KAZUO ISHIGURO, NEVER LET ME GO (2005)

© 2021, by M. Keith Booker

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro (1954- ) has some claim to being Britain’s greatest living novelist. Born in Nagasaki, Japan, Ishiguro moved with his family to Great Britain at the age of five and has lived there ever since, becoming a British citizen in 1983. One of his early novels, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), deals with the dramatic changes that were underway in Japanese society in the years after World War II, but most of his work is strongly rooted in Britain. His best-known novel is probably The Remains of the Day (1989), winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. This novel, made into a high profile film in 1993, is an historical drama that probes a number of issues in British history, especially the attempted appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s by certain members of the British ruling elite. The Unconsoled (1995) is a complex, sprawling novel about a renowned concert pianist that left many early readers baffled but has gained considerable critical support over the years. When We Were Orphans (2000) is a sort of detective novel, set partly in England and partly in China; it launched Ishiguro’s tendency, in the latter part of his career, to explore popular genres in his work. Never Let Me Go was his first move into science fiction, though this novel has something of the texture of a detective novel as well. His most recent novel, Klara and the Sun (2021), narrated by a solar powered artificially intelligent android, resides more clearly in the realm of science fiction, while The Buried Giant (2015) is a fantasy novel.

Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate history version of late twentieth-century England that is centrally informed by dramatic discoveries in medical science in the 1950s—the real-world decade in which the work of British scientists Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin, along with American scientist James Watson, laid the foundations for all future work in DNA and genetics research. In the world of the novel, these discoveries have been pushed to a horrifying conclusion in which a whole underclass of clones is continually produced and reared to adulthood, with the sole purpose of using them as donors of organs and other organic materials that can be used to cure virtually any disease, leading to tremendous advances in health and longevity for the general population.

By describing a world in which seemingly utopian advances for some have led to horrifying consequences for others, Never Let Me Go clearly belongs to the genre of dystopian fiction, though it projects its dystopian world by imagining an alternative history rather than a nightmarish future. It also describes its world in unusually realistic terms, with Ishiguro using his considerable skills as a novelist to realize this world in an extremely vivid way that makes its differences from our world all the more shocking—until we realize that the differences might not be as great as they first appear, which is then even more shocking. Of course, this novel can be read allegorically as a comment on fundamental questions such as what it means to be a human being. It very clearly addresses the issue of human mortality—as well as other universal human experiences, such as memory and nostalgia. But it is most effective as a commentary on more political issues, including specific ones such as education, health care, and disability[1], but especially including the larger questions of classist and racist inequities and the general exploitation of the underprivileged by the privileged.

In this sense, Never Let Me Go joins a very strong tradition of modern British dystopian fiction that begins with E. M. Forster’s story “The Machine Stops” (1909), gains its first true classic in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), moves through anti-fascist dystopias of the 1930s such as Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937), and reaches full maturity with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). As I have noted elsewhere, “the principal technique of dystopian fiction is defamiliarization: by focusing their critiques of society on spatially or temporally distant settings, dystopian fictions provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable” (Booker 19). Never Let Me Go largely follows this model, sharing with other works in the British dystopian tradition the fact that it really comments on conditions in the author’s own England, however far from contemporary England the action might seem to be. It differs from the other works mentioned above in that the England of Ishiguro’s novel never feels at all far from contemporary England. Never Let Me Go also differs from the standard dystopian plot model, which typically involves a central rebel who realizes the flaws in his or her society and rebels against them. In Ishiguro’s novel, however, all of the characters (including the narrator) passively accept the conditions under which they live, and no rebellion occurs.

Never Let Me Go is narrated by one of the clones, Kathy H., detailing her experiences and those of her friends Ruth and Tommy as they attend “Hailsham,” a prestige school for clones to prepare them for their coming lives as sacrificial organ donors. The story then describes the brief adult lives of Ruth C.[2] and Tommy D., as they repeatedly donate organs until they finally “complete,” though Sarah lives somewhat longer due to spending more than a decade as a “carer” for other donors, before beginning her own time as a donor. The story proceeds via a method of discovery, as readers gain a gradual understanding of the true nature of this world, something Kathy H. does not explain clearly up front, because her story is constructed as if addressed to inhabitants of her own world, who would already understand the basic scenario. This method of gradual revelation makes the nature of this world seem all the more horrifying to Ishiguro’s real readers, though the most heartbreaking aspect of the novel is the thorough and unquestioning way in which Kathy and the other clones accept their fates as natural and pre-ordained, having been carefully conditioned by their upbringing to do so.

In a literary sense, one of the most interesting aspects of Never Let Me Go is its unusual narrator. For one thing, Kathy’s knowledge and understanding of the world around her is quite limited, so that we, as readers, must constantly work to try to see beyond what she tells us in order better to comprehend the world of the novel. In addition, Kathy is unusual in that she is a highly sympathetic character from whose point of view we see everything that occurs in the novel. At the same time, Kathy, as a clone, is not the same as us, either culturally or biologically. As a result, reading Never Let Me Go becomes a constant exercise in empathy in which we constantly see through Kathy’s eyes, presumably learning through this experience what the world’s feels like to someone who is different from us in fundamental ways (but quite similar to us in others)[3].

Meanwhile, one of the most affecting aspects of this novel is the look it provides at the attempts of the clones to find some sort of meaning in their lives beyond what has been scripted for them by this society’s powers-that-be. The title of the novel, for example, comes from that of a song found on a cassette tape of an album by fictional singer “Judy Bridgewater” that Kathy H. acquires during one of the periodic “sales” at which the Hailsham students can obtain a few meager trinkets to help make their lives just a tiny bit more livable. These sales themselves, of course, provide a powerful commentary on consumer society, in which individuals struggle to make their own limited and exploited lives more bearable by obtaining commodities that they hope will make them happy, if only momentarily. That the goods available in these sales are so meager adds to the poignancy of this particular story, of course, but it also suggests the ephemeral, superficial, and ultimately trashy character of consumerist commodities in general. In the case of the Judy Bridgewater tape, Kathy H. seems to derive something genuinely valuable from her favorite song on the tape, even if she fundamentally misunderstands the actual meaning of the song—a story of the precariousness of romantic love, the song is initially misinterpreted by Kathy H. (who, like all the clones, is sterile by design and will never be a mother, just as she never had a mother) as being about the love of a mother for her infant child. The song thus touches Kathy in a subtle and ineffable way by reminding her of the fundamental poverty of her existence in ways she is too young fully to understand.

That so much of Never Let Me Go consists of Kathy’s recollections of the past can be taken as her acknowledgement that, as a clone, she has no real future. Indeed, as Asami Nakamura has argued, one of the key oppositions in this texts is that between the future oriented temporality of this society, based on technological progress, and the past oriented temporality of the clones. Nakamura concludes, however, that Kathy’s nostalgia is not mere escapism, but can be seen as a subtle form of resistance that affords Kathy some moments of temporary escape from the dystopian structure within which she lives[4].

It is certainly the case that the clones of the novel continually struggle to find some sort of meaning in lives that have already been declared by their society to be of no value other than as a source of bio-medical materials for the treatment of conventional humans. The clones have no families and cannot marry, so they attempt to form whatever connections they can, struggling to find groups (such as Hailsham alumni) with which they can identify and to which they can feel that they belong. They also engage in sexual relationships, either in provisional “couples” or simply with the convenient lover of the moment, but it is clear that none of these relationships are terribly satisfying. Somewhat like the proles of Nineteen Eighty-Four, they considerable freedom in their day-to-day lives, as long as they remain within the confines of the plans that their society has laid out for them.

One of the most touching aspects of the novel is the quest of the clones to find an identity by investigating “possibles,” whom they feel might be the originals from whom they were cloned, even though this information is officially withheld from them. One of the various “mythologies” that they construct in their quest for identity, for example, involves the question of whether they might have similar talents and professional inclinations to their originals. And one major segment of the novel involves an attempt by Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth to check out a possible for Ruth, only to be disappointed. Ruth, frustrated that this woman, an office worker, turns out not to be a likely original for her, proclaims that such a respectable women would never be chosen as one of their originals: “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? … 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” (166).

The book provides no independent confirmation of the validity of Ruth’s claim here. Indeed, we are never given any information that does not come from Kathy and thus is not known to the clones, though Kathy does learn some new things in the course of the novel, while we can make certain surmises that even go beyond her knowledge. In this case, what is clear is that, whether or not Ruth’s declaration concerning the lowly sources of their DNA is accurate, her sense of inferiority is something that has been deeply instilled in the clones by the entire framework within which they live their lives.

Whether or not hints of their lowly origins have subtly been supplied to the clones during their upbringing, it is clear that a system in which they exist only to provide spare parts for others will inevitably instill in them a sense that they are less worthy and valuable than those to whom these parts are supplied. Moreover, it is also clear that this sense of inferiority provides a crucial ideological support for the dystopian foundation upon which this society rests. It seems clear that one of the key ways in which the clones are convinced to cooperate so passively in their own horrifying abuse is that they have been taught that they deserve no better and that their treatment is only natural, given their origins and nature. The willing participation of the clones in the system that exploits them so grievously has struck many observers as the most horrifying aspect of the world of the novel[5]. If nothing else, one can see this passivity as a sign of trauma, as an indication in which every discovery the clones make about the true nature of their existence is so traumatizing that they exist in a state of shock.

Of course, farm animals are raised simply to be slaughtered for human consumption all the time all over the world—and it is certainly the case that one secondary impact of Never Let Me Go might be to cause us to question whether there might be something seriously wrong with the raising animals simply as fodder for the meat industry. Meanwhile, to those who would reply that it is different when human beings are involved, it should be noted that the conventional humans of the society of the novel clearly do not regard the clones as fully human, much as exploited groups (such as African slaves) have frequently been judged to be less than human throughout history. Thus, one of the key issues Never Let Me Go asks us to meditate upon is the question of just what it takes to qualify as a genuine human being. Indeed, we learn late in the novel that the true purpose of Hailsham is to provide clones with sufficient education to allow them to prove that they are human by training them to produce creative work that presumably will help a dissident group of conventional humans argue for the humanity of the clones. It should be noted though, that even these dissidents dare not challenge the fundamental basis of the system, knowing that the huge medical benefits received by the general population make the system extremely popular. Instead, they merely argue for better treatment of the clones during their brief and limited lives.

In this sense, Never Let Me Go has a number of predecessors in science fiction, which often involves questions about the nature of humanity. The most obvious of these might be the film Blade Runner (1982) and the 1968 novel on which it is based, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In what has been widely read as an allegory about racism and slavery[6], this story involves the creation of a race of artificial humans, known as replicants, who are genetically engineered to be able to perform dangerous tasks in outer space, but who are also designed to have very short life spans, so that they will not have sufficient time to begin to resent their exploitation and thus begin to mount a resistance to it.

In the case of Blade Runner, though, the replicants do eventually mount a resistance after all, as opposed to the passive clones of Never Let Me Go. Mark Fisher discusses the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go alongside two other near-contemporary dystopian films, The Hunger Games (2012) and In Time (2011). While he finds all three films useful as critiques of contemporary capitalist society, he notes that Never Let Me Go differs from the others, which contain considerable action as oppressed characters protest their exploitation by the upper classes, in that Never Let Me Go (like the novel on which it is based) features characters who calmly accept their exploitation as the natural way of things. In this sense, Fisher notes that Never Let Me Go contrasts most directly with the film The Island, in which clones are also raised for spare parts but do mount a rebellion, leading to a high-action, Hollywood thriller (though one that was not ultimately terribly successful in either a critical or a commercial sense).

Fisher describes the scenarios of all these films as follows:

“To be in the dominant class is, in each film, to achieve a certain liberation from precariousness; for the poor, meanwhile, life is harried, fugitive, a perpetual state of anxiety. Yet precariousness here is not a natural state which the rich are fortunate enough to rise above; on the contrary, precariousness is deliberately imposed on the poor as a means of controlling and subduing them. Pre-existing shortages provide the pretext for deliberately depriving the subjugated class: of time, their organs, their lives” (27).

For Fisher, however, Never Let Me Go is special in the horrifying extent to which the clones calmly accept their exploitation, having been carefully conditioned to do so:

“The peculiar horror of the film, in fact, resides in the unrelieved quality of its fatalism. Never Let Me Go focuses on an ‘ideological state apparatus,’[7] an English boarding school, Hailsham, in an alternative twentieth century. The film is about the success of such ideological apparatuses in destroying even the thought of rebellion” (31).

Fisher is right, of course, though both the novel and the film are a bit more nuanced than he indicates, given that Hailsham is not a typical ideological state apparatus but an special one, designed by its founders to provide its students with the kind of elite education that will allow them to demonstrate their humanity and thus provide an argument for more humane treatment of the clones. However, while Hailsham students do certainly gain some advantages, they remain entrapped within the ideology that has created the cloning program, which has produced so many advantages for the conventional human population that there seems little chance of its being abandoned, however human the clones might prove to be.

In this sense, Hailsham can be taken as a commentary on the class inequalities within the British educational system, which have produced elite private boarding schools such as Eton College, whose graduates have tremendous social and educational advantages but are also taught to value British traditions and institutions, never challenging the status quo. However, the most direct analogy to the function of Hailsham is to be found back in the eighteenth century, when advocates for slavery were continually thwarted in their attempts to demonstrate fundamental biological differences between Africans and Europeans, causing them to settle instead on the notion that literacy was the most important characteristic that set humans apart from other animal species. Noting that sub-Saharan African cultures had generally been oral in nature, with no notion of reading or writing, these advocates claimed that Africans must have inferior literacy skills and thus be less human than Europeans. Opponents of slavery responded with the hypothesis that Africans could likely read and write just as well as Europeans in terms of their basic capabilities, but that these capabilities had not been developed in Africa due to cultural differences. The eighteenth century was a time in which Europeans became devoted to answering such basic questions via the scientific method, so the resolution to this question seemed obvious: bring some African children to Europe, give them proper European educations, and see if they can read and write as well as Europeans, thus undertaking a project very similar to the project of Hailsham, though these Africans were typically educated as individuals, not in organized schools.

In the case of eighteenth-century Europe (and America), it quickly became obvious that Africans could, in fact, read and write just as well as anyone else, and some of the Africans involved in these experiments even became professional writers, as in the case of Phyllis Wheatley (1753–1884) a West African girl sold to a Boston family that subsequently taught her to read and write. In 1773, at the age of twenty, Wheatley became the first African American to be the author of a published book when a volume of her poetry was published in London. Another prominent example was Elaudah Equiano (1745–1797), a slave from Nigeria who was obtained in the Caribbaen by a Quaker merchant who educated him and allowed him to purchase his freedom. Equiano then went on to become a well-known writer and abolitionist. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which focused on the horrors of slavery, is still read today.

Such examples soon led to the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, then to the abolition of slavery itself in 1833, though it should also be pointed out that changes in the sugar market had made Caribbean sugar plantations, the principal users of slave labor in the British Empire, much less profitable, making the abolition of slavery less economically painful. It would, of course, take three more decades and a civil war for slavery to be abolished in the American South, where it remained a highly profitable component of the economy. The fictional British society in which Hailsham is located is clearly more in line with the situation in the American South in this sense, given that the cloning system provides substantial benefits to the conventional human population, even though Never Let Me Go does not investigate the economic dimensions of the clone trade, presumably because all of the information in the book comes from Kathy H., who would not have knowledge of the economics of cloning.

Indeed, this limited perspective means that Never Let Me Go leaves an almost maddening number of questions about the dystopian society of the novel unanswered. For example, lovers of hard science fiction might be frustrated by the lack of information about the technical details of the medical procedures that employ the “donations” of the clones, but it makes sense that Kathy herself would not understand such technical details. Similarly, lovers of dystopian fiction as social critique might be disappointed that we know so very little about the class structure among the conventional humans of this novel, because Kathy sees almost everything in the binary terms of conventional vs. clone. Such readers would probably appreciate having more information about whether all conventional humans in this society benefit from the cloning program, or whether the donations of the clones are so expensive that they are available only to the wealthy.

Of course, there is no real need to try to explain the absence of technical/medical details or of details about the class structure of the conventional humans in the book. Ruth understands that some conventional humans are regarded as “trash,” thus suggesting that there is clearly some sort of hierarchy among the conventional humans. But Ishiguro need not explore that possibility of class inequality among the conventional humans of his novel because he has already allegorized the class inequalities of our own capitalist world in the difference between the conventional humans and the clones. That same allegory also encompasses race, which does not become an issue in the novel at all, making class the most obvious framework within which to read the novel. As Bruce Robbins puts it, “the organ-donation gulag, tucked away from public view and yet not kept secret, has its obvious real-world counterpart in what we call class. Doesn’t class divide just as effectively, allowing some of us to expect a reasonable return on our career investments while deviously ensuring that little will come of any expectations the rest may have?” (292). Ishiguro need not explicitly represent class in the novel, because the whole novel is already first and foremost about class, just as he need not explore the technical aspects of the cloning process or of the donations because the book is not about these science fiction details: it is about real differences that already exist in our own world.

Robbins is right, I think, to think of the class-based social commentary of Never Let Me Go as couched primarily within the context of upward mobility. The true tragedy of the lives of the clones is perhaps that they have nothing to aspire to, something that Miss Lucy, a teacher at Hailsham, reveals to the students in quite stark terms during a moment of frustration with the cruelties of the system:

“None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided” (81).

Robbins, however, suggests that the scripted lives of these students may not be as different from our own lives as we would like to think. We like to believe that, in our world, one can be whatever one chooses, but Robbins points out that only a small percentage of individuals can ever hope actually to live out the Western dream of unlimited upward mobility. Meanwhile, he asks:

“How much does it matter that in the novel the split between those who have a future and those who don’t results from the biological facts of one’s birth, which results in turn from a deliberate decision by the authorities, while in our society it is an effect without originary legislation or identity, with no “they” visibly making the decisions, an outcome that can merely be predicted with high statistical reliability?” (Robbins 292).

Finally, Robbins sees the world of Never Let Me Go as a highly relevant commentary on our own world. In particular, he compares the society of the novel with the “welfare state,” that is, to the modern Western model of a society in which the government seeks, through various programs, to ameliorate difficult conditions for its citizens, especially the least fortunate ones. In particular, Robbins compares the work of the “carers” of Ishiguro’s novel with such governmental programs in our own world, noting that, in both cases, program designed to alleviate suffering actually extend that suffering by making it just bearable enough to prevent outright rebellion. “The welfare state, so the moral would go, is the institution that bribes us with minor restitutions and supplements so as to divert us from deep and systematic injustice, which is to say from our legitimate causes for anger” (Robbins 297).

Such programs, of course, are highly effective, and for Robbins the real focus of Never Let Me Go is on the effectiveness of governmental control in the novel. Despite the horrors of the system, and despite the fact that the clones are perfectly well aware of these horrors, they have been so thoroughly conditioned that rebellion is literally unthinkable. Instead, the clones merely construct myths of temporary escape, such as the myth that Hailsham alumni might qualify for a “deferral” of their donations if they can prove that they are truly in love. But this myth itself, however creative, shows just how convinced the clones are that the powers-that-be in this system will do the right and humane thing if only the clones themselves can prove that they are worthy. The flipside of this, of course, is that, deep-down, the clones suspect that they are not worthy and that, having come from “trash,” they deserve no better than the fates that have been allotted to them.

In addition, while Kathy does not really have the knowledge and sophistication that would be necessary fully to understand the attitudes of the conventional humans of Never Let Me Go toward the clones, she does at least come to sense that the humans regard the clones with fear and even revulsion. Such feelings, of course, are typical in our own world, where abused and marginalized groups are often regarded in such ways, partly as a reaction to a generalized (perhaps unconscious) feeling of guilt concerning the treatment of these groups. Never Let Me Go also suggests that this guilt might arise from the fact that, despite concerted efforts to convince themselves of the inferiority of the marginalized, more privileged groups themselves might suspect that this inferiority is a myth. In this sense, the Hailsham project actually works against the prevailing ideological conditioning that underlies this society: by attempting to prove that the clones are genuinely human, the Hailsham project threatens not simply to secure better treatment for them, but to shatter the justification for the whole cloning program. It is little wonder, then, that the program fails and is shut down in the course of the novel.

Ishiguro also provides a commentary on the intensity of the utter hatred and contempt with which privileged groups have sometimes regarded less privileged groups in our own world—such as the murderous hatred of the German Nazis for Jews or of the American Klan for African Americans. Such hatred can be explained not just by a fear that the less privileged groups are not truly inferior, but also by a concern they might actually be superior to the privileged groups, or at least that they might wrest power from them. In Never Let Me Go, this fear is expressed in the so-called Morningdale scandal, in which the genetics research of a Scottish scientist had to be shut down for fear that Morningdale might genetically engineer a race of super-clones who would become the overlords of humanity. Such fears, of course, have always been central to white supremacist thinking, which has never focused on fear of the possibility that nonwhite people might gain equality with white people. Instead, it has focused on terror of the possibility that nonwhite people might supersede white people as the dominant race in the Western world.

Never Let Me Go thus deals both with some of the fundamental issues that surround the very experience of being human and with some of the some of the most pressing political issues of our time. It asks to consider the question of who deserves to be considered human and whether it is ever appropriate for one group of humans to exploit others. And it asks us to examine our own social systems and to consider whether they are fundamentally built upon the exploitation of some groups by other groups, especially on the basis of class, but also on the basis of race. Finally, by extension (though not directly), Never Let Me Go asks whether it is appropriate for any living creatures to exist purely for purposes of exploitation by humans, and whether any system fundamentally built on exploitation of any kind can ever truly be just or humane.

WORKS CITED

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster, Monthly Review Press, 1971, pp. 170–83.

Booker, M. Keith. The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism. Greenwood Press, 1994.

Drag, Wojciech. Revisiting Loss: Memory, Trauma and Nostalgia in the Novels of

Kazuo Ishiguro. Cambridge Scholars, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. “Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, In Time, and Never Let Me Go.” Film Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 4 (Summer 2012), pp. 27–33.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Eugenic World Building and Disability: The Strange World of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” Journal of Medical Humanities, vol.38, no. 2, 2017, pp. 133–45.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage-Random House, 2006.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke University Press, 1991.

Nakamura, Asami. “On the Uses of Nostalgia in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, March 2021, pp. 62–76

Query, Patrick R. “Never Let Me Go and the Horizons of the Novel.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, vol. 56, no. 2, 2015, pp. 155-172.

Robbins, Bruce. “Cruelty Is Bad: Banality and Proximity in Never Let Me Go.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 40.3 (2007): 289–302

NOTES

[1] See, for example, Garland-Thomson reads the novel within the context of disability studies, arguing that the novel complicates the ableist binary opposition between the able and the disabled because the healthy bodies of the clones are used to mend the disabled bodies of conventional humans, which in turn renders the clones weakened and disabled, while the conventional humans are made healthy and able. In addition, she argues that the novel invites readings within this perspective by placing the guardian Miss Emily in a wheelchair late in the novel.

[2] Ruth is not given a final initial in the novel, though presumably she has one. The initial “C.” is added for her in the 2010 film adaptation of the novel.

[3] This same strategy can be seen even more clearly in Klara and the Sun, which is narrated by one of the artificially intelligent androids who are the chief others to the humans of the novel.

[4] See also Drag, for an argument that nostalgia in Never Let Me Go “emerges as the only lasting source of comfort and sustenance” for Kathy (183).

[5] For a somewhat different reading of the passivity of Kathy and the other clones, see Query, who argues that this aspect of the novel can be read as an allegorization of the process of novel reading in general, in which readers tend to accept the premises of the fictional worlds that are presented to them in order better to process the events of the novel. In addition, Query argues that “seeing Never Let Me Go as a metaphor for the way novels make meaning provides a way in which to account for the book’s strange mixture of detection and omission, its seamless combination of the familiar and the strange, and its jarring emotional impact—compounding anger, guilt, sadness, resignation, and tenderness” (157).

[6] For a predecessor text that is more openly about racism, see Norman Spinrad’s 1969 novel Bug Jack Barron, which involves an immortality treatment (affordable only by the rich) that involves a secret plot to abduct black children and extract their glands, killing them but providing needed materials for the immortality treatment. And, for an example that comes after the novel, see the film Get Out (2017), in which rich, white suburbanites hijack healthy black bodies in which to implant their brains when their own bodies begin to fail.

[7] The term “ideological state apparatus” comes from the work of the French Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, who uses it to describe institutions—such as schools, churches, culture, and the family—that are used by a society to produce individuals whose very minds are structured so that the prevailing ideology of the society seems logical and desirable.