Society's Influences on Kathy H.'s Identity Formation in Kazu Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"

Term Paper, 2017

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What is identity? – Mead’s sociological approach

3. The society in Never Let Me Go

4. Narrative identity – the ideal medium for presenting Kathy’s identity

5. The influences of the society on Kathy’s identity formation

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

The successful cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996 was not only the starting point for the cloning of mammals but, furthermore, it induced a bioethical debate about the possible future cloning of humans. The contingencies about the potential moral and social implications of human cloning already lead to numerous restrictions on biomedical research in the field of human reproductive and therapeutic cloning. On top, many fictional texts and films deal with possible consequences of cloning humans. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go (2005) is such a fictional story about a world where cloning is a daily fare. The story portrays the lives of human clones, which are created for the sole purpose of donating their organs to humans. Consequently, the clones are instrumentalized for the sake of prolonging humans’ lives.

More precisely, Never Let Me Go is the memoir of Kathy H., a 31-year-old clone. She retrospectively portrays her life by narrating the memories of her childhood until her early adulthood . Her narration is made of her and her friends’ past experiences at Hailsham, a boarding school for clones, their time together at the cottages and her present work as a carer. Soon, she will start donating her organs and, therefore, she feels the “urge to order all these old memories” as she is “preparing for the change of pace” (Ishiguro, 37). Kathy tells her life story and, as a result of this, she makes meaning of different events by drawing them into her personal coherent life story. Thus, in integrating her past experiences into her present situation in the light of her prospect future as an organ donor, she finds solace in her past, which was filled with experiences of friendship and love, and, furthermore, makes meaning out of her short life.

Hence, due to the novel being set up as an autobiographic narrative, the reader gets an insight into Kathy’s psychosocial process of identity formation. Her narration mirrors what Dan McAdams calls narrative identity. McAdams highlights the narrative structure of identity and explains that

narrative identity is the internalized and evolving story of the self that a person constructs to make sense and meaning out of his or her life. The story is a selective reconstruction of the autobiographical past and a narrative anticipation of the imagined future that serves to explain, for the self and others, how the person came to be and where his or her life may be going (99).

Moreover, Kathy’s story entails her perspective on the particular course of her life in a given socio-cultural context. As McAdams highlights “any person’s particular narrative identity is a co-authored, psychosocial construction, a joint product of the person him/herself and the culture wherein the person acts, strives, and narrates” (112). Therefore, it is necessary to examine to what extent the socio-cultural system, in which Kathy lives, influences her understanding of her ‘self’.

In her narration, Kathy looks back in great details at her time at the clones’ boarding school Hailsham and her interactions with her human guardians and her friends. She states that she realizes “now just how much of what occurred later came out of [the clones’] time at Hailsham, and that’s why [she wants] to go over these earlier memories quite carefully” (Ishiguro, 37). Therefore, the focus of this paper is mainly set on Kathy’s memories of her time at Hailsham, her experiences among the group of other clones and her interactions with their human guardians. I will elaborate how these experiences of Kathy’s childhood influence her identity formation.

Accordingly, in this paper, I will focus on the societal system in which Kathy lives in order to prove that her identity is strongly influenced by the society’s distinctive attitudes towards the clones. Therefore, after theoretically considering the process of identity formation through applying Mead’s sociological approach, I will analyze the socio-cultural context of the novel. Subsequently, I will look at Kathy’s narrative identity and examine to what extent her narrated personal self-image can be traced back to the attitudes and values of the societal system in the novel.

2. What is identity? – Mead’s sociological approach

Identity is the concept a human being develops of him- or herself. It is typically a binary self-characterization consisting of personal and social responses to the question of “Who am I?” as it is a fundamentally relational developmental process. The ideal outcome of this process is what Erik H. Erikson called identity in terms of an “accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others” (261). As shown in Erikson’s quote, identity is linked to self-consciousness and social interactions.

The construction of identity is fundamentally relational as is it not something a human being accomplishes solely on his or her own – it is a process which happens in one’s relation with his or her human and non-human environment. Therefore, identity emerges through social interaction and reflection on these interactions. It can be seen as a process of a two-layered cognition in which a human being processes how others are processing him or her. Therefore, it contains not only the social roles of an individual but also how these roles are defined and interpreted by the person who adopts them.

The first who addressed the social layer of identity formation was George H. Mead. In his work Mind, Self, and Society, which was published posthumously in 1934, his theories are presented. He argued that identity formation – or as he termed it the emergence of the ‘self’ – is a lifelong process of socialization starting when children interact with others, start to imitate others, and play roles. According to Mead, an individual develops a self-image in recognizing how others perceive him or her. It is a process of changing perspective: An individual takes on the point of view of his or her counterpart and evaluates the situation from the other’s perspective.

It is a gradual process which eventually leads to internalizing cultural norms and social expectations. Socialization emerges in the interaction of an individual with his or her family members or other persons, who are of importance for the individual. Through perceiving the responses of others to one’s personal behavior, the individual gains a sense of self and understands how to act in a given social situation. It is known that group bonding is a human trait and a social necessity in identity formation. Mead further introduced the concept of the generalized other which entails broader social groups or subgroups (Mead, 157). Accordingly, the individual defines and forms his or her personal behavior in relation to the generalized attitude of the social (sub-)group, he or she occupies. Hence, the individual gradually internalizes the attitude and values of the broader social group towards him- or herself by participating in conversations and social actions (Mead, 154-155). Then, this internalization process leads to a “superior co-ordination” of “society as a whole” (179) and, with this, society partly controls “the conduct of its individual members” (Mead, 155).

Consequently, identity emerges from social interactions, an individual’s personal reflection of attitudes of the generalized other, and an active response these attitudes. Thus, identity emerges out of the dialectical relationship between the generalized other and the individual. More precisely, identity construction is a dynamic process consisting of two essential functional components of an individual’s identity which Mead calls the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’. The ‘I’ is the first-person perspective on one’s identity which continuously incorporates the third person perspectives one encounters and develops in the ‘Me’. The ‘I’ can be understood as the subject self and the ‘Me’ as the object self.

‘Me’ is the self as a “social self”, meaning the socialized aspect of the individual representing learned behavior, attitudes, and expectations of others, specific social groups and society in general (Mead, 144, 178). The ‘I’ therefore represents the individual’s response to the ‘Me’: “The ‘I’ is the response of the organism to attitudes of others, the ‘Me’ is the organized set of attitudes of others which one himself assumes” (Mead, 175). Therefore, according to Mead, the ‘I’ reacts impulsive, spontaneous and creative with actions to the ‘Me’ which expresses the normative and conventional attitudes of the social environment (Mead, 197).

Accordingly, socio-cultural conclusions may also be drawn from an individual’s (re-)actions. The ‘I’ further entails biographical and biological features. Over the course of a human life, the ‘I’ develops a clearer, more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the ‘Me’. The ‘I’ has to react to a specific social situation and, even if an individual does not react, this is a creative response, too. The response of the ‘I’ to the social situation is neither determined, predictable, nor dictated, it is rather conditioned through the generalized other and a “sense of freedom, of initiative” remains for the acting individual (Mead, 177).

Hence, identity is the balance of both the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ resulting from internal and external influences. Identity, thus, develops through the (sub-)consciously observing social and cultural norms while interacting with others and the integration of external opinions and inner feelings. It is a process of dynamic interaction between the individual and the society. In social interactions, the individual can play different roles and, as a result of this, obtain different images of oneself from various social and cultural sources. A personal self-image – an identity – is generated as the individual reacts (sub-)consciously to evaluations of oneself as a social object.

To understand the self-image of the clone Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go, it is necessary first of all to examine the societal system and structures, of which she is a part. In analyzing the generalized other in Never Let Me Go, the values, expectations, and attitudes of the society are uncovered. Subsequently, Kathy’s psychosocial integration of these values and attitudes are discussed and analyzed as they become visible in Kathy’s narrative identity. Her narration and retrospective evaluation of events entail her personal response to the attitudes of the society and shows to which extent society influences her identity formation.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Society's Influences on Kathy H.'s Identity Formation in Kazu Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
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ISBN (Book)
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Never Let Me Go, Identity Formation, Narrative Identity, Society, Dystopia
Quote paper
Myriam Nickels (Author), 2017, Society's Influences on Kathy H.'s Identity Formation in Kazu Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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