The Use of Symbolism to Portray Innocence and Its Loss in Octavia Butlers Bloodchild and Kazuo Ishiguros Never Let Me Go

Categories: Literature

Symbols are an object, person, or place that is used to represent a thought, institution, or ideal. Symbols’ representation changes over time and changes depending on the person. Innocence is the blissful mindset one has regarding their life or surroundings. Loss of innocence occurs when knowledge is gained to destroy one’s blissful mindset. Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go portray innocence and the loss of it through symbols, especially through the shift of symbols’ meaning through gaining new knowledge and through the portrayal of symbols’ meanings for different characters.

The symbols used represent large parts of the characters’ lives, so the shifting of symbolic meaning truly changes their innocence to non-innocence. If the symbols were not constantly portrayed throughout the stories, then the shifting of meaning would most likely not change the characters’ mindset on life.

Gan’s life started with T’Gatoi from infancy, and Gan felt “honor to have T’Gatoi in the family” (Butler 4).

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While Gan’s innocence is intact, T’Gatoi remains noble in his mind, but once Gan begins to feel controlled by T’Gatoi, he claims, “no one ever asks us [to be implanted). . . you never asked me” (Butler 23). During Gan’s innocence, T’Gatoi was a symbol of the safety and security the Tlic government gives to the Terrans. However, after the eye-opening and graphic Tlic birthing, T’Gatoi no longer represents a safe and caring government, but a symbiotic cattle driver searching to use Gan. Butler shifts the viewpoint Gan has of T’Gatoi as he loses his innocence so T’Gatoi can be used as a symbol of the control an institution has over a group of people, and how that group of people do not begin to feel negatively about the institution until the truth comes out, and their innocent delusion is shattered.

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Similarly in Ishiguro’s novel, Hailsham as a symbol shifts as Kathy loses her innocence. Kathy and her friends considered “Hailsham somewhere so special” (Ishiguro 20), and it was their home where lifelong memories were created. Kathy’s innocent viewpoint of the school changes when Miss Emily confesses Hailsham was a social experiment, and how, “[Kathy couldn’t] find anywhere like Hailsham in the country anymore” (Ishiguro 409). During Kathy’s childhood, Hailsham was her home with her friends and guardians, and it eventually faded into a pleasant memory. Miss Emily’s Hailsham was a symbol of the souls of the students through their artwork and their bright personalities, but once Kathy discovers the failed experiment in changing society’s minds about clones, her view of Hailsham changes from a special place in her heart to a place ignored and defunded by society. Ishiguro uses Hailsham as a symbol that has meaning for different people, and as a symbol with shifting meaning, to portray how one’s view on anything from childhood to social construct, can change and differ from others based on experience, knowledge, and type of memories.

Gan believed the eggs T’Gatoi gave to the family were “a harmless pleasure” (Butler 3), but later realizes the eggs were originally used to make humans “a little more than big animals” (Butler 10) due to the blissful feelings the eggs invoke. Eggs tend to represent fertility, and although eggs are implanted in people for reproduction, the symbol of these eggs is different. Initially, Gan believed the eggs symbolized the affection T’Gatoi has for his family, so the close link the government has to its people. 

Eggs also symbolize the control T’Gatoi has over his family, because at any time she can make the Terrans complacent. Especially after witnessing the birth, Gan will no longer associate the eggs with a blissful experience. Butler changes the traditional symbolism of eggs from fertility to a type of control to represent the control one can have over another by giving them something they enjoy. This especially applies to the loss of innocence, because Gan’s view of the eggs shifts greatly after he begins to understand that his mother does not want to lose the control of her family to T’Gatoi. As Butler uses the symbolism of eggs to represent the loss of innocence, Ishiguro uses the same method with galleries to present the harsh truth of reality to Kathy and her friends. The first gallery in the story is the Madame’s, and the gallery’s mysterious and taboo quality made it no more to the children than a way to compliment artwork by saying “it would be good enough to go into the Gallery” (Ishiguro 54). This first mention of a gallery is an appropriate symbol of childlike wonder. Kathy thinks of the gallery as a mysterious entity, not talked about and full of possibilities, and through childlike wonderment she and others are able to consider the gallery as anything. The second gallery in Norfolk, in contrast, is the scene when everyone there realizes “the more [they] looked, the more (they] realized (the possible] looked nothing like Ruth” (Ishiguro 253). The second gallery is a concrete place, which is why it is a symbol of Kathy losing her innocence through knowledge.

As a child, she could consider things abstractly, but as she grew up, she could not ignore the truth, that originals were not middle or upper class members of society.

Ishiguro uses the symbolism in the galleries to represent the loss of innocence to portray that people grow up no matter what, and that harsh reality will one day be faced.

The Preserve in Butler’s story initially represents a place of security from Tlics trying to forcefully take Terrans, and to Gan, “only [the Preserve] stood between [him] and the desperation that could swallow [him]” (Butler 5). After witnessing the birth, Gan can relate to the disgust his brother feels for the Tlics, and sees the safety net as a trap, because “… there is now ‘away’. Not in the Preserve” (Butler 19).

Before Gan witnessed the birthing, and before Gan gained new knowledge of the Tlics from his brother, the Preserve was a symbol of how precious Terrans are to Tlics’ future generations. Once Gan loses his innocence regarding the relationship between Tlics and Terrans, the Preserve is no longer a symbol of security, but a symbol of the power the Tlics have, and how the power is used to keep the Terrans from ever leaving. Butler once again shifts the symbolic meaning of something, in this case the Preserve, to represent governmental control over citizens, and how citizens will blindly accept this being controlled due to naivety, until more knowledge is gained, and the citizens begin feeling trapped.

The cassette tape in Ishiguro’s novel also has different symbolic meaning, but instead of that meaning changing over time, it is portrayed through different characters. For Kathy, the cassette tape represents her life as a child and as an adult, because it was about whatever (she] said” (Ishiguro 115). She interpreted the song in a way that best suit her, and so the tape represented something different for Kathy than for Ruth. When the tape reappeared to Tommy and Kathy, she “avoided telling Ruth about the tape”, (Ishiguro 180) because to Ruth, the tape would symbolize Tommy and Kathy’s growing bond, which made her feel threatened. Butler changes the tape’s symbolism between characters to represent innocence and the loss of innocence. Initially to Kathy, the tape was a simplistic reminder of her childhood, but due to Ruth’s understanding of the tape, it becomes a symbol of something much more – a bond between two friends and a seclusion of another, which would never be a representation of a childhood symbol.

The use of symbols and their shifting meaning to represent the theme of innocence and the loss of it is especially effective in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”, because the technique takes the most important aspects of Gan’s life and shifts the way they affect him enough to evoke change in his mindset and future purpose.

Shifting how Gan sees T’Gatoi and her character is the most prominent way to represent Gan’s loss of innocence, because no longer having an adult figure for comfort and support is a huge sign of losing innocence for many people. Similarly in Ishiguros’ Never Let Me Go, one large symbol is the trademark example of Kathy losing her innocence, which is Hailsham. When one gains new knowledge regarding their childhood home, it can shift their memories from the past and influence their actions in the future. This is what happens to Kathy, and since it is plausible for anyone, it becomes a relatable and main symbol to effectively represent Kathy’s loss of innocence. Butler’s short story and Ishiguro’s novel initially seem to have little in common, but symbols and growing up are universal. Everyone can have their own thoughts and feelings connected to an object, and those thoughts shift as more knowledge is gained and innocence is lost, and since symbolic meaning is universal, it is an effective way for authors to get across main ideas.

Cite this page

The Use of Symbolism to Portray Innocence and Its Loss in Octavia Butlers Bloodchild and Kazuo Ishiguros Never Let Me Go. (2022, Apr 03). Retrieved from

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