Identity in Never Let Me Go

When they are at Hailsham, Kathy and her friends are like many young people in that they are consumed with questions about themselves and their place in the world. However, for Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, this predicament is made much harder because they also have to wonder who they are and who they might have been cloned from. Unlike normal humans they do not know their family history and therefore cannot ever be sure if they have a certain eye colour because one of their parents has the same eye colour, or if they have inherited a talent from another family member. Part of their identity therefore will always remain a mystery to them and this adds to their confusion about who they are and their place in the world.

Later in the novel the reader sees how a sighting of Ruth’s possible results in the group of friends taking a trip to Norfolk to see if they too can catch a glimpse of her, “The way I remember it, sightings of possibles tended to come in batches. Weeks would go by with no one mentioning the subject, then one reported sighting would trigger off a whole spate of them,” recalls Kathy.

The possibles are the only link the clones have with their true identity and so Ruth suffers a huge disappointment when it becomes obvious that she has not been cloned from the woman Rodney believes is her possible, A bit of fun for you maybe, Tommy,” Ruth said coldly, still gazing straight ahead of her. “You wouldn’t think so if it was your possible we’d been looking for.' Here Ruth’s bitterness reveals how all of her hopes were pinned on discovering the office worker in Norfolk was the woman from whom she had been cloned.

This leads to another conversation about the type of people the students were generally cloned from and this serves to further increase their confusion regarding their identity. Ruth claims that they have all been cloned from, trash, as no respectable human would allow themselves to be cloned.

In Hailsham, Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and their peers were used to being treated as special, those clones who did not attend Hailsham see it as a privileged school to have attended. Having to face the reality of the true backgrounds of their possibles is something else which therefore adds to the characters’ identity crisis.

One of the reasons why the students at Hailsham treasure their collections so much is that each collection hints at their individuality and therefore their own identity. The wooden chests in which each student stores the items they have purchased at the Sales or picked up at the Exchanges are all individual to them and therefore highlight each student’s own particular preferences and choices. They become a motif of identity.

Similarly, each student is encouraged to develop their own artistic talents and these talents also help promote their own unique identities. In her narration Kathy recalls Patricia C who was well known throughout the school for her drawing skills, Patricia was two years below us but everyone was in awe of her drawing skills, and her stuff was always sought after at the Art Exchanges. Tommy’s unhappiness at Hailsham could stem partly from his lack of artistic talent. He is not recognised as being talented and therefore feels he is not recognised as an individual with a unique identity of his own.

How is the theme of identity shown in the novel?

In Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro shows the theme of identity through:

  • the students’ keenness to find their possible
  • the importance of the Collections in the students’ lives
  • the need to have artistic talent as a way of projecting a unique identity

The students’ keenness to find their possible

How does Kazuo Ishiguro show this?

Ruth tries to remain cool and calm about the chance of finding her possible and suggests that in all likelihood the woman Rodney has spotted in Norfolk is not the person from whom she has been cloned. However, when it seems the planned trip to Norfolk might not take place, Ruth becomes visibly upset.


Ruth was standing just in front of me, so I couldn’t see her face, but her whole posture froze up. Then without a word, she turned and pushed past me out of the cottage. I got a glimpse of her face then, and that’s when I realized how upset she was. (Kathy)


Ruth’s reaction to the news that the planned trip to Norfolk might not be happening after all is a firm indication of how important glimpsing her possible has become. She feels, like many of the students do, that if she at least catches sight of the person from whom she has been cloned, she will be able to make a connection with an individual who shares similar features and personality traits. This will then help Ruth to strengthen her links to her own identity and help her to feel unique and different from the other clones.

The importance of the collections in the students’ lives

How does Kazuo Ishiguro show this?

Each students’ collection is unique and individual to them. The Sales and the Exchanges give the students the opportunity to buy things that they admire and that become important to them.


Looking back now, I can see why the Exchanges became so important to us. For a start, they were our only means, aside from the sales…of building up a collection of personal possessions. If, say, you wanted to decorate the walls around your bed, or wanted something to carry in your bag and place on your desk from room to room, then you could find it at the Exchanges. (Kathy)


It is the students’ attempts to personalise here which reinforces the fact that they are looking for ways to add individuality to their lives. They realise that this will help them to create their own identities. Therefore, creating a personal space around their bed for example, becomes increasingly important to them.

The need to have artistic talent as a way of projecting a unique identity

How does Kazuo Ishiguro show this?

At Hailsham, the students are taught to have the greatest respect for artistic talent and very often students are remembered because of their creative abilities.


Jackie’s giraffes,” Ruth said with a laugh. “They were so beautiful. I used to have one. (Ruth to Kathy)


Jackie, one of the students from Hailsham, becomes well known for her creation of beautiful giraffes. This allows her to have an identity of her own and it becomes easy to see why her peers would covet something similar. The students do not even have individual surnames, so to be known to others because of a particular talent allows the students the opportunity to experience having their own identity for the first time.