Explore Kathy’s narration in Never Let Me Go and what it reveals regarding the importance of memory as a source for narrative.
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When memory is used as a source for narrative in literature many of the essential qualities of conventional narratives are lost. However, Kathy’s narrative voice in Never Let Me Go is by no means exclusive, it instead resonates on a universal level; each individual’s memories are fundamental in forming their identity. The supposed unreliable aspects of Kathy’s narration are only unreliable in so far as they present an intimate portrait of this universal experience.
Of the novel’s many focuses, Ishiguro is certainly interested in the workings of memory. Kathy’s retrospective narrative voice demonstrates the very human struggle to define ourselves and our identities, a relationship between memory and identity plays out in front of the reader; psychological principles in action. The eagerness to preserve early memories suggests Kathy wants to remember who she is, a strong sense of identity helps strengthen the narrative. When compared to Ruth, who fades gradually through the story, Kathy’s desire to keep old memories alive is presented as a better way to move forward. Ruth is a shadow of her former self when Kathy describes her life as a donor; she appears to willingly put memories of Hailsham to the back of her mind and as a result loses a sense of identity, becoming increasingly bitter and reflective. A further comparison between Kathy and Ruth shows Kathy to be far more open and honest about her memory of Hailsham. Ruth, while at the Cottages, twists their experiences to suit her own self-image, revealing herself to be ultimately insecure.
The interdependence of memory and identity is not unproblematic. Self-assessment and assessment of the characters in the novel will lead one to realise that manipulation of the past is integral...
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... true to the nature of memory, what Barry Lewis calls memories that ‘zigzag back and forth, with an emotional logic that is true to the way our minds actually work’ (Lewis, 2011: 209). What Lewis is saying is that Kathy’s narration is consistently typical of memory narrative, she moves from memory to memory suddenly and frequently and yet clearly divides her narrative into separate parts: Hailsham, the Cottages, life as a carer, and life as a donor.
Ishiguro deals with memory both explicitly in the novel and by using literary devices such as unreliable narration and the displacement of narrative. Kathy’s story, and the act of telling it, affirms her human qualities in the eyes of the addressee. By exploring and sharing the nature of her existence she subverts the role she is meant to play, she becomes more than just a collection of organs by engaging her own mind.