Most people have dreams of becoming astronauts, doctors or painters but Hailsham students grow up knowing that they won’t get to live a normal life. They will donate organs until they die. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go is about a dystopian society in Great Britain. It breeds cloned children for organ donations. Ishiguro uses a unique style of storytelling in which the protagonist Kathy narrates her memories of childhood at Hailsham to Adulthood and becoming a “carer”. While describing the unique incidents, Kathy simultaneously narrates details about donations, donors and relationship, but manages to keep a sense of mystery throughout the story. In the 19th Chapter, the reader understands that the characters are organ donors and will inevitably die soon. Kathy, Tommy and Ruth take a road trip to see an abandoned boat after which the three have an emotional talk and face their fears. The boat is a powerful symbol that represents Hailsham, the lives of the donors, their past and future. To understand the symbolism in the novel, this essay will focus on the themes of death, ignorance, belief system and free will. Hailsham’s students are ignorant, and taught to ignore their fears.
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The boat represents a broken life, a life in which you are only permitted to dream, whereas your future is decided. The boat symbolizes the mystery of origin of the donors. Students at Hailsham are trained not to be inquisitive. Their lessons are planned and the main issue of organ donation was never emphasized enough. They are distant to feelings and brainwashed “told but not told” (74). Ishiguro’s style of writing was casual when discussing donations and life after Hailsham. Hailsham an institution run by private funding is very similar to the boat. Tommy compares the boat to Hailsham which is now closed. “Maybe this is what Hailsham looks like now” (205). It is segregated, stands alone in the marshlands just like Hailsham; Hailsham protects the students from outside world which believes that the clones are not human beings, “All around the country, at this very moment, there are students being reared in deplorable condition, conditions Hailsham students could hardly imagine” (238) just like the boat protects the sailor from the oceanic forces. A human belief system is a product to complement their respective comfort zone.
Even though the girls knew that the “secret guard” is not real, they believed in Ruth and played along, just for the sake of excitement. Ruth’s lying or Tommy’s belief in deferrals and the emotions he went through when he understood that deferral was just a myth “If the rumor was never true, then why did you take all our stuff away? Didn’t the Gallery exist either?” (237). This is symbolized by the boat; The abandoned broken boat represents a broken life, hopelessness; broken by the forces it is subjected to. All the donors are very obsessed to find their “possible”. “…you could tell people were fascinated –obsessed, in some cases- and so it (subject of ‘possible’) kept coming up usually in solemn arguments…” (127). Kathy’s character in the story is emotionally reserved. She finds it difficult to make decisions, and she does not speak openly about what she actually feels. This characteristic helps her not to think about the short life and the bleak future. She lives life with some short lived happiness. Kathy has a very original personality unlike Ruth’s, who tries to impress and act like the veterans do. Ishiguro does not discuss Ruth’s death immediately after the 19th chapter but rather lets the reader focus on Kathy’s and Tommy’s sufferings. Ruth’s death is emotional and it would overshadow Kathy’s and Tommy’s struggle. Like the donors the boat went through a lot of struggle perhaps even saved lives, yet the origin of the boat is a mystery, just like the donors who probably saved lives but no one cares about them, their origin is a mystery.
The boat was once a life saver and guardian but now it is wrecked and is of no use. The donors too will face the same fate of the boat; they will save lives and die alone. Perhaps that’s why it is very popular object among the donors. The boat is a powerful symbol in the novel because even though it represents protection, and survival, if broken and abandoned it becomes a symbol of loneliness, no one cares about it, its origins becomes a mystery- even unnecessary and the forces it has faced in the ocean become meaningless. The boat represents the lives of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. It is also Hailsham their protector in the sea; it is Tommy’s hope for survival- his absolute belief in the deferral system; it represents Kathy’s search for a possible, the boat’s origin is also a mystery. The boat projects their future that no matter how hard they try and dream- their fate is sealed. They are helpless once exposed to the ocean. They are going to die, left abandoned like the boat. No one is going to care about them.