What is the significance of the novel’s title?
The title of Never Let Me Go has multiple layers of meaning. On the most superficial level, it refers to the (fictional) song that reminds Kathy of her childhood. However, the title also refers to Madame's perception that the young clones have been left to cling to the "old, humane world." The novel's title, then, is also a call to action––never to forsake our empathy and humanity the way society has forsaken Kathy.
Discuss the images of material deprivation in the novel. Why might Ishiguro have included them?
The images of material deprivation––the run-down Cottages; the old items at the Sales––illustrate the difficult conditions that give rise to atrocities like the organ donation program. It also drives home the point that this alternate United Kingdom is no utopia. The organ donations have only slightly improved life for the general population, and thus the clones' deaths are especially poignant.
Hailsham closes at the end of the novel. Why might this detail be important?
Hailsham's closing underscores the novel's bleak ending. Readers may be inclined to see Kathy's tragic life as an accident of history, but Ishiguro suggests that Kathy is actually more fortunate than those who will come after her because she at least had a happy childhood.
What is the utility of the clone’s roles as "carers"? What thematic resonance does this have for the book as a whole?
Within the plot, the carer program seems to exist so the clones will get a sense of what donations will be like, and also to keep the "normals" segregated from the clones. On the thematic level, Kathy's role as a carer allows Ishiguro to explore the limits of empathy––Ruth and Tommy frequently confront her with the fact that despite her skill and experience, she cannot truly understand what they are going through as donors.
Compare and contrast Madame and Miss Emily.
At the end of the novel, Madame is bitter and seems disgusted by the clones. She has a pessimistic outlook toward life that is cast into relief by her humanitarian work on behalf of the clones with whom she is so uncomfortable. Miss Emily, in contrast, is much more at peace with the world and with her own work, and believes the clones are lucky to have benefited from everything she did for them.
Miss Lucy believes that the students should be given full information about their futures as soon as possible, while Miss Emily believes it is better to withhold this knowledge. Which of these views is correct? Which does the narrative seem to endorse?
Kathy and Tommy seem to wish, in retrospect, that they had known about their futures as donors. However, the narrative itself seems to undercut this reading with its focus on the happy, mundane events of Kathy's childhood. A parallel to this problem can be found when Kathy and Tommy discuss whether Ruth ought to have known that her plan to save Kathy and Tommy did not work. Tommy argues that it's better she didn't know, while Kathy believes that the truth--the whole truth--is an inimitable component of a full life.
Discuss Ishiguro’s use of water imagery in the novel.
Water imagery appears frequently in the novel, especially toward the end. Tommy feels he is being ripped away from Kathy by a strong current (282); Miss Emily refers to changing "tides" of public opinion; Kathy takes Tommy and Ruth to visit an abandoned boat. The water imagery alludes to the impossibility of changing fate, and suggests that the only thing people can do for themselves is create an "island" or a "boat" of stability within the ocean of humanity.
Miss Lucy wants her students to have ‘decent lives.’ According to the novel, what is a decent life?
Kathy's happy childhood and her short time with Tommy are important components of living a decent life. However, Ishiguro also suggests that she is able to live decently precisely because she has accepted her fate as a donor and reconciled herself to it.
Does Ruth fully redeem herself? Why or why not?
Tommy believes that Ruth's effort to save him and Kathy should be judged the same way regardless of whether it succeeded. Kathy, on the other hand, believes that nothing will restore the time together as teenagers that Ruth took away from them. As for Ruth, she makes a sincere effort to help her friends but remains difficult to the end. It seems that full redemption is never an option in this novel, but the characters do the best they can regardless.
Does the novel ultimately endorse Kathy's passivity? Why or why not?
Although the novel cultivates frustration with Kathy's docile acceptance of her fate, it is clear by the end that Kathy's passivity has its own kind of utility. Because she is comfortable with her life as a donor and accepts her fate early on, she is able to focus on her love for Tommy and her happy memories.