Never Let Me Go

by: Kazuo Ishiguro

Part Two, Chapters 16-17

Summary Part Two, Chapters 16-17

Summary: Chapter 16

Back at the Cottages, Ruth refuses to talk about the Norfolk trip. The others follow her lead, while Kathy also continues to avoid telling Ruth about her tape. In the spring, several veterans depart for carer training. The remaining veterans begin to talk about deferrals again, but Rodney and Chrissie do not participate. The “Norfolk effect,” as it is referred to, extends to Tommy and Kathy, who do not discuss Madame’s Gallery further. One day, Kathy finds Tommy drawing his imaginary animals in a nearby barn. He shows her the pictures, which all are tiny and highly detailed. He says that Ruth is the only other person who has seen them. Kathy does not know how to judge the “fantastical” creatures, and wonders aloud what Madame would think of them. However, she feels more and more drawn to them the longer she looks. She compliments Tommy, and encourages him not to keep his artwork a secret.

A new group of students arrives at the end of the summer, but none are from Hailsham. Kathy senses that Hailsham is slipping into the past, and that her Hailsham friends at the Cottages are drifting apart. She is also annoyed at Ruth, who regularly pretends to forget details about their school days. Kathy flashes back to a night earlier in the same summer, when she is gossiping in her room with Ruth. They are laughing about Kathy’s sexual experiences with a veteran named Lenny, when Ruth sees Kathy’s Judy Bridgewater tape. Kathy tells her about finding the tape in Norfolk, and Ruth does not seem bothered. Reflecting back on their talk, Kathy wonders whether Ruth saw the tape before and was just waiting for the right moment to bring it up. They begin to talk about Tommy’s animals, and Ruth encourages Kathy to admit that they are funny. Several days later, Kathy finds Ruth and Tommy talking in a churchyard near the Cottages. Ruth says that Tommy has shared his theory about Madame’s Gallery with her. Tommy says that he might submit his animals to the Gallery, but Ruth tells him not to embarrass himself. Ruth adds that she and Kathy both find his animals funny. Kathy does not deny this claim and walks away, though she almost immediately regrets this and her decision not to explain herself to Tommy.

Summary: Chapter 17

Kathy tries to act normally around Ruth and Tommy, who are still officially together, but the three of them still grow increasingly distant. Eventually, Kathy decides to confront Ruth. They walk to an old bus shelter near the Cottages, where Kathy points out that Ruth’s words and actions often upset Tommy. Ruth admits that Kathy is right, but also points out that Kathy may be interested in dating Tommy if he and Ruth were to break up. Ruth says that while Tommy respects Kathy, he will never be interested in her romantically because he does not like dating girls who have slept with other men. Kathy and Ruth change the subject to their days at Hailsham, but Ruth annoys Kathy by again pretending not to remember details from their childhood. Shortly afterwards, Kathy files paperwork to start her training as a carer. She keeps her distance from Ruth and Tommy until she departs.

Analysis

Deferrals and possibles become taboo subjects for Ruth, Chrissie, and Rodney after Norfolk, reflecting their more despondent outlook. Norfolk checks their willingness to hope on the basis of rumors, as well as their willingness to engage in fantasy about the future. Meanwhile, Tommy secretly continues preparing for the possibility of a deferral by throwing himself into his artwork. Tommy’s imaginary creatures are a form of planning for the future, as he hopes to submit them to Madame’s Gallery. However, they also give him deep personal satisfaction in the present. For the first time, artistic expression gives Tommy joy rather than anxiety. While his creatures confuse Kathy because they look nothing like the artwork at Hailsham, they also tap into the kind of fantastic imagination that she associates with Hailsham and childhood make-believe. Tommy’s fantasies are especially notable in the aftermath of the Norfolk trip, which dissolved the fantasy of Ruth’s dream future. The complexity of Tommy’s animals echoes the depths of complexity in the clones themselves. Kathy’s inability to interpret the drawings shows their humanness. Like human beings, the drawings are deeply personal and sympathetic but hard to understand. They evoke an emotional response, but do not offer up a clear body of knowledge.

The Cottages remain a limbo between childhood and adulthood, where Kathy waits out the time between leaving Hailsham and becoming a carer. Marked by the arrivals and departures of other students, the changing seasons bring the Hailsham students closer and closer to adulthood. Characteristically, Kathy copes with these changes by recalling her childhood at Hailsham. Meanwhile, Ruth’s forgetfulness implies that she deals with the loss of Hailsham by pushing it from her memory. Although Kathy believes that Ruth is pretending not to remember, it is unclear whether her forgetfulness is real or faked. Ruth’s words and actions are all filtered through Kathy’s memory, leaving open the possibility that Kathy has misinterpreted her. Ruth’s reaction to finding the tape in Kathy’s room is similarly ambiguous. However, the way she later uses their private conversation to estrange Kathy and Tommy strongly implies her resentment.

The friction between Kathy and Ruth is only partly about Ruth’s forgetfulness. While the “Norfolk effect” results in many subjects in the Cottages remaining taboo, this period is also the one in which Ruth exposes Kathy’s feelings for Tommy as an underlying source of tension. At the bus shelter, Ruth clearly reveals that she knows about Kathy’s feelings. Ruth also continues to use Kathy’s sexual history against her, naming it as the reason for Tommy’s disinterest. Kathy characteristically channels her anger in another direction. Controlling her reaction to Ruth’s comments about Tommy, she snaps angrily at Ruth for forgetting about Hailsham instead. Kathy also continues to walk away from her confrontations, abruptly leaving this conversation in the same way that she left her talk with Ruth and Tommy in the churchyard. Her final departure from the Cottages carries on this pattern, leaving her issues with both Ruth and Tommy unresolved. She leaves at a moment when her relationships with both are fragile and tense. Her departure also abruptly ends the transitional phase in her life, ushering her from the Cottages into her adult life as a carer.