I wrote this essay as an answer to an exam question concerning Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel “Never Let Me Go.” Our teacher had asked us to write a letter as one of the characters to another person we choose. Although I completed the assignment, I had a major problem with the novel as I was reading it, because I think (although disputed by our professor) there is a big loophole in the text. The setting in which events take place is a dystopian one where people clone themselves (to create organ donors for future diseases they might have) and send their clones to special schools where they are taught music, arts, sciences and so on, so their “originals” and the whole system which allows them to be produced does not feel guilty.
This was my main question: if technology and ethics have progressed in such a manner, why the need to educate these people anyway? The capitalistic and unattached system (which the novel claims to be critical of) would never spend any funds, even to alleviate their guilt. It just does not make any sense. Furthermore, I don’t really believe that they would be putting any strain on themselves to prove that they have “souls.” All these worries about the ethics and the well-being of the students cannot exist in the world which the novel creates.
Dear Miss Emily,
As I am writing this letter of defense, as was requested of me, about the events which took place in the pavilion last Friday, I would like to kindly ask you to view me as less of a colleague and more of a confidant and a friend, as it is the only way in which my story will make sense. In order to be able to comprehensively explain why I disclosed the information that I did to the children, I first have to tell you about an idealistic, bright, hopeful and younger teacher, who came to Hailsham thinking that she would be able to “make a difference” in this whirlwind of a system.
Perhaps it was naive of me to think back then, that the education provided to the students by Hailsham would actually amount to a significant and ethical difference, or that we, as the teachers and guardians of these students, and as members of this movement, would be able to provide a feasible and better alternative to all the other institutions that we so harshly criticize. To prove, perhaps both to ourselves and to the wider world that these students do, in fact, have souls after all. You see however, all these statements about souls, “alternative ethics,” “a better life,” and so on, almost became irrelevant for me, because ever since I set foot at Hailsham, I painfully realized something that I perhaps always knew; that these students were not any different than any other children, and to question whether they had souls or not could only to our lack of intellect and perceptiveness, and not their spiritual existence. I hope I do not sound angry or disdainful, because I am neither of those things. I am, however, struggling.
Day after day, I come face to face with situations that not only challenge m professional choices as a teacher but private choices as Lucy as well. How can I refrain from comforting a student, for instance, when they are being mocked and ridiculed because of the “stupidity” of their artwork when I know that there is no “Gallery,” nor any actual need for these kids to prove they have souls at all: because of course they do. Or, how can I not feel broken inside, when they learn about the electrical fences that surrounded the concentration camps and begin to laugh at the absurdity of the imprisonment of all those people, thinking that their situation is in any way different. When they ask me about smoking and why it would be so different and worse for them to smoke than for us, how can I look them in the eye, and just lie, or worse, offer some masked-up blurry version of the truth?
In the end, it was the culmination of the feelings Hailsham provokes in an idealist; exhaustion, devastation and disillusionment, which led me to candidly explain to the children what their future exactly would hold. I could no longer listen to the plans about going to America, or becoming actors or race car drivers, or teachers. We try so hard to prove that these kids souls, but we ignore the hurt and agony we will implement on those souls if we do not let them fully understand their future.
I know, Miss Emily, that Hailsham has been here long before I, and that you protect and know what is best for the student; ou believe that my views are too idealistic and do not prepare the kids for their lives after Hailsham. This, however, is my conundrum as well; they will not be “protected” as you say, when they are out of Hailsham, but how can we protect them now, if we withhold information about their prognoses and expected life spans? How can we act as if any of this matters, the art, the sales, the tokens, the matches, hen the might as well have expiration dates tattooed o their necks?
I hope you can feel that I am not vindictive, just extremely lost and hopeless about the way Hailsham operates. Sometimes I even think, though I hush the thought away quickly, that we may be no better than all those other schools. This is why, this is also a letter of plea; as long as I am teaching here, I want to be the most helpful and resourceful for the students and I know that I cannot do that while also being in conflict with the administration (with whom I once shared the same ideals word by word). This wavering of faith and philosophy, this loss of a confidence in the ideals of Hailsham, need to be restored in me as soon as possible. Miss Emily, I am lost and devastated by the workings of our school. I am afraid my mind will soon be overwhelmed and become untethered. I need to know that what I did was not a mistake, that it meant something.
I am sorry for any transgressions I may have committed, that I may be way in over my head. I am sorry if this puts you in a strange position. But, in the end, I need help and guidance to be the best guardian I can be, and believe in the Hailsham ideals again.
With hope and respect,