Normalization and Neo-Colonialism in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

Although many would argue that Never Let Me Go is a celebration of individualism, Ishiguro’s use of euphemisms illustrates the lack of resistance from clones, proving that they were nothing more than an underclass of society. Furthermore, the framing of one class being subservient to another is Ishiguro’s way of criticizing the current world order where due to economic reasons, former colonies still remain subservient to Western Powers.

Throughout the novel, Ishiguro has created an empire that only the privileged can access whereas the oppressed are brainwashed and influenced. Central to the indoctrination of clones is Hailsham, a bastion of deliberate word choice. From birth, the clones are monitored by natural born humans named “guardians” who use very deliberate and specific diction (Ishiguro 3). This deliberate word choice is key to the normalization of the clones. Rather than be referred to as clones, children at Hailsham are called “students”, organ harvesting is known as “donations” and the death of a clone is called “completing” (Ishiguro 3). All serve as an indication of how deep of an effect euphemisms can have on normalizing the systematic killing of clones.

This normalization of their situation also results in social denial. Many clones fall on fantasy as a form of creating false hope. These hopeful delusions are brought upon by the deliberate languages choices which focus less on their death and more on donations. The terminology used in much of the book is very polite or encouraging rather than overly direct. Again, the word “donations” is the most pronounced of euphemisms used. The word donation completely disregards the crippling act of taking organs from clones. Instead, it focuses on the supposedly positive act of giving organs to those that are of need, natural born humans. Thus, the use of the word donations leads to the creation of an illusion where clones believe that what they are doing is good. This illusion causes them to deny the truth of their “donations”, which is further reinforced by the “rule about not discussing the donations openly” (Ishiguro 71). The denial of the very event that would cost clones their lives lead to a reduced understanding of their situation and the consequences it would have. Therefore, their reduced understanding leads to very little resistance, both physical and mental, of the actual donation.

In lieu of resistance, clones acquire a sense of false hope. This false hope manifests itself in the form of a “deferral” for Kathy and Tommy (Ishiguro 127). Hailsham plays a key role in upholding this false hope by letting the rumor spread that “some Hailsham students … had managed to get a deferral” (Ishiguro 127). This illusion is nothing more than an unintentional creation by clones to help them come to terms with their eventual death. Even Miss Emily admits that the rumor was one that “gets created from scratch over and over” and that it is “something for them to dream about, a little fantasy” (Ishiguro 214). This illusion allowed for the privileged class to continue to use clones for organs without resistance. This relationship between an upper and lower class serves as a paradigm for the current world order. Although colonialism has been abolished, the current world order has established and new, neo-colonialism. Nations that wish to be recognized by the Western powers and access the benefits of the global economy must adhere to certain political and economic requirements. Eventually, when they gain acceptance via membership in a world organization, they are still just an underclass. Just like the clones in Never Let Me Go, third-world developing nations have no say in global matters, world politics and global economics which are still dictated by Western Powers. However, the only difference from the past is rather than physical force, developing nations are now influenced by capitalism and globalization.

More disturbingly, this process of normalization imparts more than just false hope and illusions. It creates a sense of pride in clones. Kathy displays a sense of satisfaction that her “donors have always tended to do much better” and that “it means a lot” to her (Ishiguro 1). Kathy’s pride in being a “carer” is in direct contrast to any resistance as she takes satisfaction in a job that someone else will soon take up for her (Ishiguro 3). This satisfaction is a blatant example of the normalization of a clone’s place in society, from which Ishiguro takes it a step further and has those that are exploited take action in the exploitation. Furthermore, Tommy displays the same concern for his performance “When it’s time for donations” when he reassures the guardian that “I’ll be able to do it really well” (Ishiguro 91). This pride for donations transforms to respect among clones when a donor is on “a fourth”, which signifies a final donation before death. (Ishiguro 232). These examples allude to our modern-day world order where third world countries seek aid from developed nations, which only increases their dependence and debt to the West. It is seen as prestigious when they are given access to the world economy. However, many third-world countries continue to hurt themselves as much of their contributions to the global economy revolving around the natural resources they strip from their land.

Not all clones show full acceptance of organ donations. Tommy remains an exception in Never Let Me Go, even if he himself never fully understood this resistance till he applied for a deferment. After meeting with Madame in an effort to receive a deferment, Tommy explodes into a throe of anger, similar to his fits at Hailsham after which he said, “I think Miss Lucy was right” (Ishiguro 227). Miss Lucy, contrary to Miss Emily’s belief, wished for the children at Hailsham to be educated of their plight. After Kathy helps Tommy soften his temper she tells him, “Maybe the reason you used to get like that was because at some level you always knew” (Ishiguro 230). However, Tommy replies “No, it was always just me. Me being an idiot”, signifying that although maybe he knew deep down what was going on there was no hope to resist (Ishiguro 230). That his rage fits were simply a way for his to vent his anger at being helpless, like a lamb for slaughter. After this realization, both Tommy and Kathy have a chance to run away from their obligations to donate, however neither one takes the chance because they are resigned to their fate.

Due to the pervasive techniques incorporated by the natural born humans, clones have no will to separate away and fight for their liberation. There is no attempted assimilation between natural and non-natural humans due to the deliberate language use which allows for normalization. Similarly, there is no movement from third-world countries resisting the economic domination of the Western World. Almost all countries have adopted some for of a capitalistic market in order to continue to grow economically, regardless of the consequences that might have. Although Ishiguro could have written about a clone revolt against a dystopian regime, he crafts a story that chronicles the journey of clones, who are mentally and physically unable to fight back. In contrast to becoming rebels, they are instead transformed from birth, aiding in the oppression of their kind. Ishiguro parlays the clone’s helplessness to represent developing economies accepting Western Powers.

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Normalization and Neo-Colonialism in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. (2021, Jun 02). Retrieved September 27, 2023 , from

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