“And the Lord said unto Cain: ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ And he said: ‘I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?'” – Genesis 4:9
Science and technology are advancing at exponential rates. Western culture is struggling to keep pace and maintain its moral clarity amidst the morass of shifting values. Often, it is only when these novelties intertwine, that humans realize the precarity of the situation and finally assume the burden of redefining rules for this new system. As Daniel Quinn suggests in his book Ishmael, Cain’s need for agricultural growth precipitated his justification to murder his brother Abel, whose herds were trampling arable land. Similarly, our generation is now compelled to consider the repercussions of driverless cars and GMO’s, and the implications of organ harvesting and stem cell transplants.
Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Never Let Me Go offers a startling portrayal of just this conflict. The narrative unfolds through the memories of Kathy after she is reunited with her childhood friend, Ruth. Kathy gently guides the reader through the mysterious existence of her childhood at Hailsham Private School and reveals heart wrenching truths that forever shade her life. The stylistic simplicity make the story ever more painful.
The children at Hailsham are special breed. They are drilled with the tenets of compassion and service. They are raised with an awareness of others’ needs and the special role they will assume in order to fulfill these needs. Like Abel, they protect their flock. Like Abel, they become expendable. Just as Cain seeks to justify his actions against his brother, the populace in Ishiguro’s dystopian novel does the same.
Society’s need to feed off these youths and later, disregard/discard them is shameful (the significance only revealed towards the end of the novel when Kathy discovers that Hailsham Private School has been destroyed). Fueling the dire realization that the Hailsham graduates have been abandoned, is Ruth’s confession of betrayal. Dealing deliberate and irreparable blows to her dear friend, Ruth devastates Kathy’s chance for true love. Kathy’s pleas for a final chance at happiness are silenced by a society that doesn’t want her, despite the fact that it thrives off her.
Just as Cain abandons and betrays his brother, Abel, so too, humans possess the capacity to do the same unto our fellow man.