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Rodney leads the way to the office, but Chrissie makes them stop at Woolworth’s first to buy birthday cards. In the store, Kathy overhears Ruth and Chrissie discussing deferrals again. Ruth continues to imply that Hailsham students have special access to deferrals, and gets angry when she notices Kathy listening in. The students eventually find the open-plan office, and Rodney points out an older woman visible through its floor-to-ceiling windows. They all agree that she resembles Ruth enough to be a legitimate possible. When a few of the people in the office look over, the students quickly move away. Ruth wants to wait a few minutes and then return for another look, but then they see Ruth’s possible leaving the office. At Ruth’s insistence, they follow the possible to an art gallery called The Portway Studio. Inside the studio, they observe the possible talking with the gallery manager. When viewed up close, the woman begins to seem much less like Ruth than they had originally thought.
The students do not follow the woman when she leaves. The gallery manager asks if they are art students, prompting Kathy to explain that they are merely interested. The gallery manager talks to them about the artwork on display, reminding Kathy of the guardians at Hailsham. When they leave the studio, the students all agree that the woman from the office is not Ruth’s model. Noticing that Ruth seems upset, Kathy resents Chrissie and Rodney on her behalf. Although Chrissie and Rodney try to cheer Ruth up, Kathy senses that they are relieved not to have more evidence of Hailsham’s exceptionality. Kathy and Tommy also try to comfort Ruth by making light of the situation. Although Kathy expects Ruth to respond to their support more positively than she did to Chrissie and Rodney, Ruth does not acknowledge them. Ruth claims to have known it was a stupid idea all along, snapping at Tommy when he attempts agree with her. She says the students are copied from “trash,” declaring that their models are convicts, junkies, and prostitutes. Rodney and Chrissie again suggest a visit to Martin, their friend who is now a carer, but Kathy refuses to go. Ruth angrily leaves with the veterans, while Tommy stays back with Kathy.
Tommy tells Kathy that he was looking for her lost tape in Woolworth’s, but could not remember the title of the album. He recalls searching for the tape at Hailsham too, noting how Ruth had urged the other students to look for it. Tommy suggests that he and Kathy continue the search in Norfolk, and they visit several secondhand stores together. Kathy finds a copy of the tape at one of them, and Tommy buys it for her. On their walk back to the car, Tommy says that he thinks deferrals are connected to Madame’s Gallery. Tommy recalls Miss Emily once telling another student that artwork reveals the soul. He theorizes that Madame’s Gallery is used to determine if couples who apply for deferrals are really in love, reasoning that Madame uses the artwork to see if a couple’s souls go together.
Tommy confirms that none of his artwork made it into Madame’s Gallery, but reveals that he has started drawing again just in case. He says that he draws tiny imaginary animals, inspired by a children’s book he found at the Cottages. Tommy says that Ruth does not know about his animals or about his deferral theory. When they arrive back at the car, Tommy tells Kathy that Ruth’s comments about their models inspired another one of his theories. He thinks that Kathy looks at pornographic magazines because she is searching for her possibles. Kathy admits that she has strong sexual urges, which made her think that her model might be in those magazines. She has tears in her eyes, but manages to avoid crying. Tommy assures Kathy that her desire for sex is not unusual, and admits to having the same urges. Soon, the rest of the group returns. Ruth is in a much better mood, pointedly including Kathy and Tommy in conversation on the drive home. Kathy decides not to tell Ruth about finding a copy of her lost tape.
Although the woman in the open-plan office initially seems to resemble Ruth, she is only a plausible “possible” when observed from afar. At a distance, the students have just enough evidence to see what they wish to see. When viewed more closely, the same evidence crushes their hopes. Ironically, the search for Ruth’s possible results in an end to her sense of possibility. This disappointment also reflects a larger truth about the students’ lives, that while they sustain their hopes with stories and rumors, this strategy only works if they do not investigate those stories and rumors too closely. The office’s floor-to-ceiling windows come to symbolize the students’ actual relationship with the outside world. Acting as an invisible barrier, the windows allow the students to observe Ruth’s “dream future” only from the outside. Where the office from the magazine advertisement suggested the hope of an alternate future for Ruth, the actual office in Norfolk reinforces reality.
Read more about the symbolism behind the open-office plan.
In her reaction to the disappointment, Kathy seeks to reestablish a line of difference between the Hailsham students and the veterans. She resents Chrissie and Rodney on behalf of Ruth, and her sympathy towards Ruth is competitive with theirs. But the frustrated search for the possible only further solidifies Ruth’s division from Kathy and Tommy. Ruth’s speech about their models is a rejection of Kathy and Tommy’s sympathy, as well as a way of coping with her disappointment. Her speech is also the first time that the word “clone” appears in the novel. In referring to the students aloud as clones, Ruth exposes her lost sense of possibility. The trip to Norfolk ends in situational irony for Ruth, Chrissie, and Rodney, who all began the day hoping to alter their futures. The veterans suggest visiting a carer, who represents the actual future that awaits all five students. Ruth’s decision to join them reflects her resignation to becoming a carer and then a donor. It also reinforces the ongoing division in the group, as Ruth continues to align herself with the veterans, while Tommy decides to stay with Kathy.
Read more about copies as a motif.
While Ruth and the veterans turn towards their future as carers, Tommy and Kathy revisit their Hailsham past. Their search for Kathy’s lost tape mirrors the search for Ruth’s possible, although Kathy finds a copy of the tape while Ruth fails to find the “copy” that is her model. Kathy and Tommy’s search is in many ways an effort to recover the past. The tape carries memories of their childhood at Hailsham, which they revisit as they wander through Norfolk. Moreover, they also revisit their childhood theories about Madame’s Gallery. After the art gallery in Norfolk becomes a disappointing dead-end in the search for Ruth’s possible, Madame’s Gallery offers a new source of hope. Tommy’s theory about deferrals also extends the students’ belief in the power of looking. The students believe that insight will come from looking at their models, and scrutinize Ruth’s possible like a work of art in the Norfolk gallery. Echoing this process, Tommy suggests that Madame scrutinizes the students’ artwork to see into their souls.
Read more about things being lost and found as a motif.
Tommy’s confessions about his deferral theory and his imaginary animals both reflect the unique confidence that he places in Kathy. As they did at Hailsham, Tommy and Kathy keep their theories about Madame’s Gallery and creativity from Ruth. Tommy also displays keen insight into Kathy, correctly interpreting her interest in the pornographic magazines as a search for possibles. Kathy’s search for possibles is characteristically private, contrasting with Ruth’s more ostentatious search in Norfolk. It is also far less hopeful. The pornographic magazines darkly echo the magazine where Ruth sees her glossy dream office. Kathy’s conversation with Tommy about her sexual urges echoes a similar talk that she had with Ruth at the Cottages. But while Ruth encouraged Kathy to see her urges as strange, Tommy comforts her by admitting that he often feels the same way. As Kathy narrates these confessions, she continues to omit any direct reference to her romantic feelings for Tommy. Just as she controls her tears in front of Tommy, Kathy obscures and controls the emotion in her narration. Her decision not to tell Ruth about the tape also reflects this secrecy, offsetting Ruth’s attempts at inclusiveness on the car ride home.
Read more about Tommy and his imaginary animals.