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Never Let Me Go
Author Kazuo Ishiguro
Type of work Novel
Genre dystopia; science fiction; coming-of-age story
Time and place written England, between 1990 and the early 2000s
Date of first publication 2005
Publisher Knopf (New York), Faber and Faber (London)
Narrator Kathy H.
Point of view The narrator (Kathy) speaks in the first person, so the reader only sees her point of view. Kathy describes her memories of characters and events subjectively, offering her own thoughts and reflections. She frequently makes assumptions about the thoughts and motivations of others.
Tone Reflective, nostalgic, somber
Tense Kathy speaks in the present tense, but switches to past tense when sharing memories of the past.
Setting (time) Late 1990s, although Kathy’s memories reach as far back as the early 1970s.
Setting (place) Various locations in England, including the (fictional) Hailsham school, the (also fictional) Cottages, and the towns of Norfolk, Dover, and Kingsfield.
Protagonist Kathy H.
Major conflict Kathy wrestles with the loss of her childhood friends Ruth and Tommy by turning to her memories the past, recalling her complex relationship with each one and with the Hailsham school where they grew up together.
Rising action Kathy recalls growing up with Ruth and Tommy at Hailsham, where ambiguous references to their future as “donors” punctuate their idyllic childhood. As they become young adults, they hope in different ways for the possibility of changing or deferring this future.
Climax Kathy and Tommy visit Madame’s house, where Miss Emily cuts off their last hope for more time together when she reveals that deferrals on donations do not exist.
Falling action Kathy spends a last few weeks with Tommy before he completes on his fourth donation, leaving her with her memories as she waits to become a donor herself.
Themes The relentless passage of time and the inevitability of loss; the power of memory; the dignity of human life
Motifs Copies, pretending and fantasy, lost and found
Symbols The open-plan office, the song “Never Let Me Go,” the boat
Foreshadowing The woods beyond Hailsham foreshadow the grim future awaiting the students when they leave; Tommy’s childhood tantrums foreshadow the grief that he and Kathy share in the aftermath of their visit to Madame; the loss of Kathy’s tape foreshadows the many losses that she will later experience as an adult