I have three things I’d like to throw out there to begin our discussion, but please, feel free to discuss anything that interests you. These are simply the three things that interested me the most.
Let’s begin with Kathy’s narration. First, she’s addressing the reader directly via the second person, which not only creates a much more personal connection between narrator and reader, but it also forces the reader to question their personal role in the narrative. More specifically, to whom does Kathy believe she’s relating her tale? I sincerly doubt she believes she’s addressing a writing instructor from San Antonio, but she rarely clues us in to who she believes to be her intended audience. When discussing her role as a “carer,” more about that later, she states “And I’m a Hailsham student–which is enough by itself sometimes to get people’s backs up. Kathy H., they say, she gets to pick and choose…I’ve heard it said enough, so I’m sure you’ve heard it plenty more, and maybe there’s something in it” (4). It seems as if Kathy believes her audience consists of other “careers,” but she only gives us little hints like that.
Additionally, since Kathy is retelling events long past, she forces us to differentiate between the plot of the text, and the story of her life. The plot of the text begins with Kathy introducing herself to us, and describing her role as a “carer.” But Kathy’s story actually begins during her adolesence at Hailsham. The plot of the narrative moves spatially, and by that I mean that Kathy is less interested in telling us the temporal, sequential events of the story of her life, but more interested in showing us those important spaces in her life, and how those spaces interact with one another. If you’ll notice, Kathy will jump from incident to incident in her life, with little to no concern to the sequence of events. This is what I’m referring to when I mention the spatiality of the text.
The spatial nature of Kathy’s narrative also forces the reader to admit the possibility of her fallibility as a narrator. More than once Kathy mentions the possibility that she might be remembering incidents in her life incorrectly: “all our differences–while they didn’t exactly vanish–seemed not nearly as important as all the other things: like the fact that we’d grown up together at Hailsham, the fact that we knew and remembered things no one else did” (4-5). “This was all a long time ago so I might have some of it wrong” (13). “Not long ago, when Tommy and I were reminiscing about all of this, he thought we’d never really believed in the notion, that it was a joke right from the start. But I’m pretty sure he was wrong there” (66). I’m not suggesting that as readers we should distrust her recollections because she might be lying about them, but I am suggesting that her own doubts about the veracity of her memory should be enough for us to pay very close attention.
The second aspect of the text I want to discuss is the construction of reality and the construction of self. From the comments, I think we’re all a little suspicious of the events and the terms that Kathy is using so casually. “Carer;” “Donor;” “Guardian.” Kathy uses these odd terms far too nonchalantly for us not to feel suspicious. Also, these kids are at best raised, and at worse, farmed, to be nothing more than spare parts? Yeah, something is going on, but I’m not sure what just yet.
But even beyond that, reality seems rather malleable in the text. At the beginning of her narrative, Kathy mentions a donor who knew he wasn’t going to “make it” (5). She tells us that this donor, despite being from Dorset, continually pushed Kathy to describe Hailsham. Kathy claims that “what he wanted was not just to hear about Hailsham, but to remember Hailsham, just like it had been his own childhood.” This act of remaking reality in the mind carries through the text and is practiced by all three of the main characters. Tommy changes the reality of his existence based solely on something said by Miss Lucy. Ruth is able to create a wholly more exciting, and comforting, reality for not only herself, but for a large group of girls. As the narrator of the text, Kathy if capable of the ultimate act of construction, for with without her none of this would exist for us.
The construction of self, or of identify, is also very intriguing. While the guardians do seems to encourage creative indiviuality, at one point Kathy says that “it must have been a Friday or a weekend, because I remember we had on our own clothes,” which leads me to believe that for the most part the children wore uniforms (25-6). While uniforms are quite common in some schools, they aren’t exactly paragons of individual expression. As a means to create an identity for themselves, the children at Hailsham participated in “exchanges” and “sales.” The exchanges were the times when the children bought each other’s artwork, in effect creating an identity for themselves through the creations of their fellow students. Tommy broke the cycle of this creation because of his poor artistic ability, and for that the students tormented him relentlessly.
And like Tank, the atmosphere of Hailsham also reminds me of The Battle School in “Ender’s Game.” I keep waiting for the big reveal of what Hailsham really is. Maybe in Section two, huh?
The last thing that I wanted to mention was free will. Do the Hailsham students not have it, or do they only think that they don’t? They are called “donors,” a word which implies choice, but when Miss Lucy goes a little ape-shit and decides to let the Hailsham students in on their future, she very plainly states that they “were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided” (81). This presents two options: 1) The students were designed for a certain future, but their design doesn’t preclude choice; 2) Miss Lucy spoke literally, and not matter what the students choose, their fates have already been decided.
I’m not a big fan of the whole written fate thing, but we’ll see how it goes.
I have a feeling that things are going to change drastically in the upcoming sections. Let me know what you think about my ramblings, and in the following days I’ll assign the next section.
Re: Narration in the first person singular. It does make the story closer, as if Kathy were speaking directly to me- I am also unsure as what kind of audience she is speaking to. And she assumes we all know about Hailsham. And that there are similar places like Hailsham, only of lesser importance or class?
I also noticed how Kathy expresses her being unsure about the flow and/or time of an event. It gave me a feeling of uncertainty. and also the feeling of an honest talk. Being honest as to a friend. But there were too much uncertainty – perhaps Kathy wasn’t feeling or remembering quite well. Or she wanated to say something deeper and the details were not that much important?
Re: creating realities. I noticed that, too. Can’t name the reason, though. I thought they were out of childish behaviour (such as Ruth’s creating a guardmanship to protect Miss Emily from the imaginary evil) – but then, thinking it over again, I think creating alternative realities is a source for comfort…of which Hailsham students did not have much.
Re: free will. It does seem to me that the fate of these students have been well planned. So, there’s no free will – beyond a certain range of course. For example they can freely have sex at the school premises. I doubt any strict and famous boarding school would overlook such things even in nowadays. I have not attented any, so I have no real ideas about it, though :))
Ok, finally I have a second to sit down and write some thoughts in response to Mark’s post. I’ll do my own additional ones in a separate one.
Direct Address: it does create a connection to the reader, as you said – like we’re sitting there with her as she’s telling the story… and as you say there is the issue of who Cathy thinks we are (which will likely become clear at the end). Are we, as you suggest, her Carer? I would think not, because of how she talks of other carers; she’s doing too much exposition about Carers in general for us to be Carers…. are we clones as well? Are we possible donatees? Her “possible” – her child? Even though the Guardians have told (and no doubt believe) the Donors can’t have children, what if Cathy has, and we are the child?
Even though this is in a sense a “memory play” and we move naturally with her remembrances and her train of thought, she remains distant. It’s hard to think this is a female narrator, or a human narrator. The remembrances are so devoid of “I felt” that Kathy remains somehow impersonal. In general, the characters are portrayed as quite unemotional (save for Tommy); was the lack of parental love in infancy and childhood the cause, or is it that because the characters know their eventual fate and their position in society that they feel unable to own their emotions, like they have no right to them?
What does make the character very human, however, is what you point out about the fallibility of memory; Kathy pointing out the subjectivity of memory… that leads to there being a “subject” to have that “subjective” memory. The line you quote, “the fact that we knew and remembered things that no-one else did” (5) reminds me of the end of Blade Runner (PKD, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”) with Rutger Hauer on the roof, recounting what he remembers that the humans can’t know.
As for free will, I think they have it but are never taught to think they do. This unquestioning and seeming apathy has troubled me throughout the reading so far… why are they so fatalistic and passive? Your quote of Miss Lucy that they were “brought into this world for a purpose” and that their “futures, all of them, have been decided” is ominous. For the children it must feel like a godlike pronouncement… very Calvinistic. Have any of the clones ever sought a different future? On the very first page, there is mention made of donors who “have been classified as “agitated” (3) Did they begin questioning? What happened to them?
The true nature of Hailsham and the lives of the Hailsham children are leading me more and more to believe that what we are reading is a simulacrum, much like the Cave in Plato’s famous allegory, or the Matirx.
Of course, I’m only guessing at this point, but memory and reality are so intertwined that I can’t ignore the possibility.
Like Tank, I’m also interested in the symbols that separate the subsections in the book. I think there are only three that we see over and over, but I haven’t plotted them out yet.
Ok, some more of my ramblings on the first section.
The donations. On the first page (3), Kathy mentioned some become “”agitated”, even before the fourth donation.” Apparently the fourth is bad. I find the euphemism ‘completing’ (if that means dying) ominous… and anesthetic, devoid of emotion like the other terms…Donor, Carer, Guardian, etc. How are the donations linked to creativity I wonder…. what if they are not donating all organs, but portions of their brains?
On Letters and Numbers in this book. From the very first, the letters and numbers stuck out to me… maybe it’s a Nabokovian throwback for me as a reader, but I doubt a writer of Ishiguro’s caliber chose them sloppily. The very first sentence has the first initial: “My name is Kathy H.” Two things about that strike me: firstly, the lack of a last name immediately points to the dehumanization, secondly, she says “My name is” – not “I am” – as if her name isn’t something she owns, her name doesn’t define who she really is, that she is more than the sum of her parts or the label society has given her. I’m thinking of making a list of all the last initials and see if I can see a pattern. I’m weird, huh?
On the numbers. The second sentence first brings out the number theme running throughout: “I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer for over eleven years.” (3) Both numbers are prime numbers. The next two lines have “eight” and “twelve,” followed by the previously mentioned “fourth donation” – three even numbers divisible by four. The numbers run throughout, with primes dominant, and several instances of ‘unsure’ numbers: “third or fourth” (4), “ten, fifteen” (15), “about 11” (32), “four or five” (33), “five or six” (36), etc. Age, time, numbers, classifications, order – what all this means I haven’t yet formulated.
There are some other themes running throughout which stuck out to me:
1] Foggy, rainy, misty, shadowy, muddy, hazy vs. bright, clear, sunny
2] Windows, mirrors
3] Fences, boundaries, gates, railings, “out of bounds”; inside, outside, out there.
1] The obscured or foggy imagery starts on page 6, “misty field,” and continue throughout. I think that it’s part of the fog the children are kept in, the shadow they are living in (separated from the world) and under (the looming future), as well as the obscurity of thought and memory, e.g. “for us, the Gallery remained in a hazy realm” (32); “Beyond that though, things became a fog” (43) There are also numerous references to hiding and hiding places, continuing the concealment theme.
2] Mirrors and windows figure prominently; people are always looking through windows, to the outside, watching each other, people are reflected in them, and so forth.
“Everything–the walls, the floor–has been done in gleaming white tiles, which the centre keeps so clean when you first go in it’s almost like entering a hall of mirrors. Of course, you don’t exactly see yourself reflected back loads of times, but you almost think you do. When you lift and arm, or someone sits up in bed, you can feel this pale, shadowy movement all around you in the tiles.” (17-18)
“[T]here are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you””of how you were brought into this world and why””and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.” (36)
3] There are various reference to fences, boundaries, etc., both in the physical and in the metaphorical sense. The first memorable fence “incident” is in reference to girl who had “run off beyond the Hailsham boundaries” and “climbed over a fence just to see what it was like outside.” It is told that she wasn’t allowed back in, “something had happened and she’d died. But her ghost was always wandering about the woods” (50) A ghost story and cautionary tale in one. But perhaps the most jarring mention is the incident when they are talking about POW camps in World War II having electric fences:
“[H]ow strange it must have been, living in a place like that, where you could commit suicide any time you liked just by touching a fence”¦. [Miss Lucy] pulled herself together, smiled and said: “It’s just as well the fences at Hailsham aren’t electrified. You get terrible accidents sometimes.” (78)
4] There are numerous animal mentions. The first one is in reference to Tommy as “Mad animal” (12). The children are drawing exotic animals like “those giraffes Jackie used to make” (17) and Tommy’s watercolour of “an elephant standing in some tall grass” (19); animals the children had never seen in life– I think this is to show that the children themselves are exotic animals. The children decide to “swarm out” (34) around Madame and see if she is afraid of them, and she was. Kathy tells us: “But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to use to wonder how _we_ would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders” (35).
These are just some of the things I saw repeatedly and began to keep track of. I’m not sure where they will fit in the larger scheme of things or how they will seem in context when we’ve finished the novel. Would love to hear your thoughts.
I am amazed at Anniina’s collection and accuracy. Wow.
I noticed the most of the things she lists (fences, boundaries + mist, haze, obscurity + windows, mirrors, reflections) – but was unable to sum up my feelings as she did.
pardon me, but where’s everyone (else) in the reading club?
I guess I will start with a couple of Mark’s comments.
1st person: I think the real reason this book is told in first person is for the effect that this will have on the reader. It isn’t done for Kathy’s benefit, but ours. We are drawn into a world very different than ours, and I kinda like Kathy, identify with her, wonder what is going to happen to her specifically. I think this is important. Especially since most of us have commented on the nature of Hailsham and are awaiting for a further revelation. But I think that the 1st person affects us. (I wonder if KI’s other novels are written in 1st?)
Your second point, I think, is the most profound and important. The idea that reality is malleable really interests me. Ruth gets alot of blame because of her manipulation, but what if that is her method for dealing with reality? They all do it, but Ruth is the one that gets the blame. The question of free will comes up for me. And the idea of conditioning. I wonder why they would be donors or carers in the first place. I wonder if they have ever thought about escaping from this world that they live in. considering this also makes me look back on the things I have read recently and am reading now. Maybe this isn’t a theme that the authors intended, but now I am considering the efforts that these characters employed to construct a world that is livable, or maybe bearable for them. Looking at your third point, I think that it mixes in with the construction of reality.
I think that your last comment is interesting, why do you think that things are going to dramatically change? Is there something that you think you have spotted. And if things don’t change dramatically will you be disappointed?
Anniina comments were very good. I wonder with the initials, is this really a way to make the students a little closer to the reader? I think that perhaps it creates a more intimate story for the reader. Maybe they are more real, more human (and this is a weird though maybe even less human). I like you picking up on the fog, it is perhaps how we/they see reality (our malleable reality), but again it is set in England. I wonder how their teeth look?
The more I look at your third and forth comments the more they seem to be right on. Especially how you look at the main characters. Especially working from your initial comment on knowing what was coming or have I read too much scifi (and I hate to admit these comments are colored by the additional reading I have done). I also think that most of these comments go back to how we view ourselves, others, reality, free will. The book, the comments keep leading me back to these questions.
I bet the guardians never let those kids read the existentialist or even the transcendentalists.
Sorry for the delay in commenting, some is just finding some thoughts (ebay @ $10 a thought), and the other would be busyness. (I have begun the flagellants.)
I hope flagellanting means scourging and not farting (JJ)
Are we doing section 2 on Monday, or straight to the end? Just asking ’cause I’m nearing the end.
Oh, and we should probably start thinking about next book so everyone can order it/find it and we can keep going. This is fun!
yes, this is fun. I never knew I liked to read in a group :))
BTW, to Flood’s remark quote * I wonder with the initials, is this really a way to make the students a little closer to the reader? I think that perhaps it creates a more intimate story for the reader. Maybe they are more real, more human * quote ends.
I expresiences the toal opposite. Using a Christian name only OR a whole name would have done the effect, but Christian name + initial totally set me further away from the charaters. I got the feeling that they are just elements of an experiment. It made them somehow distant and not really important as individuals.
I can understand what you mean, but using first names is generally closer than using last names and the initial can differenciates between people. I truly think that this technique does both. I think we can all relate to the characters and like them, especially Kathy H. I think that the point of the story is to force us into a position where we have to decide whether the characters are people or not. I think your last sentence sums it up. Are they just things or are they people.
To be honest I lean toward the human side.
The names interested me too, particularly the last initial thing. It’s very dehumanizing, and the absence of a surname eliminates any familial ties.