Professor Craig Thompson
The Tragedy of Miss Lucy
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go touches on what it means to be human, how important ethical science is, and the concepts of acceptance and fate. He paints a dark picture of humanity and what happens in the lives of clones created for organ donation. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are essentially very lucky, very sheltered clones raised in the protected environment of Hailsham. They are given educations, distractions, and senses of purpose. Kathy is driving Tommy through the woods towards the end of the book, and Tommy breaks a long silence and says that he agrees with Miss Lucy, not Miss Emily. He’s talking about whether or not to shield the clones from their knowledge of their fate as they mature. Miss Lucy wants to tell the students everything and fully prepare them for their fates, dashing their dreams. Miss Emily wants to encourage their souls to grow, and keep them protected, safe, and happy until they are old enough to understand what is happening. While Miss Emily’s approach sounds beautiful, in reality it is the cruelest option. Allowing the students to dream of better lives, having jobs, families, when it is not a possibility, doesn’t serve them. Miss Lucy could have been more thoughtful with her big reveal to the students. She was frustrated and going against the grain of the administration of the school by speaking out to the students directly at all about their purpose. However, she was truly doing them a kindness by telling them about their organ donations, lack of options, and ultimate fates.
Seeking a deferral of their donations, Tommy and Kathy go find Madame in her home, long after graduation and the Cottages. At this meeting, Madame and Miss Emily are both present, and they give their reasons for sheltering the students. Madame doesn’t truly view the clones as human, and admits fault, when she says, “Poor creatures. What did we do to you? With all our schemes and plans?” (Ishiguro, 254). She had been listening to their story and theory about the Gallery, before presenting Miss Emily. When Miss Emily comes forward, she presents with her general misplaced positivity, “As for myself, whatever the disappointments, I don’t feel so badly about it. I think what we achieved merits some respect” (Ishiguro, 256). She goes on to tell them that the true reason for the Gallery was, in fact, to prove that the clones had souls at all. Hailsham itself was one giant experiment, created to show society that clones had souls, deserved compassion, and should be treated humanely, so long as they ultimately fulfilled their purpose. But society did not want to know. With the closing of Hailsham, thus ended hope for the likes of Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy.
After they confront Madame and Miss Emily, Tommy mentions, in reference to his bouts of anger growing up, “Maybe I did know, somewhere deep down. Something the rest of you didn’t” (Ishiguro, 274). Tommy isn’t certain that he believes he had always known, but in a way, all of the students knew from hints and rumors growing up, what would eventually become of them. This nebulous knowledge hung over their heads, and in Miss Lucy’s perfect system, this never would have happened. Under Miss Lucy’s guidance, the clones would have full knowledge of the entire process from the time they are young children. Hailsham administration could have allowed Miss Lucy to teach classes, preparing them for their true purpose, while continuing to nurture their minds and souls. On-site therapy to deal with the knowledge of what humanity has done would have been helpful. Ultimately, with the proper education, the students would grow to be well-rounded adults.
While Miss Lucy was not overly successful in her attempt to educate the students, her talk did stick and resonate with Tommy and Kathy. It is while overhearing two students talk about becoming actors that Miss Lucy snaps, telling all the students gathered around her about their fate and the fact that none of their dreams will come true. The students are fifteen years old when Miss Lucy says to them in the pavilion, “Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do” (Ishiguro,81). While they all remembered the incident, they also allowed it to pass, become foggy, and ultimately took no action in terms of self-preservation because of it. This is because she was forced to inform them in a hurried, under-the-table sort of way. Had the administration allowed Miss Lucy to educate the students properly, they would have been better prepared for the lives set out for them, and perhaps been able to change their fates.
A rebellion is exactly the sort of thing that Hailsham would have wanted to avoid, and do avoid, by scaring the young students away from the forest. “There were all kinds of horrible stories about the woods” (Ishiguro, 50). These stories kept them from exploring, keeping them blissfully unaware of the brevity of their lives. Although it takes some time for the clones to accept their fate, the flights of fancy, such as looking for “possibles”, and having “dream jobs,” “dream futures,” never lasted. The three main characters handled the knowledge of their ultimate purpose very differently. Ruth always had to believe in something, have drama, attention. Tommy struggled with his anger and lack of creativity, often howling into the void. Kathy dreamed of having a baby, but of the three, seemed the most suited to accepting her fate as a carer. Tommy believes it is because she has not yet been called up for her first organ donation herself. As the narrator, unreliable though she may be, Kathy truly depicts the humanity of the clones.
Of the three main characters, Ruth would have fared the worst under Miss Lucy’s system, mostly due to the fact that she thrives on belief, stories, drama, and attention. Knowing early on that none of these things would ultimately help or save her may have broken Ruth. But perhaps not, it is possible that with therapy and a strong curriculum, Miss Lucy could have gotten through to Ruth, and she could have become self-aware much earlier on, and given Kathy and Tommy the opportunity to be together, have many more years of love. Ruth comes to regret her meddling, near the end of her life, and she says to Kathy, “The main thing is, I kept you and Tommy apart…That was the worst thing I did” (Ishiguro, 232). Ruth goes on to urge Kathy and Tommy to seek a deferral from Madame on the basis of true love. She truly changes.
Tommy seemed to struggle the most out of the trio, having such problems with his anger growing up that he is bullied mercilessly through his younger years. Something was always lurking in his subconscious, telling him that nothing he did would ever be good enough to save him from his fate, and that it wasn’t even worth trying. Had Tommy been fully educated early on, his anger could possibly have dissipated, replaced instead with knowledge and acceptance that comes to him much later. He would have wasted much less time with Ruth and made certain that Kathy was his main focus for what years they could have together. Tommy says to Kathy, “You and me, right from the start, even when we were little, we were always trying to find things out. Remember, Kath, all those secret talks we used to have?” (Ishiguro, 284). A great tragedy of Tommy’s life is that he gets to spend so little time with Kathy before he completes.
Kathy herself seemed to be the strongest and most stable of the main characters. She longed for a baby, although she knew she could not get pregnant. She loves Tommy from afar, and they stay in touch as much as they can through the years. Kathy is loyal and doesn’t really speak up for herself, allowing Ruth to manipulate her over and over again throughout their youth. Once she becomes a carer, she is very good at it and is able to advocate for her patients without issue. However, being a carer is a tiring and lonely life. Kathy spends her life waiting to be called up for organ donation, and never is, though by the end of the novel she is, perhaps soon, to be called up to a center and then have a carer herself. Kathy creates a fantasy of seeing Tommy approach in a field when she drives to Norfolk, after he dies. It is telling of her nature that even when her friends are gone, she still obediently continues to drive to work, to be where she was “supposed to be” (Ishiguro, 288). Had Kathy been given a more thorough understanding of her ultimate fate, perhaps she could have gotten out from under Ruth’s power a bit, and seen earlier on that what she had with Tommy was the most precious thing in her life.
Miss Lucy’s system would have better served the students, better prepared them for life as clones, and left them overall happier and more well-adjusted than being in the dark. Had Miss Lucy had some support, it is possible that she could have helped to change the way Hailsham operated. This was a big threat to Miss Emily’s philosophy and approach with the clones. Ultimately, Miss Lucy never had the chance to change the lives of the students at all and that is the biggest tragedy of Never Let Me Go.