Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23


Kathy and Tommy go to Littlehampton to find Madame. They see her in town and follow her to her home. Although she is shocked and uncomfortable to see them, she invites them inside. Kathy feels oddly intimate with Madame since the older woman is a figure form her past, and she explains that they have come to her home to apply for a deferral.

Tommy adds that he believes he knows why Madame had the gallery, and explains that it was so authorities could discern whether two students were really in love. Kathy suddenly realizes that someone else is in the room, listening to the conversation. She turns to see Miss Emily, now in a wheelchair.

Miss Emily kindly welcomes Kathy and Tommy. She says that she is very proud of how they have grown into adults, and she apologizes for Madame’s sour attitude. She goes on to explain that the deferral rumors are not true, and she sincerely apologizes that Kathy and Tommy were misled.

Miss Emily explains many of the unresolved mysteries about Hailsham. It turns out that Hailsham was considered a progressive place to raise clones, many of whom were kept “in deplorable conditions” at other schools and holding centers (261). The purpose of having the students make art was to demonstrate to the public that they had souls and deserved to be treated humanely. Miss Emily and Madame became the leaders of a “small but vocal” movement advocating for humane treatment of clones, but it reached the peak of its influence in the 1970s and has been in decline ever since.

She explains to them that Hailsham lost its funding due to something called the “Morningdale Scandal.” A scientist named James Morningdale tried to create clones of superior intelligence, and when news of his work leaked, the public became very uncomfortable with the idea that clones might somehow be superhuman. This indirectly led to the closing of Hailsham. Miss Emily tries to explain that Kathy and Tommy have already had much better lives than most clones, but Madame snaps that they probably will not be grateful for all the hard work that went into providing them with such a privileged youth.

Miss Emily explains that Miss Lucy was fired from Hailsham for her different views about raising the children. Miss Lucy believed that the children should be informed of their origins and their futures as fully and honestly as possible, while Miss Emily believes that doing so would have prevented them from having happy childhoods.

On the way back to the recovery center, Tommy asks Kathy to pull over. He has a tantrum in a muddy field, just as he used to do as a child.

After their trip to see Madame, Kathy and Tommy’s relationship becomes slightly awkward and distant. However, they still talk about serious matters, including Tommy’s fourth donation, which is coming up. He is afraid that he will still be conscious after the fourth donation, with “nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off” (279).

Eventually, Tommy decides that he no longer wants Kathy to be his carer. His health is getting weaker, and he does not want her to witness his gruesome final days. She bids him farewell as he goes to his fourth and final donation. In the present, Kathy meditates about how memories are the only absolute in life. A few weeks after Tommy completes, she drives to Norfolk to a field with some trees in it, and imagines that all the lost things from her childhood, including Tommy, will appear in the field.


Kathy and Tommy’s visit to Madame complicates many of the novel’s themes even as it clarifies most of the unresolved plot points. Miss Emily and Madame seem to see themselves as moral authorities, but it is unclear whether readers (or Kathy and Tommy, for that matter) are intended to accept that view.

Importantly, Miss Emily appears in a wheelchair, but mentions that hopefully she will no longer need it. This suggests that she may be planning to receive a donor organ, which complicates her insistence that the clones should be grateful for her hard work on their behalf.

Like Kathy, Miss Emily’s speech patterns are highly digressive; in her brief meeting with Kathy and Tommy, she keeps mentioning a cabinet she is going to sell. This is even more striking given that she offers several important revelations; Kathy doles out information much more slowly, so her digressions are less striking.

In this section, Ishiguro finally reveals explicitly that Ruth has in fact “completed.” Her arc has a quiet resolution; Kathy and Tommy merely discuss whether they would have liked her to know her plan to reunite them did not work. Like all of the deaths in Never Let Me Go, Ruth’s happens off-screen. Kathy is surrounded by death and loss but does not actually witness it firsthand.

This speaks to the many layers of mediation that dictate how Ishiguro’s characters experience grief. With the exception of Tommy, who throws tantrums, no one confronts difficult emotions directly. It is ultimately up to the reader to decide whether it is better to avoid difficult feelings or to face them directly, but Ishiguro seems to weigh in at the end of the novel: “Maybe I did know,” Tommy says, “somewhere deep down. Something the rest of you didn’t.” (275)