Teaching habits

I’m still learning from Never Let Me Go, and I think I’m learning very different things than the novel is teaching its characters. This seems like an education novel more than anything else. It is significant how many different levels of education (i.e. the acquisition of cultural capital) are taking place throughout. We eventually learn that the creation of a pleasant childhood was the original mission of Hailsham. As Miss Emily puts it to Kathy and Tommy, “we sheltered you during those years, and we gave you your childhoods” (268). Yes Hailsham was meant to grant the future-donors “happiness,” but what did it actually teach them?

Hailsham succeeds: it allows, and therefore teaches, the future-donors how to be children. However, it also teaches them how to navigate Hailsham in their isolation: how to withhold information that seems off-limits, and how to share quite effectively with one another. There comes a point at Hailsham when “the rule about not discussing the donations openly was still there [. . .] but now it was okay, almost required, every now and then, to make some jokey allusion to this things that lay in front of us” (84).

As a result, the Hailsham crew are, well, really well-adjusted with one another: we “didn’t leave [Hailsham] behind nearly as much as we might have once thought [. . .] unable quite to let each other go” (120). Even when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are in conflict, it is shocking how well much they get each other, whether used is to comfort or to needle.

We can compare the habits of/produced by Hailsham to the habits of the “veterans” at the farmhouse—they have taken “all kinds of other things [. . .] from TV programmes: the way they gestured to each other, sat together on sofas, even the way they argued and stormed out of rooms” (121). And at the same time, they always seem to be sitting around “arguing about poetry or philosophy” or holding “meandering discussions [. . .] about Kafka or Picasso” (120). Where did they learn this stuff, and what does this knowledge do?

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