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Explore How Themes Develop in 'Never Let Me Go'

In this worksheet, students will explore the development of themes throughout 'Never Let Me Go', considering how they are presented through the writer's techniques and how they reflect the key contextual factors surrounding the novel.

'Explore How Themes Develop in 'Never Let Me Go'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   Eduqas, OCR, AQA

Curriculum topic:   Post-1914 Prose / Drama, Modern Prose or Drama, Modern Texts: Prose

Curriculum subtopic:   Never Let Me Go

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

car on road

 

How does Ishiguro develop his themes throughout 'Never Let Me Go' ?

 

Remember that just as the characters in 'Never Let Me Go' are on a journey, so is the reader.

 

The main characters in 'Never Let Me Go' are on a journey to becoming donors but this journey sees the usual challenges of life, such as building and maintaining relationships and the search for personal identity. Ishiguro's themes are developed through their stories.

 

However, the reader is also part of this journey, particularly because of the narrative choices Ishiguro makes.


Ishiguro uses a non-linear narrative - Kathy is the first person narrator and the use of flashforwards and flashback show her reminiscing about the past and jumping around between different memories.

 

Indeed, lots of the details about the dystopian society Ishiguro writes about, remains a mystery until the end, meaning some of the themes are not fully explored until the very last chapters of the novel. The reader has to piece together information themselves before the full truth is revealed at the end.

puzzle

 In the exam you will need to be able to write about the presentation of themes, considering how they change and develop throughout the novel.

Remember that you will also need to analyse the techniques Ishiguro uses to present these themes and consider how they reflect the context in which he was writing.  

Have a go at the following questions to explore how themes develop in more detail.

Identity is explored through 'Never Let Me Go'. Ruth is a character desperately searching for a sense of identity in a world that has dictated her purpose in life.

 

What does the following quotation suggest about her idea of identity? 

 

"I saw it was a colour magazine - not one of 'Steve's magazines', but one of those bright cheerful things that come free with newspapers."

 

pile of magazines

Complete the passage below.

 

Ishiguro explores the idea of hopes and dreams being in conflict with society's expectations in the dystopian world he presents.

 

Whilst the students are shown to have some hopes and dreams, the veterans are shown to have a different point of view.

 

Which verbs could you zoom in on in the following quotation to show that the veterans have lost belief in having hopes and dreams?

 

"Some older ones - especially those who'd started their training - would sigh quietly and leave the room when this sort of talk began".

\"Some older ones - especially those who\'d started their training - would sigh quietly and leave the room when this sort of talk began\"

The theme of confinement vs. freedom is explored in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

concentration camp fence

 

What effect do the following quotations have in presenting this theme?

Column A

Column B

"a boy had a big row with his friends and run off ...
Ishiguro contrasts imagery of physical boundaries ...
"you have to remember to us, at this stage in our ...
Kathy's use of "fantasy land" as a way of describi...
"Quite a few students wanted to be drivers of one ...
Ishiguro's imagery of physical boundaries and the ...

What imagery does Ishiguro use to explore the theme of lies and deception and of truth and honesty?

 

headlights on dark road

 

Complete the passage below.

 

Column A

Column B

"a boy had a big row with his friends and run off ...
Ishiguro contrasts imagery of physical boundaries ...
"you have to remember to us, at this stage in our ...
Kathy's use of "fantasy land" as a way of describi...
"Quite a few students wanted to be drivers of one ...
Ishiguro's imagery of physical boundaries and the ...

Which imagery below is used by Ishiguro to explore the idea of life and the inevitability of death - the human condition?

The imagery of fences and boundaries

The imagery of empty roads

The imagery of light and dark

Ishiguro explores the theme of memories through Kathy's first person narrative.

 

Match the following quotations to the explanation of what they show about the importance of Kathy's memories.

 

 "Or maybe I'm remembering it wrong""I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I'd lost since my childhood had washed up""I thought about Hailsham closing and how it was like someone coming along with a pair of sheers and snipping the balloon strings""And anyway if i'd never started choosing how would I ever have got close to Ruth and Tommy after all those years?"
Kathy is desperate to become Tommy and Ruth's carer to rebuild the link she had with them
Kathy feels that the closure of Hailsham will remove the attachment that she has with her friends
Kathy draws attention to the unreliability of her memory and therefore her narrative
Kathy is shown to cling onto the past and is desperate to reclaim what she has lost.

Life and death is explored as a theme in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

Ishiguro explores how people live their lives even with the knowledge that death is inevitable.

 

What does Kathy say at the end of the novel that epitomises this idea?

 

Write the quotation below as a full sentence with quotation marks.

What is the significance of Ishiguro's boat imagery in 'Never Let Me Go'?

 

shipwrecked boat

 

Select the most effective analysis of this imagery below.

Ishiguro depicts the boat with paint "cracking" and the timber frames "crumbling" away. This evokes a feeling of something broken and decaying, very much similar to the lives of the clones at this point, whose bodies are suffering from their work as donors

The boat imagery is used to highlight the importance of freedom to the clones who live in an oppressive society

The boat imagery is used to represent the lives of the clones as donors

The theme of losing and finding things is important in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

The biggest loss that is explored in the book, is the loss of humanity.

 

scientific experiment in a lab

 

Complete the quotation below from Chapter 22 that epitomises this idea.

 

Ishiguro depicts the boat with paint "cracking" and the timber frames "crumbling" away. This evokes a feeling of something broken and decaying, very much similar to the lives of the clones at this point, whose bodies are suffering from their work as donors

The boat imagery is used to highlight the importance of freedom to the clones who live in an oppressive society

The boat imagery is used to represent the lives of the clones as donors

Now it is time to have a go at a mini essay question to practise writing about themes in the novel.

 

Remember to use quotations to support your points and try to link each of your ideas to the context in which Ishiguro was writing.

 

Remember to also write about the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: Write about the ideas about hopes and dreams in 'Never Let Me Go'.

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

  • Question 1

Identity is explored through 'Never Let Me Go'. Ruth is a character desperately searching for a sense of identity in a world that has dictated her purpose in life.

 

What does the following quotation suggest about her idea of identity? 

 

"I saw it was a colour magazine - not one of 'Steve's magazines', but one of those bright cheerful things that come free with newspapers."

 

pile of magazines

Complete the passage below.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to find them all? Notice how because the students don't have the freedom to become who they want to be, they search for anything that might help them feel a sense of identity. For example, they build personal collections and believe in the idea of a "possible" to help them feel a purpose in life that is more than just being a donor. However, the way in which Ruth's suggested "possible" is revealed to be so unlike her, really undermines Ruth's aspiration and we see Ishiguro gradually break down any hope of the students becoming anything other their sole purpose as donors. Ishiguro highlights the importance of personal identity through the gradual loss of hope in the students as they get closer to their completions.
  • Question 2

Ishiguro explores the idea of hopes and dreams being in conflict with society's expectations in the dystopian world he presents.

 

Whilst the students are shown to have some hopes and dreams, the veterans are shown to have a different point of view.

 

Which verbs could you zoom in on in the following quotation to show that the veterans have lost belief in having hopes and dreams?

 

"Some older ones - especially those who'd started their training - would sigh quietly and leave the room when this sort of talk began".

CORRECT ANSWER
"Some older ones - especially those who'd started their training - would sigh quietly and leave the room when this sort of talk began"
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot "sigh" and "leave"? These are both verbs! Remember that it's important to write about the writer's techniques when analysing characters and themes. We can analyse the language choices here by exploring the connotations of these verbs. The verb "sigh" might suggest frustration at this kind of talk about "dream futures! because their experience as veterans have shown them that personal hopes are not a possibility. The verb "leave" might also suggest that rather than destroying the hopes of others, they decide to move away from this type of conversation. Their reality is so different, that there is a sense that it is too painful to be around this kind of conversation.
  • Question 3

The theme of confinement vs. freedom is explored in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

concentration camp fence

 

What effect do the following quotations have in presenting this theme?

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

"a boy had a big row with his fri...
Ishiguro's imagery of physical bo...
"you have to remember to us, at t...
Kathy's use of "fantasy land" as ...
"Quite a few students wanted to b...
Ishiguro contrasts imagery of phy...
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Ishiguro's imagery of fences and boundaries is often evocative of World War II concentration camps, highlighting the oppressive dictatorship the students are living in. When students move to the cottages and become carers, their ability to drive around the countryside represents relative freedom for them, the only freedom they are afforded. The contrasting imagery of boundaries and roads is a great writer's technique to analyse in the exam!
  • Question 4

What imagery does Ishiguro use to explore the theme of lies and deception and of truth and honesty?

 

headlights on dark road

 

Complete the passage below.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all the spaces? Look out for Ishiguro's use of light and dark imagery and consider how this represents lies and deception and truth and honesty. Miss Emily suggests that students weren't told the full truth at Hailsham in order to protect their childhoods. However, Tommy clearly feels that he's been lied to and wishes he'd been told the full truth. Ishiguro wanted to explore how humans deal with the inevitability of death. Would Tommy have lived his life differently if he'd known the full truth as a child? Ishiguro suggests that just as the clones live their lives and build relationships, despite knowledge of their fate as donors, humans live meaningful lives despite knowing that death is inevitable.
  • Question 5

Which imagery below is used by Ishiguro to explore the idea of life and the inevitability of death - the human condition?

CORRECT ANSWER
The imagery of empty roads
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot this one? Notice how much driving is done in the novel?! Whilst this driving gives students a sense of freedom, the imagery of "empty roads in front of us" suggest that the clones have nowhere to go really, no purpose, no meaningful destination. Here Ishiguro presents the idea of nihilism - the idea that life has no meaning. However Ishiguro explores the idea of the human condition further than this - whilst the clones are depicted in a dystopian society, the use of the uncanny in used to show a parallel to human life. Just like the clones, humans try to live purposeful lives despite their knowledge of the inevitability of death.
  • Question 6

Ishiguro explores the theme of memories through Kathy's first person narrative.

 

Match the following quotations to the explanation of what they show about the importance of Kathy's memories.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
 "Or maybe I'm remembering it wrong""I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I'd lost since my childhood had washed up""I thought about Hailsham closing and how it was like someone coming along with a pair of sheers and snipping the balloon strings""And anyway if i'd never started choosing how would I ever have got close to Ruth and Tommy after all those years?"
Kathy is desperate to become Tommy and Ruth's carer to rebuild the link she had with them
Kathy feels that the closure of Hailsham will remove the attachment that she has with her friends
Kathy draws attention to the unreliability of her memory and therefore her narrative
Kathy is shown to cling onto the past and is desperate to reclaim what she has lost.
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? It's important to explore the structural devices that Ishiguro uses for the highest marks in the exam. The non-linear narrative that uses flashbacks and flashforwards is an important narrative structure in highlighting how important memory is to Kathy. Kathy finds meaning in her present life as a carer from remembering her past, in particular her relationship with Tommy and Ruth. These memories give her a purpose. When Hailsham closes, we see her fear that she will lose the link she had with Tommy and Ruth, described through the imagery of a bunch of balloons dispersing and going their separate ways. However, we see Kathy seek out Tommy and Ruth in her life as a carer and the three are reunited. It is the love and friendship that Kathy has with Tommy and Ruth that gives her life meaning. Here Ishiguro explores how humans create meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence where death is inevitable.
  • Question 7

Life and death is explored as a theme in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

Ishiguro explores how people live their lives even with the knowledge that death is inevitable.

 

What does Kathy say at the end of the novel that epitomises this idea?

 

Write the quotation below as a full sentence with quotation marks.

CORRECT ANSWER
"I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be."
EDDIE SAYS
This is the last line of the novel. Having seen her best friends die, and knowing that her own fate will be the same, we get the sense here that Kathy has accepted her destiny and will continue to live life and follow the path that's set out for her. Ishiguro was interested in exploring the human condition and how we cope with the inevitability of death.
  • Question 8

What is the significance of Ishiguro's boat imagery in 'Never Let Me Go'?

 

shipwrecked boat

 

Select the most effective analysis of this imagery below.

CORRECT ANSWER
Ishiguro depicts the boat with paint "cracking" and the timber frames "crumbling" away. This evokes a feeling of something broken and decaying, very much similar to the lives of the clones at this point, whose bodies are suffering from their work as donors
EDDIE SAYS
The first one's the best analysis! It analyses the language used and considers the effect of this. Ishiguro uses the boat imagery to represent the lives of clones. Notice how there's a sense that the boat once had a useful purpose but is now "beached" and broken. In a similar way, the clones lives had purpose to help others but as they fulfil each donation their lives become lonelier and they become weaker. Through this dystopian society, Ishiguro explores the moral and ethical questions around cloning, showing what could happen if science developed one step further to allow this to happen.
  • Question 9

The theme of losing and finding things is important in 'Never Let Me Go.'

 

The biggest loss that is explored in the book, is the loss of humanity.

 

scientific experiment in a lab

 

Complete the quotation below from Chapter 22 that epitomises this idea.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you fill all the spaces? This quotation sums up the theme of the loss of humanity in the novel. Remember that Ishiguro was writing at the beginning of the 21st century, just after real developments in medical and biological sciences in the 1990's that saw the cloning of animals like Dolly the sheep. Lots of debate was happening around the ethical and moral considerations of cloning and what would happen if humans were cloned. Ishiguro's dystopian society imagines what could happen if human cloning was developed. His mix of dystopia with realism however, makes the ideas shockingly close to our own reality, offering a stark warning that proper debate needs to happen!
  • Question 10

Now it is time to have a go at a mini essay question to practise writing about themes in the novel.

 

Remember to use quotations to support your points and try to link each of your ideas to the context in which Ishiguro was writing.

 

Remember to also write about the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: Write about the ideas about hopes and dreams in 'Never Let Me Go'.

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
A paragraph might look something like this: Ruth is shown to dream of a future job of working in an office and goes to Norfolk with Kathy, Tommy, Chrissie and Rodney in search for her "possible". Here we see Ruth's desperation to see a more meaningful future for herself. Her use of adjective "proper" in her description of the office as a "proper place" to work, highlights how in this dystopian society, where her sole purpose is as an organ donor, it is the mundane and ordinary that she dreams of; something that she feels represents real life. However, Ishiguro highlights how false and unachievable this dream is when Kathy tells us that Ruth has seen this image in a "colour magazine", essentially creating an image of the illusion of reality. The unachievable nature of this dream is further emphasised when Kathy tells the reader that the "more we heard her and looked at her, the less she seemed like Ruth", which highlights how Ruth's potential possible can't be her possible. The dramatic irony of all of this, of course, is that as a reader, we know that Ishiguro's oppressive dystopian society will not allow for an alternative future for their clones; their purpose has been set out for them. Here Ishiguro opens up the ethical debate about cloning in the 1990s by questioning whether someone's hopes and dreams should be taken away by a human playing God.
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