Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-17


Kathy and Tommy are left alone together. Tommy reveals that in Woolworth’s, he had tried to find a copy of the Judy Bridgewater tape that Kathy lost so many years ago to give to her as a present. Kathy is touched but explains that Woolworth’s wouldn’t carry old music like Judy Bridgewater, so they go to look for it in secondhand stores. They have great fun looking for the tape together, and when Kathy eventually finds it, she and Tommy have an awkward but emotional moment of connection.

Tommy continues to dwell on the rumor about the deferral program. Although they never heard anything about it at Hailsham, he believes that the rumor helps to explain the school’s focus on art. The art in Madame’s gallery, he believes, “reveals our souls” (176).

He thinks Madame uses the art created at Hailsham to determine whether a couple is truly in love. As he puts it, “She could decide for herself what’s a good match and what’s just a stupid crush.” Later, Tommy confronts Kathy about the time he caught her looking at porn magazines. He guesses correctly that Kathy was looking for her possible in the photos.

As time goes by, more rumors begin to circulate about deferrals for couples who are in love. Tommy begins to draw fantastic animals, hoping that these pieces will make up for the fact that he never got artwork into the Gallery when he was a Hailsham student. When he shows them to Kathy, she is very impressed by their quality.

Months later, Ruth discovers Kathy’s Judy Bridgewater cassette. Kathy knows that she will be jealous that Tommy bought the cassette for her, so she passes it off to Ruth as a harmless, platonic interaction. Ruth accepts this but remains suspicious.

Eventually, Ruth learns about Tommy’s drawings and his plans to use them to defer his donations. She is extremely jealous that he told Kathy first, so she tells Tommy that both she and Kathy think his drawings are pathetic. Kathy is too stunned to react, so she just resigns herself and tells Tommy it is true.

Several days later, Ruth and Kathy discuss the incident. Kathy tries to advise Ruth to be kinder to Tommy, because sometimes he is upset by the way in which she behaves. Ruth seems to take this advice well. However, she then informs Kathy in a very patronizing way that she knows Kathy has feelings for Tommy, but Tommy could never see her like “a proper girlfriend” (201) because Kathy has slept with too many other boys. Kathy is upset but takes Ruth’s barbs calmly. After this discussion, though, their relationship becomes distant and empty. Soon, Kathy decides to leave the Cottages and begin her training to become a carer.


In these chapters, Ishiguro provides a detailed depiction of how hope can cloud a person’s clear judgment. Initially, Tommy reacts to the deferral rumors with the most sanity. He flatly informs Chrissie and Rodney that he never heard of any such thing in his time at Hailsham, a choice that Ruth interprets as stupidity but actually involves a conscious decision on his part.

However, it is only a few hours before he begins to rationalize the rumors, admitting that they explain a lot about life at Hailsham. By the end of the section, he is more completely invested in the hope of getting a deferral than anyone else at the Cottages.

Through Tommy’s changing beliefs, Ishiguro illustrates that people believe what they want to believe, even when they have good reasons not to do so. This tendency in human nature also helps to explain the donor program; as becomes clear later in the novel, the “normal” don’t want to accept that the clones are human, so they willfully ignore evidence to the contrary.

Of course, the fact that the clones do the same thing in their own lives only demonstrates that they are in fact human, and have more in common with the “normal” than it initially seems. This point was compounded in the previous section, when the clones are mistaken for “normals” in the art gallery in Norfolk.

Because Never Let Me Go is related from Kathy’s perspective, Ishiguro’s critiques of her behavior are exceptionally subtle. However, it becomes obvious in this section that Kathy is almost pathologically passive and unable to make decisions. This becomes clear through her inaction when Ruth claims that Kathy dislikes Tommy’s artwork. It is significant that Kathy’s only important act of agency in this section is effectively a non-action––by choosing to begin her carer training early, she avoids resolving her problems with Ruth and Tommy.