Never Let Me Go

Summary

Part One, Chapters 5-6

Summary Part One, Chapters 5-6

The students’ fears about the woods convey a more general sense of foreboding about what lies beyond the familiar walls of Hailsham. Like much of their knowledge, what the students know of the woods comes largely from rumor and speculation. Yet the terrible stories about children who leave Hailsham also foreshadow the students’ own futures. The child with his arms and legs cut off is a grim fairy tale version of the donation process, in which students will lose parts of their own bodies until they die. The secret guard allows the students to displace this danger onto Miss Geraldine, while the “punishment” of Marge K. reflects the true terror that comes with looking directly at what lies beyond Hailsham.

Meanwhile, the incidents involving Ruth's pencil case and Kathy's chess set highlight tensions in their friendship. These episodes show Ruth’s tendency to insinuate that she knows more than she does, a habit that Kathy finds particularly annoying. Yet in each case, Kathy retaliates with her own forms of insinuation. She avoids direct confrontation, like when she walks away to show her anger about the chess game. She also adapts Ruth’s strategy of subtle hinting when she implies that she has seen the Sale register. This “test” furthermore echoes the girls’ test of Madame’s fear. Just as the girls deduced fear in Madame’s expression, Kathy deduces Ruth’s lie by observing her reaction. Her indirectness is characteristic of Hailsham more broadly, where guardians and students alike communicate evasively about sensitive topics. Meanwhile, Tommy and Kathy continue to bond by interpreting the strange behavior of the adults at Hailsham. Noticeably, Kathy displays more openness in her conversations with Tommy than she does in her conversations with Ruth. She shares yet another secret with him when she speaks about seeing Madame in the dormitory, although she also displays her typical caution by waiting years to tell him.

The novel's title comes from Kathy’s favorite track on Songs After Dark, "Never Let Me Go." On one level, Kathy's childhood interpretation of the song highlights a pervasive fear of loss among the students at Hailsham. Just as the secret guard acts out their fear of losing the kind Miss Geraldine, Kathy imagines that “Never Let Me Go” is about a woman afraid of losing her baby. On another level, “Never Let Me Go” evokes the deeply human impulse to hold onto loved ones in the face of losing them. The disappearance of the tape itself gives Kathy an early taste of loss on a small scale, as she grieves for a beloved object. The “lost corner” of Norfolk, meanwhile, introduces the comforting hope that lost things can always be found again. Kathy frames this belief as another childhood fantasy, one that is not sustainable in the world beyond Hailsham. When she later finds a copy of her lost tape in Norfolk, she only feels the wish to believe in Norfolk's power again.