ehh… I Think I’ll Let Go…

There are numerous things in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go that provoke some irritation for me as a reader and as a person. Granted, I am not one to really appreciate science fiction. However, I read the novel with avid interest and found it hard to put down. I wanted to know how the story ended, and mostly I wanted the writer to explain everything to me. I wanted the details of the world in which the characters lived. Yet, the more I read, the more annoyed with the story I got. The premise of the novel is almost too grating to accept. Outlined are a few facets of the novel that I find the most irritating:

 1. The Use of Euphimisms

In a society that is comfortable using other humans as one might use a stolen car for its parts, I wonder why euphimisms had to be used when discussing the situtation. Much like when a loved one has died, society today says that they have passed away or are deceased in order to lessen the pain or discomfort associated with the realization that they are dead. It’s less offensive, easier to accept or digest. The same method is utilized throughout the novel. The main characters in the novel can be accurately described as clones or extra sets of organs essentially, yet the are referred to as “students” or “donors.” Students conjures up images of bright, eager, docile adolescents with an equally bright future. The label “donor” allows the reader to think of the characters’ purpose as a philanthropic or charitable. As if it were optional and they chose to give away their vital organs as an act of goodwill. They are taught by “guardians” rather than socially active babysitetrs that can barely tolerate their existence. And they “donate” rather than get their organs harvested. They “complete” rather than die. If the society in which the story takes place is ok with using the characters’ organs, they should be comfortable enough to call a spade a spade and atleast acknowledge that the characters are not students or donors but are in their eyes equivalent to an extra pair of socks. They should stop trying to sugar coat it or gloss over the horrific details if they are going to allow such a society.

2. Why Bother Treating Them Like People in the First Place?

I wonder why the clones are treated like normal people for their childhood if they are just a container for extra organs? Why teach them academic things? Or life lessons? Or how to intereact with the outside world? I know that at the end of the novel, Miss Emily supposedly explains the reasoning behind it, but I am not convinced. She said that while it was not perfect, the school attempted to make their life as easy and normal as possible in order to cushion their actual life purpose. She said it was better than the government houses into which the other clones were crammed. But once again, why bother? It is just delaying the inevitable. And actually, it is just a tease. Miss Emily and the rest of the guardians had good intentions, but essentially they expose the “students” to a life style in which they can never really achieve. If the “students” would have never known another life than that of a clone, they could not be disappointed with the life they do have. Giving them a happy childhood doesn’t make their eventual “donations” any easier. On the contrary, it makes that life even harder.

3. Why do the Donors Have to be Carers First?

 This question truly irritates me because I wonder why the outside world is once again isolated from the horror of a person being taken apart piece by piece? The most reasonable explanation to me is that society or whomever makes the decisions regulating clones and their “donations” wants them to be as ignorant about it as possible about the entire process. Knowledge breeds questions, and questions probably are not the most conducive the such a tedious situation. Plus, ignorance is bliss. Less is more. There are numerous sayings that explain why keeping the general population out of the process is best. It seems to me though, that if the populace receives the benefits of the process, they should have to experience it. All of it. It’s unfair that the “donors” have to not only have to give away their organs, but they have to take care of the others who are in the middle of process. There are no surprises. They know everything. They have to experience the pain and suffering of others before their own. Almost like two for the price of one.

4. Why One Organ at a Time?

Ok, so here is the most disturbing question of all: why do they prolong the process of harvesting (let’s be honest, that’s what it is). Why don’t they just take all of the organs at once? Also, how is it possible for the “donors” to keep living after three or four “donations” and losing three or four vital organs? A lung? A kidney? Some other vital organ? Would it not be more efficient, probably less expensive, and defnitely less painful if the “donors” were just killed and all of their organs harvested at once? Why is that not the process?

 I don’t mean to rant against a novel, just presenting some food for thought.

Rachel Lisotta

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~ by rlisotta on January 31, 2008.

6 Responses to “ehh… I Think I’ll Let Go…”

  1. Internet ranting is an amusing form of being candid, yeah?

    Anyhow, you bring up some good points, some worth discussing a bit.

    1) How is that society any different than this one? Euphemisms serve a pragmatic purpose in that they allow us a linguistic sidestep from present or past behaviors we find aversive. We call people “intellectually disabled” now instead of “mentally retarded.” The word soldier can have positive meaning like selfless protector, but soldiers used to be paid to fight, and today kill other humans (and they’re still paid). But we gloss that over with ideas of honor, bravery, virtue. In the same way, Kathy’s England has no problem idealizing these clones, using euphemisms, a web of linguistic association, to control behavior. Guardians, students, donor, completion, possible, the words tie nicely together, don’t they? In a broad sense it gives society a way to control how these clones would view themselves and how they would behave. How is this any different than what we do today when we use PC language to skirt around a tough issue? Calling a spade a spade won’t change attitudes, and that’s WHAT MATTERS. Emily, said Hailsham gave the clones an improved sense of well-being and purpose, but perhaps more importantly the “school” also tried to change the ATTITUDES of the society. And what happened to that effort?

    2) You make a good point with this, but what if every person knew they couldn’t do something? Sure we aren’t constrained to donate our organs, but there are people that would say some people are biologically determined to be of low intelligence, or incapable of normal functioning. Is it humane to have people trying to pass laws that would discriminate these people? While it might be worth wondering “What right did that society have to create humans for organs?” The fact is, that in the book it’s already been entrenched for decades. In a narrow sense Hailsham is a SHAM, for the reasons you just expressed, but in a broader sense, it represents an earnest plea to have people look at what “donors” are capable of, they even seem to have a “soul.” But what happened? People rejected that. Don’t tell someone where hot-dogs come from sort of thing. In an individual sense, does Hailsham being a lie invalidate all those experiences? Do those memories just disappear?

    3) Again, this is social commentary, probably about “interbeing.” Ishiguro might be showing us that we can choose to be mindful of where our conveniences comes from, and we can choose to support or not support what we believe in. This works within reason (you can’t be totally out of a society you don’t promote). But would you really want to know where every product you buy comes from? The fact is, we don’t really like to think about all those things we’ve come to believe we’re entitled to…and in a consumer culture it’s everywhere. I can’t think of a correlate for the carer/donor thing in today’s culture, but at least in that model there’s internal consistency. Maybe being a carer gives donors a chance to experience empathy in the most real sense, in a way a nurse or other person couldn’t experience it. The donor empathizes with the carer because he or she once knew what it felt like to be a carer, how hard it must have been to “care” to completion. Then the carer, he or she sympathizes with the donor because that person will soon know what that donor is going through. And really, this dynamic could only happen between clones…

    4) No answer. I would think missing a kidney and lung would really tax/damage your other organs trying to keep you alive. I wondered why they weren’t taking eyes and other less vital organs. What happens once you’re dead? Oh…I remember…sad.

    Thanks for the discussion. I for one loved the book, and actually found myself crying by the end.

    -Matt Walker

  2. I see what you’re saying, but I think Ishiguro included these points to make the situation more realistic and believable. And some of these things aren’t as farfetched as you might think on first glance. This is my take on things.

    1. There are a lot of euphemisms for the process, but I don’t think that’s just because Ishiguro wants to gradually reveal the situation to the reader. I actually think that if we ever came to the point where we decided to do this in the future, we definitely would not want to know exactly what was going on or even think about it. We’re a pretty selfish species. True, there are some people who are extremely altruistic, and all of us have some sense of altruism in us. But when it comes down to us v. people we’ve never even met, you’ll find that it’s really hard to think about anyone else when either your life or the life of someone you care about is on the line. In those kinds of desperate and emotional situations, most people would be willing to do anything to help their loved ones. But there’s just one thing that holds us back from guiltlessly sacrificing others for ourselves – this little thing called “morality.” We’re unable to completely justify the sacrifice of others because it would be immoral and we would feel guilty about essentially killing someone else for our own benefit. But the reason we feel this guilt is because we consider other people to be equal to us. If we could somehow have it so that the people we’re sacrificing are inferior to us, then we could justify their expenditure. This is why slavery and experimentation on African Americans was seen as perfectly reasonable in colonial times. They weren’t like White people, so that made it ok to sacrifice them to make medical advances for the benefit of Whites. In the same way, these kids are clones, so they’re not actual people like us, and that makes it ok to sacrifice them for our benefit. But even with this justification, there’s still that gut feeling that what we’re doing is wrong in a way. So to avoid the conflict, we just don’t think about it. Society at large just assumes that the organs are dropping out of the sky, and it’s all good. It’s scary to think that society could come to this conclusion, but I think it’s very plausible. If there weren’t euphemisms for everything, it would make the situation and the clones seem more like actual people, and this would make it much harder to justify their sacrifice, toppling the whole system. So the euphemisms protect society from the reality of things. And if you think about it, even today we use euphemisms all the time, like “collateral damage” for civilians lost in war. We don’t want to think about the fact that innocent people who are just like us are being killed, so we make up a better name for it and that makes it seem all right. So this idea of “sugar-coating” everything is not really all that unbelievable, and we do it all the time anyway, so it’s just a matter of extending the concept to clones.

    2. Why treat them like people? Well, for one, I think we’ll agree that they are people. So what happens when we jail people and treat them like animals? First of all, think of the health concerns. These are the individuals from whom we’re supposed to get organs. Do you think those organs are going to be pretty healthy when the clones have been exposed to such terrible living conditions? Not very likely. Secondly, there’s a limit to how much cruelty a person can handle. There’s bound to be some defiance, and with so many people crammed into one place like the government houses mentioned, there’s likely to be a rebellion and attempt to escape from the place. But ok, so we can give them better living conditions. Still, why teach them and mentally prepare them for their future? The key here, I think, is that we’re not automatons and our body and organs don’t just function of their own accord. We have a brain, and that brain is actually what controls those organs and allows them to function the way they do. The power of the mind is really unbelievable. This is the reason for things like the placebo effect where you can actually bring about an improvement in your health just by believing that it will happen. Having a strong and fully engaged mind is essential to bodily health. This concept comes up in The Island, too, and I think there’s merit to it. Also, some of the teaching was explained to be because Miss Emily and the guardians wanted to show society that the idea about the clones not being people was incorrect and that sacrificing them for their organs was unable to be justified.

    3. I think this goes back to the fact that society is denying what’s going on. They don’t want to think about what’s happening, and they’re perfectly happy unquestioningly accepting organs when they need them. In a way, I think this system of having the clones take care of each other is ingenious. It completely eliminates the necessity of involving anyone else, so society can really distance itself and pretend nothing’s happening. As far as making the clones be Carers before donating… well, life isn’t fair.

    4. Why not take all of the organs out at once? Good question. It’s not necessary that all of the organs are going to be needed at the same time. So why remove all of them at once and have to worry about storing them? It’s much better to take only what’s necessary and let the other organs continue to function normally in the body until they’re needed. Harvested organs can only stay viable for a certain time outside the body before they’ll go bad, so it would be efficient to take only what’s necessary. And it can be possible to live after donating multiple organs, depending on what they are, in what order you lose them, and what the time frame of the donations are. If you’re taking out things like the heart or stomach first, then that donor isn’t going to survive very long to give anything else. But if you’re taking out a kidney or a lung – both of which you have in double, then it’s quite possible to live without them. Also, if the time between the first and last donation is less than a year or something, the donor should be able to survive that short period of time. It’s not like the donor is asked to give up a couple of organs and then live for another ten years. If done correctly, I think it’s possible to pull off the sort of thing Ishiguro describes.

    You brought up some interesting points, and these were just some reasons I saw for why Ishiguro might have portrayed the situation the way he did. To me, it seemed believable. That’s what makes it all the more frightening.

    ~ B2

  3. Today in class, as we were discussing why the donors don’t run, this idea of complacency about their fate and harvesting one organ at a time merged in my mind.

    While I think that the response that “B2” gave may be plausible, I don’t think it’s true that they couldn’t use all of the organs at the same time. If, as Ruth so disarmingly declared, the clones are modeled off the “trash” of society, then this England of the late 1990s doesn’t follow the rubric set out in “The Island” where the clones’ organs go straight to the “originals.” Instead, the organs are harvested for general use, much like an organ donor’s organs are used today. Given the huge wait list for transplants today, it seems likely that all of the organs could be usefully harvested all at once.

    Instead, then, I think there’s a different reason for the gradual harvest. If a donor starts out by giving, say, a kidney, the whole process isn’t going to seem like the first step towards death. Chris Skene in class today mentioned that one of the main differences between these clones and the Jews imprisoned in concentration camps is that these clones know for sure that they will be murdered. But, my point is that the harvesting is set up to be a slow and meandering path towards death in a way that, while still murder, isn’t the blatant shot-in-the-head faced by those locked up in concentration camps.

    Easing into the process in this way prevents any great shock to the donors’ lives, thus preventing them from feeling the need to break out of the system and run. By the time they’ve started, though, and the realization sets in that they will be (presumably) donating ever more essential organs and that death is imminent, they are too far into the process and too weak to escape into the real world.

    In the end, then, I think the sequence of donations is another form of control over the clones so that they never really even have the choice of escaping, but just have to follow the path laid out before them.

  4. -Above post from Chris Adkins

  5. Rachel, your provocative post has prompted some of the best replies of the blog.

  6. […] really appreciate science fiction. However, I read the novel with avid interest and found it hard […]

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