Reality of a Memory

In Never Let Me Go many of their possessions, including their body parts, are taken from them. However in class we emphasized society cannot take away their memories. But in The Island they don’t even have their own memories to keep. What they think are memories are just recycled thoughts assigned to each generation. But if the clones in The Island don’t know this, is there a difference?

Humans know they exist because they remember existing. Both The Island clones and Hailsham students have childhood memories. Due to this both know they had an up bringing. The viewer knows this isn’t true in The Island but if the characters think the memories are real, then aren’t these just as real as the memories of the Hailsham students? There could just as easily have been a turn in Never Let Me Go where the students had never experienced Hailsham and it was just an encoded projection of what they thought was real. If spun that way, then are Kathy’s memories any different to her if she never knows they never existed? I feel most would say they are not. But, had we found the novel and read it as a memoir that she wrote, us knowing these events never actually happened, would it be less touching? A step further is to say if we were told now those were false memories, after already reading the novel and having a reaction, would we feel, to a far lesser degree, duped like they were? Would the novel lose emotional credibility?

If the novel is successful in giving human qualities to these clones then it may not matter. We may be so moved after the first read that even after told none of it was real we are still emotionally attached to the characters. I believe Kathy and Tommy would still have an attachment to each other even if told their childhood never existed. If this were true, then I don’t see why we would lose our emotional attachment to them?


~ by jamespvcross on February 10, 2014.

2 Responses to “Reality of a Memory”

  1. I think you touch on a really interesting topic here with trying to define a “real” memory. The physical manifestation of thoughts/memories is very intriguing — on a physiological level, they’re “just” electro-chemical signals buzzing through your brain. As the classic “brain in a vat” thought experiment demonstrates, it might be possible to recreate physical sensations or even memories with signals sent from a computer. Thus you would not have “really” had the experience, BUT the memories would still be real.

  2. Very interesting post and I agree with quite a bit of what you say—I’d argue that it actually matters very little whether the characters of Never Let Me Go’s memories are real or not (obviously, in the book they are, but the point is if they were not). What does matter is what we imagine to be real. Memory, history, these are all filtered through our end present living minds and shaped to create something meaningful, or even just memorable for us. What matters more than anything else, I believe, is entirely unique for each of us individually. For instance, if you don’t know who Boris Yeltiskin is, then for all intensive purposes, he doesn’t exist for you. I don’t mean to propose this as a reckless admonition of disbelief, or to counter common accepted “facts” but to emphasize what makes us human is our imagination—what we think and what we feel is who we are and how we construct our vision of the world around us. And so even if Kathy’s memories were what we would call “false,” she still would evoke as much genuine empathy in me, as a reader, as in the alternative.

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