Summary: Chapter 14
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.
Summary: Chapter 15
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.
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.