Ishiguro’s latest novel, Never Let Me Go, is a beautifully written story about children growing up in the isolated and protected environment of the private school, Hailsham, in England.
The children are educated and cared for and taught to paint wonderful pieces of art. The children hope that their drawings will be chosen to hang in Madame’s gallery. Madame comes weekly to select from the children’s art, and they are certain she must have a most wonderful gallery to display their work. The children have a theory, that if their artwork is good enough, it will reveal who they really are on the inside and they will be able to use this to their benefit.
Slowly, as the children grow and mature and eventually leave Hailsham, they begin to understand more clearly the purpose of their lives. For in fact, these children are clones of people, who have had them created to serve as donors when they become sick and are in need of organs for transplants.
The children have dual roles, that of the donor and that of the carer. The carer cares for the donor after they have had their surgery to harvest their organs. Typically, the donor can donate four times and then they are “completed”; they die. They hope that if their artwork reveals who they really are on the inside, they can use this information to request a deferral, meaning they can ask to be excused from serving as a donor. article continued below…
Ishiguro does a wonderful job of showing the sadness and emptiness of these children’s lives, who grow up knowing that they cannot marry or have children (biologically they are unable to pro-create). A few instances when they are out in town, they are always searching for their “possible”, the person who they are a clone of. They wonder if they see someone who they resemble, might they be the one.
In the end, when two students in particular go searching for their childhood teachers to request a deferral, they find out that the deferral was only a part of their imagination. Their artwork, not hung in an art gallery but collected for display, was used to prove to the world that cloned human beings must have souls in order for them to be able to produce such beautiful artwork. They learn that they were really part of a larger social experiment, of creating some whose only purpose was to give their life away for the benefit of another.
Ishiguro writes chillingly of the closure of the donations program at Hailsham and other schools as the programs move away from only cloning children to making children with enhanced capabilities. He writes, “It’s one thing to create students, such as yourselves, for the donation programme. But a generation of created children who’d take their place in society? Children demonstrably superior to the rest of us? Oh no. That frightened people. They recoiled from that.”
The children learn, that their protected and isolated environment was not for their good, but because society wanted them tucked away in the shadows. Society was uncomfortable with their existence but “their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neurone disease, heart disease.”
How similar is today’s debate over embryonic and cloning research to the society in Never Let Me Go? The notion that we would sacrifice nascent life for the well being of others. The idea that some lives are more valuable than others. I find them uncanny.