Never Let Me Go - Themes
Why does Ruth have such trouble with the barbed-wire fence?

Never Let Me Go - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz looks at themes in the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Theme in a work of literature can be blindingly-obvious or appear as subtle suggestion. Themes connect setting, character, plot and dialogue and are communicated through concepts or ideas which arise in different parts of the text, often voiced in different ways by different characters. By paying attention to these related ideas, a reader can follow the development of a theme. When writing about themes, it can be useful to check whether your initial thoughts are the same as your thoughts at the end of a work. Has anything changed? If so, is it possible to pinpoint where your views on a key theme began to change?

Authors communicate with their readers through the themes of their texts. These are the ideas and issues which are raised in the text and which prompt readers to reconsider their own beliefs or ways of looking at the world. If a text makes you think, you are almost certainly engaging with one or more of its themes. Although your views might be similar to those of other readers, your response to a text will also be deeply personal because you will bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration of the text.

Never Let Me Go deals with themes of friendship, memory, freedom, the purpose of education, identity, utilitarianism, and what it means to be human. As in every text, these themes are interrelated. Although many of the themes are easily apparent, look out for subtlety and subtext in this novel. First impressions of an episode might not tell the full truth.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Which one of the following is NOT a theme of this novel?
Social mobility
Humanity and inhumanity
While the lives of the clones are mapped out for them, meaning that they have no opportunity to choose their own employment, social mobility is not a concern of this text
After Tommy "completes", Kathy takes a drive to Norfolk. While there, she stops her car near a field where rubbish blown from the sea has been caught in a barbed wire fence and she imagines that she sees Tommy in the distance. This episode is most closely related to which of the following themes?
The ethics of cloning
Fear of others
For a moment, Kathy allows herself to grieve for all that she has lost: her friends, her future, her love, all of which matter to her even more than the loss of her physical self
Why does Ruth have such trouble with the barbed-wire fence when looking for the old boat?
Ruth likes to be the one to know everything first
Ruth despises getting dirty or being undignified
The fence represents her imprisoned life
Ruth likes to be in control of every situation
Although she is physically frail, she lacks the confidence, in Kathy's view, to tackle the fence. This might be because Ruth, like all the donors, has been imprisoned in the fate society has decided for her since birth
Why is creativity so important to the guardians of Hailsham?
The sale of art makes money for Hailsham
Being artistic will save students from becoming donors
The guardians happen to like art
The creative work of students proves their humanity
If the school can prove the humanity of clones, they can more easily justify educating them and treating them with kindness while they grow up
Which of the following events relates most closely to the theme of hope in the novel?
The students decide to get a closer look at Madame
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy accompany the veterans to Norfolk
Kathy challenges Ruth over the pencil case
Ruth "completes"
The trip to Norfolk is motivated by the hope of finding Ruth's "possible" and results in Tommy and Kathy finding a copy of the tape which is bound up both with Tommy's past hopes of locating the missing tape and Kathy's past sorrow over her own infertility (an enforced acceptance of a situation beyond hope)
"Tommy thought it possible the guardians had, throughout all our years at Hailsham, timed very carefully and deliberately everything they told us, so that we were always just too young to understand properly the latest piece of information." Tommy's theory relates to which of the following themes?
Fate and freedom
The impossibility of truly understanding others
The blurred distinction between truth and deception
The ineffective nature of education
The guardians attempt to simultaneously hide and tell the truth. The students are expected to know and understand their futures without fully comprehending the facts emotionally
What does Norfolk represent to the Hailsham students?
The possibility of recovering the lost
The power of art
The freedom of the outside world
The fear of death
The students joke about Norfolk as the ''Lost Corner'', but the idea also provides comfort to the students, who long to be able to recover all that they have lost
Each donor reaches a point when he or she loses hope, becomes tired of waiting, and volunteers for the donation programme. What is the best explanation for their behaviour?
Clones have had hope programmed out of them
They have been well-trained into obedience
The clones have no feelings or emotions
They will be terribly punished if they rebel against the donation programme
Despite their reading and their cultural activities, the clones have been taught from an early age that their lives will take only one path. Although indulging in very small rebellious acts, such as unauthorised trips, the clones never seriously question the purpose for which they were created
Seaside towns and villages appear frequently in Never Let Me Go. What might the sea represent to Kathy, Tommy, Ruth and the other clones?
Their terror of the outside world
Love and friendship
The past
The connection between the sea and freedom becomes clear when the rumoured sighting of an old, decayed boat causes such excitement among the donors
The veterans at the Cottages pass on a rumour that couples who are truly in love might be granted a deferral. How do Kathy and Tommy believe love can be proved?
Through the testimony of friends
Through art
Through sex
All of the above
Kathy and Tommy intuitively understand that the ability to be creative is proof of their humanity, as is the ability to love. They are mistaken, however, about the purpose of the art, which is not to provide evidence for deferrals
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Themes

Author:  Sheri Smith

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