter, that is also responsible for fight-or-flight reactions.
Why Tommy D.?
Given the fact that Tommy is the one who acts the most human of the three lead characters, it stands to reason that he is the one who still retains something that could most likely be described as a soul. From his earliest days, he has been shunned by his peers. He was the only one to actively not be creative during Hailsham’s experiment to determine whether or not clones have a soul by having them do art. All other clones willingly went along and were creative. Tommy decided – of his own free will – against it. Tommy, as the only clone in the book, exhibits anger.
Tommy is either an early model of a clone, a deviation from the norm or an experiment put in place to find out where the soul is.
The defeat of the soul and the closing of Hailsham
But if all clones are universal donors, why have different models. Technically, only two are needed at best. One male and one female. Given the fact that their reproductive systems are not functioning, it would be possible to make due with just one model of clone. But readers are relayed the story of the early years of the cloning experiment. Reproductional cloning – the cloning of an entire person – is commonplace, possibly because the ways of therapeutic cloning – the cloning of singular organs on an as-needed basis – has either not been invented or not been perfected.
So it is thinkable that while the staff of Hailsham have set out to prove that clones have souls, science was working on eradicating any and all traits of a potential soul, changing brain chemistry around as they saw fit. Alternatively, they sought to eradicate all impulses coming from the right cerebral hemisphere which is responsible for creativity, thus eliminating the last shot Hailsham had at shutting down the cloning programme.
Hailsham fighting an uphill battle and science progressing, science eventually won and eradicated all traces of a soul or managed to perfect therapeutic cloning and the clone programme as we’ve witnessed is in the process of dying out. Once that had happened, places like Hailsham were no longer needed. Hailsham would also be one of the first ones to go as it would cost more to keep running than any other facility.
The clones in “Never Let Me Go” are engineered to have no soul or as little of a soul as possible. This keeps them docile and prevents them from rebelling against their inevitable fate, even though they are fully aware of what is coming. This is achieved by both medical and social engineering.
Society in this dystopian England has found a way to successfully eradicate any and all traces of a soul and has managed to create beings that resemble humans, but aren’t really. Clones are now mass produced and cooped up in concentration camps. They receive little to no support from the outside world.
Should clones still possess something that gives them any of the qualities a soul gives a living being, it is no longer considered human. There are fewer models of clones than seen in the story.