What it means to be ‘human’

Because I have never read anything about clones before, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, a dystopian novel, was a very different read for me, but it excited interesting questions.

Some of the topics I will be discussing are the themes of loss and the inevitable, the importance of creativity, and the provocative question the novel revolves around of what it means to be human.

Never Let Me Go
A dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, laments the unfortunate feeling of loss and questions what it means to be a human. (Photo credits: goodreads.com)

Reading the novel, I noticed that there are these grand themes of ‘loss’ and the ‘inevitable’ whether it be the loss of items, places, or memories – these themes come up a lot throughout the novel. I could not help but think about Elizabeth Bishop’s profound poem called One Art.

Her poem talks about the art of losing and how everything is destined to be lost, and she encourages the readers to practice losing insignificant or little things first so that they will be prepared to lose the bigger, more important things.

We definitely see this practice or theme within the novel when Kathy first loses her tape, then her friends, and then her connection and memories with Hailsham as the institution gets shut down and her friends pass away – all becoming only a skeletal memory as metaphorically portrayed when Tommy compares the ship oddly placed on the shore to Hailsham.

After all these losses, I think there is one more loss, the greatest loss, and it is obvious since they are clones – their future. Towards the end of the novel, when they start realizing what they are really meant for, they slowly let go of what could be or will never be, falling into this state of hopelessness.

At the end, Kathy visits Norfolk, a significant place she describes as the place for lost things, perhaps to retain what she has lost. “I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up” (Ishiguro 287). I think this is a very significant scene and there are a lot of symbolism happening here as well.

In the last page, Ishiguro mentions a lot about ‘pieces’ of things. “All along the fence, especially along the lower line of wire, all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled. It was like the debris you get on a sea-shore…Up in the branches of the trees, too, I could see, flapping about, torn plastic sheeting and bits of old carrier bags” (Ishiguro 287). He also uses the words “fantasy” and “imagine”, which are associated with childhood.

I feel as if these ‘pieces’ of debris and bags are a symbol for Kathy and the Hailsham students because they are merely and literally pieces for others to use. Or they are just created for a sole purpose like a plastic and carrier bag and in this case, they are created for their organs and nothing more or less.

Secondly, the childhood terms evoke the theme of innocence. Kathy starts to imagine that Norfolk is this place for lost things, in hopes to see Tommy again, but she stops herself. I read this as maybe her coming to the realization that these things she hopes would be will never be.

Lastly on this subject, I want to talk about the ending passage, which I found striking once I read it again. The imagery is definitely dull and dreary compared to the description in the beginning when Kathy is describing it as an almost-magical place where lost things go, which shows how reality is compared to what the Hailsham students or Kathy thought it would be since they have been so sheltered. Most importantly, there is a fence that is “keeping [her] from stepping into the field” (Ishiguro 287). Perhaps we can never retain what is lost.

The other theme the novel raises is the importance of creativity. The Hailsham students create in order to be considered human because humans have emotions and a “soul”.

Creativity is seen as something that we should thrive for because it keeps us alive like as it is wonderfully stated in Dead Poets Society, 

“We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” John Keating, Dead Poets Society

Those noble pursuits are necessary to sustain life but the things that romanticize life are what we stay alive for.

These are two very different statements. We need these noble pursuits to sustain life like having shelter, water, food, etc., but the things that romanticize life are what we stay alive for – things that are worthwhile to live for because they make life more appealing, encouraging us to stay alive.

So it is not just about wealth, having a nice house, or food to eat that should drive us to stay alive for, but it should be love, sunsets, trees, the night sky, and the various art forms that capture all these wonderful aspects so that you do not miss anything.

As a person who loves poetry, I understand why creativity is so important to being a human. Things like poetry, art, music, and books that express creativity are important because they are raw visual expressions of our emotions and a really close way of capturing essences of the world.

They are also important because most of the time they expose the ugly truth, but a lot of the times they have the ability to capture the beautiful aspects and images of life that many people might fail to see.

So to answer the question of what it means to be human, I think being a human is to feel, create, and share it with the world like what John Keating (Robin Williams) said in the film, “What will your verse be?”

***This post is from a journal entry for a class***


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