Empathy In Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Powerful Essays
The concept of empathy has been viewed as a foundation of humanist thinking since the times of Aristotle. Brought into the English language by American psychologist E.B. Tichener in 1909 (Wispé, 1991, p. 78), the term empathy was a translation of the German aesthetic term Einfühlung used to describe the physiological process of mimesis engaged in by infants, which comes to represent the basis of shared feeling (Omdahl, 1995. p. 25). Empathy’s etymological roots in an aesthetic term uncovers the seemingly innate link between art and humanity. The arts are viewed by David Swagner as “a shared vision of humanness” (1993, p. 44) that facilitate empathy. Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go (2005) highlights the artistic community’s…show more content…
Typical of the use of cliché in the novel, his first-person narrator Kathy H. describes raining as “bucketing down” (Never, p. 238) while having sex is termed “doing it” (Never, p. 93). This has led James Wood to conclude that the novel is a “fantasy so mundanely told” that the effect is of “the real invading the fantasy” (New Republic, 2005). The result of this, however, is not narrative tedium, as Wood charged. Instead, Kathy’s second-person address to the reader: “I’m sure somewhere in your childhood, you too had an experience like ours that day” (Never, p. 36) is reminiscent of an oral history that fosters an empathetic connection between Kathy and her reader. Accordingly, Margaret Atwood has signified that the most frequently used words in the novel are “normal” and “supposed” (2011, p.172) as in Kathy’s final line, “to drive off to wherever I was supposed to be” (Never, p. 282). Tonally, the references to “normal” and “supposed” engender verisimilitude, whilst also emphasising the connection between empathy and mimesis. By imitating the speech of human teenagers, Kathy’s narrative discourse elicits the modern reader’s empathy with her because her language reflects the use of idioms, colloquialisms and cliché that are ubiquitous in the modern…show more content…
Ishiguro’s Kathy creates empathy between her and the reader by addressing the reader as a fellow clone, ruminating,” I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we had to have some form of medical every week” (Never, p. 13). Romanek perhaps emphasises empathy even further, with Kathy’s concluding voice-over acknowledging that “…perhaps we’re not that different from the people we save” (Romanek, 2005), thus highlighting an empathetic connection between victims and perpetrators – a complicated relationship that the novel does not explicitly address. Yet given that film adaptations are themselves a mimetic form – the film is a copy of the original novel – opportunities for interiority are less frequent. In Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese deploys “such hellish visions as steam rising to engulf the cab for long seconds” (Simon, 1976, p. 68) to denote the isolation of protagonist Travis Pickle. Romanek deploys cinematography to explore similar themes of isolation, drawing on the visual elements of Naruso’s films (Mason, 1989) –a sources of inspiration for Ishiguro’s novel – with the muted pallet evoking a “foggy netherworld” (Jones, 2010, p. 33) that seals the clones off from the human world. A final gesture towards the empathetic impasse created by passively accepting the clones’ designated
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