So what exactly is a soul? And could human clones have them?

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD for Never Let Me Go.

In the great debate now practically obligatory in any dystopian fiction (although it’s really more like a chapter-long monologue in Never Let Me Go) Miss Emily explains to Katy and Tommy that Madame collected art from Hailsham in an attempt to prove that the clones have souls at all. Several characters, particularly Tommy, also bring up the idea that art can reveal someone’s soul (or “reveal what they are like inside”) throughout the novel. Despite this, author Kazuo Ishiguro never tries to clearly define what a soul is, or perhaps more importantly, tries to clearly define what a human being is.
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The society of the book seems to believe that the clones are not “true” human beings. This belief is based partly on expediency; if the “normal,” “real” people believe that the clones are not “real” people, then the real people can go on harvesting the clones for organs and remedying their own health issues without any moral qualms. Somehow this idea of not having a soul relates to the idea of not being a “real” human, but Ishiguro never really explores that connection and seems to assume that the reader will just “get it.”

Ishiguro choses to tell his story from the first person perspective of one of the clones, Kathy. For almost three hundred pages we are immersed in her thoughts, memories, and feelings, and they certainly seem enough like our own. In fact, Kathy seems a lot like us readers in many respects, and through her familiar portrayal Ishiguro seems to making an implicit argument for her humanity, and by extension that of other clones.

And yet, Ishiguro never resolves the final issues of what a soul is and whether or not clones have it. The definition of a soul is certainly hard to pin down — it varies not only from culture to culture or religion to religion, but even from English dictionary to English dictionary. However, Ishiguro explicitly brings up the importance of souls multiple times throughout his novel, and then never directly addresses it. Perhaps he meant for his portrayal of Kathy and other clones to be self-evident proof of their souls, which (if we are defining* a soul as “a person’s deeply felt moral and emotional nature” or “the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.”) he accomplished quite well.

But what if a soul is also “the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever”? Ishiguro never tackles this dimension of the soul, probably the most most tricky and subjective one to analyze. This left me wondering exactly what I was supposed to believe about the clones’ souls and humanity. Of course, that could have always been Ishiguro’s point: that it’s impossible to definitively tell that the clones have souls and are therefore human.

*All three definitions of “soul” were taken from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

—Kara Sherrer

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~ by ksherrer on February 2, 2014.

3 Responses to “So what exactly is a soul? And could human clones have them?”

  1. Love it!!!

  2. I think the point is you can’t define what a soul is and you can’t measure if someone has a soul. I think this was intentional by Ishiguro and one of the more tragic aspects of the novel. To me, the main characters clearly have souls but because you can’t properly evaluate if they do, a large portion of society ostracizes them. There is no sign that in the near future humans will accept them as like themselves. I think this is because if they accept them as like humans, then it will feel they are killing humans to save humans (a theme also in The Island). They’ll never be able to evaluate if they have souls, just as they will never be able to evaluate if they are in love.
    James

  3. I think you’re onto something here. In the novel, Ishiguro does not reveal the true nature of Kathy or Ruth until maybe the middle (I don’t have a book with me, so I’m guessing). I think he allows the reader to determine the humanity of the characters away from the social constructs within the novel. From Kathy’s perspective, of course she’s human, and we feel that too. She has memories, thoughts, feelings, hopes, etc. I think that Ishiguro doesn’t need to define humanity because it is something that we feel.
    That’s why it’s so hard to define it. It’s a connection. And that’s why it’s not fair (in my opinion) for people to deny the humanity of clones. What is it that makes a clone inhuman? A clone is an exact copy of a human. Just because something came first doesn’t make it the only one. Is a second twin the one without humanity? It’s an excellent jumping point for more discussion.
    Sophie

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