Power is an ability most characters in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, desire and fight for. However, each character shows this desire in numerous ways and values power differently than others. For some, power is having popularity and being the Alpha-being amongst a group of people; for others, gaining power can be gained by proving someone with greater power wrong. The definition of power varies for all these characters as each character has different personalities and wishes. As the story progresses, and the characters develop and mature, the readers can start seeing these distinctions and notice the value of power changing.
Hailsham is the first place the readers are introduced to. It is the place where Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up. Here, we can clearly see how power works amongst and affects the children. The dominant being here is Ruth, who leads the Secret Guard and is friends with almost everyone. Ruth is the type of person who wants to constantly be at the top; she can’t stand it if other friends have an upper hand or has something she doesn’t.
That is why even though Ruth isn’t truly interested in Tommy, she competes with Kathy for the boy. There is also Kathy, the main character, who is more calm and understanding in a way. Although she isn’t as passionate and aggressive as Ruth is for power, she manages to say what she wants, and isn’t afraid to stand up against the Alpha.
Unlike any of them is Tommy, who at this moment wants more to be accepted than to be at the top. Tommy is more shy and isn’t as willing to express his thoughts to others, especially to Kathy.
When the three move to the Cottages, their attitudes towards power mature. Power doesn’t mean to be the leader or have the most friends, but rather to fit in with the Veterans. At least this is what power means for Ruth. Kathy, however, doesn’t mind too much about fitting in. Tommy shows his struggle for power in a different way: defying Ruth. Especially towards the end of Part 2 can the readers see that Tommy has won the struggle and broke free from Ruth. In addition, introduced in this part is the Deferrals. When the three protagonists first hear about the Deferrals, their reactions show a lot about how each values power. The Deferral represents defiance — going against the rules of Hailsham and the process of the donations. Ruth, as expected, shows interest and thinks about her and Tommy. The other two, Kathy and Tommy, show interest but aren’t as reactive as Ruth is. They’re hesitant most likely because they’re afraid of Ruth turning angry at their excitement.
Part 3 of the novel is where many things change. First off, Kathy becomes independent and moves away from her two friends. This freedom gives her a certain power over herself. As a girl who was never alone and could never really do anything alone (daydreaming or listening to music), this change is significant. As for Tommy, he also gains power by parting himself from Ruth. He slowly finds his voice and can speak for himself, instead of having Ruth constantly saying things for him or blocking whatever he was going to say. In addition, he also manages to be with Kathy, something that would’ve never happened at Hailsham or the Cottages. Ruth is the character who changes the most. Perhaps it was the donations and her nearing death that made her change, but Ruth, realizing she was valuing the wrong thing — power over friendship — loosens her reins on her two friends. She realizes she was blinded by something that would’ve never lasted forever, and decides there is still time to make things right again. The readers can see Ruth’s change when Kathy and Tommy manages to gang up on her in the car ride, and she doesn’t argue back. Normally, Ruth would have snapped and draped tension over the others, but instead she remained calm. More surprising was when Ruth apologized to Kathy and gave her friends Madame’s Address. Ruth was finally stepping down her throne and allowing her friends to have some power over their relationship(s).
Why is this concept and change of power important? This long, never-fading fight for power helps the author develop the characters and story, and allows the readers to get a better grasp of who and how the three protagonists are. Each character’s fight for for freedom or control identifies who he or she is, and makes his or her personal story have more depth. And because every character is so different from one another, this allows the readers to relate to specific character(s). This fight for control and dominance exists everywhere — books, our personal lives, artwork, etc. It makes our stories stronger and a bit more interesting to listen to.