The question of what it means to be human has been asked by not only famous philosophers of old, but by anyone who struggles to define what it means. Ishiguro conveys this very same question in his novel Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro demonstrates that in spite of the shared physical qualities of humans, the students undeniably have lives unprotected of human virtues like free will and a hope for change. Regardless of their forfeited human virtues and the questions of morality surrounding their existence, the students are designed for a specific purpose, to be organ donors.
To be human, most would suggest one must possess a mind, heart and will. The mind of humans allow for rational thoughts, not instincts like animals. The heart allows a human to feel the consciousness of the human experience, unlike a robot or other forms of artificial intelligence. The will endows a human to make decisions or choices that have either constructive or adverse consequences. In this capacity for action, one can select “this” over “that” and “those” instead of “these”.
Unfortunately, the students have no free will to choose “this” over “that” and “those” over “these” in regards to their lives and how to live it, despite possessing the human characteristics of a mind, heart and will. Their destinies were chosen for them long before air filled their human lungs. It is a life well-ordered with a specific purpose independent of their will or wishes. The inherent freedom of choice most humans have was never fully given to the students, except to choose a sex partner. Their willingness to accept, without question, the rules surrounding their lives starts at Hailsham and continues throughout the novel.
For example, while at Hailsham they are told by the guardians not to leave school grounds and to stay healthy, they do not know why and never questions anyone as to why. Leona Toker and Daniel Chertoff write, “Indeed, they appear to be incapable of thinking outside of the system in general; they do not ask the basic eschatological questions typical of adolescents” (166). Ishiguro clearly demonstrates how fate is the dominant force in the lives of the students, and a life void of free will is their destiny when Miss Emily states, “your life must now run the course that’s been set for it” (Ishiguro 266).
To be human means one is capable to hope and dream, to adjust and change, to love and learn. Hope promotes the belief in a good outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. The students have the abilities to do these things but without any benefit or reward. Their sense of hope comes from falsehoods and misbeliefs. This misguided hope encourages Ruth to seek out information about Madame in hopes that Kathy and Tommy would receive a deferral. The illusive hope of the make-believe deferral program is what drives Tommy to begin drawing again, and motivates Kathy and Tommy to visit Madame.
In spite of the unrewarding efforts of the students, their ability to hope is a fundamental response genetically programmed in humans. Tail Sharot writes, “A growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism (hope) may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain” (1). The students like all humans hope for change in their lives. Regrettably, their hopes would never get an opportunity to become reality, because the overseers of their lives never consider them human.
Miss Emily emphasizes this point with the declaration, “So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human” (Ishiguro 263). Beyond the dystopian story of Never Let Me Go, a fundamental theme is apparent: free will and the certainties of hopes are absent in lives of the students. As humans our decisions are independent of nature and nurture than any animals; we are aware of our ability to think, to choose and to hope and dream.
The students possesses all attributes that makes one humans except for the confidence of having a choice or hope for a future free of being considered “poor creatures”. Works Cited Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. Print. Leona Toker, Daniel Chertoff. “Reader Respone and the Recycling of Topoi in Kazua Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. ” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 6. 1 (2008): 163-180. Sharot, Tali. “The Optimisim Bias. ” Time 28 May 2011: 28. Print.
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