What does it mean to be human? — Never Let Me Go

Book Introduction:

Written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the book is a moving tale that “subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.” Under Kathy’s narration, the story of three friends and their past in Hailsham, a “school” for cloned “students”, is revealed to the audience.

Book Recommendation:

The touching story resonates with the deep emotions of love and empathy people have. The book also connects present day technology with morality and imagines a world where the first term poses challenges to the second. The book is great to read, and I would recommend this to everyone.

Rating: 4.5/5

What does it mean to be human?

—book review of Never Let Me Go

In Never Let Me Go, the author Ishiguro creates a dystopian world where reproductive cloning is pursued for therapeuticpurposes: cloned “students” were created as prospective organ donors for real human beings to cure diseases like cancer. The “students” are secluded from the rest of the society while their organs save the world. As debate on the ethnicity of the creation of such creatures goes on in the book, the dystopian world in Never Let Me Go also raises the question of what it means to be human.

​From the narrative of Kathy, one of the three protagonist cloned “students” in the book, the audience is able to get a sense of what Ishiguro believes to be important characteristics of human beings: humans are able to experience intense emotions and connections, including love, anger, and nostalgia; humans seek a sense of purpose of life; humans are able to think and have unique minds. Under such belief, interestingly, the cloned creatures, including Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are beyond animals or organ carriers: they become very similar to real human beings who love, feel, remain curious and thoughtful.

​While alerting the readers of the potential outcome of human cloning, Ishiguro explores what defines the human identity that sets us apart from other creatures. The fact that cloned humans can be indistinguishable from normal human beings by encompassing all the important traits that define humans is dreadful as science can completely change the world we live in by replicating humans with emotions and feelings.

​The entire book connects closely to the definition of Self. To define Self, we have to encompass everything that tells a story about us and our identity, which represent our uniqueness in the universe. The biological characteristics that we are born with, along with our social roles, unique minds, and independent thoughts are what make us who we are. The social roles, unique minds, and independent thoughts are what Ishiguro considers fundamental as they are all present in the cloned “students”.

​ In order to fully interpret the sense of identity, we need to include our social roles- our places in the society, including relationships and social interactions.- and our minds- which are influenced by our genes and social roles. It is not enough to simply decode the genomes of our DNA. 

​For example, in the book, Ruth and four others go on a journey in search of Ruth’s “possible”, someone who is believed to be the clone model of Ruth. At their first glimpse of the person, everyone is determined that the girl is the model as she looks like the aged version of Ruth. Getting closer to the character, however, all of them understand it is the wrong person by observing her actions and listening to her talk. The example demonstrates that human identity is not only the genes, but also include human minds and souls.

​Besides minds, our senses of identity are also influenced by our social status and our relationships with people. Humans are social creatures, and we cannot define a person without looking at their social roles. The sense of purpose, accomplishment, and success, as expressed not by our genes but communicated through our social roles, tell stories about who we are, why we do the things we do, and what places we are at in the society. 

​In the climax of the book, Kathy questions Madame, the founder of the reproductive cloning program, by asking the question “Why did we do all of that work in the first place? Why train us, encourage us, make us produce all of that? If we’re just going to give donations anyway, then die, why all those lessons? Why all those books and discussions?” To her, a sense of purpose matters.

​Adding on to the questioning and devastation of being confined to only one destiny, the complex relationship between the three friends in the book is another testimony of their humane characteristics of the cloned characters, as all of them experience love, affection, passion, jealousy, sadness, regret, and nostalgia. By believing in the deferral of their donations, the characters resemble humans by fearing death and having hope in true love.

​Just like any other human being, the cloned characters are social beings with complicated feelings and strong emotions that can be felt by the empathetic audience.

​The humanity of the cloned beings is something Ishiguro fears about reproductive cloning: the topic of discussion goes beyond science and implicates morality and even what it means to be humans. Cloned humans are not simply the result of building up unique genome sequences. If the creatures have emotions, minds, and thoughts (similar to people’s fear of Artificial Intelligence), should they be treated as humans as well?

​As Nathaniel Comfort, someone who distrusts merely using science to understand identity, writes, “since the Enlightenment, we have tended to define human identity and worth in terms of the values of science itself, as if it alone could tell us who we are.” In Never Let Me Go, the world under Ishiguro’s envision challenges the common conception of human cloning and poses doubts on the practicality and even morality of the action. 

​In the future, scientists need to pay extra attention to the potential outcome on not only the smaller picture of saving more lives but also the overall humanity and the actions. Keeping the important things that define humans in mind that it is human mind that sets us apart from any other person in this world because our thoughts are unique to us and only accessible for us, we know that when cloned beings or AI possess the same level of consciousness, they are posing danger to our world. 

​According to Comfort, “Cloning and genetic engineering have prompted much soul-searching but little soul-finding.” As more research and the corresponding debate on morality center around human cloning, the significance of our minds stands out. Our thoughts are greatly influenced by our every day interactions with people and our experiences growing up, which can never be replicated by simply copying the DNA, which is why the world in Never Let Me Go is dreadful. The messages Ishiguro tells us go beyond the potential danger of human cloning: Ishiguro also reminds us of who we are as human beings and what set us apart from other animals.

Date: 11/28/19

Information: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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