How does Ishiguro explore ideas about identity in ‘Never Let Me Go?? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote that “the human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” Ishiguro echoes this notion with his interpretation of what makes us human. He uses the premise of clones, giving us an objective, outside view of humanity and allows us to identify the building blocks of mankind, something that we are often oblivious to.
The clones are, biologically, human, with infertility the only physical feature that differs. Yet the reader assumes that they are somewhat inhuman. Ishiguro shows this through the clones’ clinical descriptions of themselves. Our protagonist Kathy introduces herself as “Kathy H”. This being the first sentence of the novel immediately separates the reader’s “human” identity from that of Kathy and the clones.
Clearly the clone world is incredibly institutionalised, something that us as humans seem to assume differs from our own. We see ourselves as free-thinking individuals with a unique identity. Through the rigid structure of the clones naming system, Ishiguro explores the idea of collective identity, causing us to question our own individuality. Throughout the novel, the clones are referred to with their second name initial included in their identity. This makes their existence seem very impersonal and detached from our own, which somehow gives their impending death a less emotional event in the eyes of the reader.
Ishiguro uses this collective identity concept constantly in the novel; with them constantly referring to each other as a “tribe”, suggesting that they see themselves not as individuals but as parts of a more extensive being. As a narrator she refers to the reader with a friendly, familiar tone, often digressing completely from her train of thought. Ishiguro does this to give the reader an impression of Kathy’s expectations; only other clones would be interested in her story. This low expectation of the value of her life is poignant as unlike “normals”, she truly believes her existence is purely peripheral, that her only purpose is to donate then complete. This theme of purpose is touched on by Ishiguro throughout the novel. A cynic would say that the only reason we exist is to reproduce. Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene admitted that “we are survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it.” This theoretically is our purpose and the clones simply have a different one. We could read about the lives of the clones and sympathise with their supposedly menial lives but by raising the question of purpose, Ishiguro asks us to question whether ours is any better. In some ways the clones live much more fulfilling lives than we do, with their legacy being the donation of their organs. This begs the question what is our legacy, what do we do to justify our existence. There is no opposition to the notion that the clones have a positive influence on the world, leaving behind healthy “normals”, but yet as readers we still view their existence as futile. This further illustrates the concept of
mption that they are the centre of the universe, that anything that is considered “inhuman” is unlucky and deserves sympathy. Ishiguro tries to break that barrier by emphasising the pleasantness of the clones’ life and how they, with full knowledge of their impending fate, still live their life with a positive outlook.
Ishiguro’s use of organ donations is also very powerful as biologically, donations can only work if the organ is very similar to the damaged one. This further draws the link between the clones and the humans and questions why they have accepted their inferiority. Throughout the novel the clones continue to hope that maybe they would get a “few more years” in which to live. Ishiguro uses this to show that the clones still
elves as subservient to “normals”, even though they are pretty much biologically identical. This makes us question our own freedoms and call into question why we allow others to influence our own actions. Ishiguro underlines the fact that our identity is defined not by ourselves, but by those around us. The clones only view themselves as inferior because that is what they have been told. Ishiguro uses the word “normals” so show that the clones see their identity as abnormal. This is reflective of our society, where certain groups are declared abnormal due to their beliefs, ethnicity or orientation. Ishiguro uses the clones to give an impression of us a humans, from the perspective of a group not accepted into society. This allows us to question why we accept social norms just because they exist. Never Let Me Go is a novel about who we are. By separating the reader from their humanity, the huge flaws in our society and our existence are discovered and questioned.