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Open Access Publications from the University of California

On Being Soulless

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 3.0 license

At the climax of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novelNever Let Me Go, as the facts of her circumstance are being revealed to her, the narrator asks, “Why did you have to prove a thing like that? Did someone think we didn’t have souls?” (260). That the existence of her soul should be taken to be self-evident has come to constitute something of a commonplace among commentators on the novel. That her soul’s existence might be considered a question at all arises from the fact that she is a clone. To suggest that this clone, Kathy H., and the many others who populate the novel may be something other than fully human, that they may lack “souls”—to suggest, indeed, that one might “have to prove a thing like that”—lands the critic in an uncomfortable alliance with the clearly cruel society that emerges in the negative space of the narrative. The novel seems to demand that the reader endow the clones with humanity, lest she find herself on the wrong side of an ethical divide, aligned with a social logic that would authorize the cultivation of populations of human clones for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs. Needless to say, one would be wise to think twice before taking this leap, and it is a leap few critics have seen fit to take.

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