As I think back on this book, I can’t help but think that this novel fits perfectly as the final work we’re going to discuss in class. It seems to me a sort of culminating work that in many ways brings every other work we did together. I didn’t think that at first; at first I was appalled by the novel and the implications of these clone/non-humans that were human and had to live in order to die. But the more I think about it, the more I realize just what this alternate reality means in the grand scheme of our class.
Over the course of the semester we’ve encountered many different types of technology: from the surveillance technology in “1984” through last week’s exploration of medical technology and biological warfare. Each one has caused us to consider the implications of technology; what does the rise of the internet mean for us? What does the development of the nuclear bomb represent about our society and our future? In each work we’ve studied, we’ve focused not just on the technologies themselves, but on the people who are directly impacted by them. While each of these works are some version of speculative storytelling, “Never Let Me Go” stands out to me as the most effective in this regard.
“Never Let Me Go” was woven in a way the rest of the works we studied weren’t. In each of the other works we read and saw, it was very clear from the first chapters/minutes that this was speculative fiction. It was obvious that the work was going to discuss a particular technology and the implications of such a technology. On the other hand, “Never Let Me Go” stands out as something totally different; we’re introduced to the characters, recognize there’s something a little funny going on, but don’t come to fully realize what’s going on until far into the novel when we are already invested in the characters and their stories. Ishiguro writes from Kathy’s perspective- much of the novel is composed of her sometimes inane and sometimes informative memories. In some ways the novel is a Bildungsroman; it explores Kathy and her friends formative years at Hailsham, making the reader privy to all their teenage years. We become invested in them, though we wonder what is really going on. It is only once we find out what is going on behind that scenes that we can fully appreciate the horror of their lives.
Born to die. Born to keep themselves healthy just so others can live. Born to give away parts of themselves until they themselves die. If they were not so darn human it wouldn’t be so bad; at least that’s what I tell myself. And that indeed is what most of the world thinks; as Miss Emily explains at the end of the novel, it’s much easier for people to accept donations from innocent children raised for slaughter if they think of them as less-than-human. And so they do. Despite the fact that these clones (or whatever they are) are SO human. They live, they love, they’re happy and sad, they fight and make up, they read James Joyce and porn magazines, they listen to tapes and dance around. They have souls, just like Miss Emily and Madame always knew. So tragic.
In any event, this seemed to me to be the epitome of what we’ve discussed in class. Though the technologies might be different, the implications are always the same: what will happen to humans in this new version of the world? Where does our humanity go when we become so utterly dependent on new technologies? Do we turn into the “regular people” of “Never Let Me Go” who allow humans to be raised as cattle for slaughter? I sure hope not. At the end of the day, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and the technology we produce and think how best to utilize it. It’s always exciting when a cool new gadget comes out or there’s a fantastic breakthrough in medical science, but if we’re going to be responsible it is our imperative to judge each new breakthrough and consider what this could mean for the future of our world and our species.