Representation of Idea “the Past Is not Dead” in “Never Let Me Go” and “The Glass Menagerie”: Analytical Essay

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“Never Let Me Go” and “The Glass Menagerie” can be seen to be products of the society they were created in. In fact, the dystopian novel presents the past as an escape from an inhumane reality, while the WW2 play presents a poverty stricken society during the Great Depression. Ishiguro could be trying to explore humans’ selfishness and the potential of science; while Williams may be trying to portray his own life and the hardships of America in the 1930’s – 40s. Both could be trying to present how society’s labelling affects in the past, can alter the lives of certain groups of people: Ishiguro’s Japanese heritage could have caused him to feel like an outcast even after all the years he had spent in England, and Williams’` controversial sexuality would have also caused him to be an outcast.

Ishiguro and Williams present that the past could be a trap to escape from. Indeed through the characters of Tom and Ruth, it can be depicted that the past keeps you from “mov[ing] on” and “grow[ing] up”. Really, Ruth seems to view Hailsham as an obstacle, while Kathy views it as an advantage. “I’ve managed to move on and make friends” presents how tough it has been for Ruth to change, as the verb “managed” conveys a hardship to “move on”. This could also indicate her need to move on to her life as a clone. “To make friends” somewhat portrays her to be alone when truly, Kathy and Tommy have always been with her. Even through “The sheer effort Ruth was making to move on”, Ruth is further shown to be desperate to escape her past, as “sheer effort” portrays her utter need to forget her past and their conditioned childhood. Furthermore, through her dream to work in an office, her naivety permeates through to show how Hailsham students were brought up. It could also be argued that she wanted to escape the world where Tommy and Kathy were meant to be with each other. In fact for Ruth, the past is a painful reminder of her mistakes, which makes it better “dead” than “living”. Ruth’s own attitude towards her mistakes could be a direct reflection of how Ishiguro felt about his own decisions, as well as portraying how immigrants -like himself- feel when they are treated as surplus.

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As seen through Ruth, both authors’ use strong and mature female characters as main protagonists. “Williams understood women. He empathised.” could show that the writer, unlike other writers or other men in a WW2 society, understood and respected women and their “loss and longing and displacement”. This would be due to his own struggle to fit in society due to his sexuality. In fact, he may have wanted to explore what women were conditioned into, through societal expectations and norms. Through the broken characters of Amanda and Laura, Williams shows how two differently broken characters can feel similarly about their past. This may be partly due to their social misplacement as a single mother and a “compromised daughter” who have experienced the “painful reminder” of a man parting or pleurosis. Indeed, women are seen to be particularly affected by their past, as in their society, their reputation would be far more delicate compared to a man’s.

However, Ishiguro offers a stereotypical role for Kathy, as she is a carer and a nurse. Her passiveness follows sexist conventions where women are thought to be mother-like and submissive. Even so, the fact that she “carefully guards her own feelings” could portray the fact she has been damaged by her past, by losing her patients. Her direct and informal use of language could show her to be almost robotic, but also confident and trustworthy. Ishiguro’s more vague representations could be given by a more modern and reflective society where he decided to challenge ideas of scientific breakthroughs, while part of the unusual feel of Williams’ play could be given by the period of huge change in America during WW2. Perhaps, the past of your country ultimately affects you as well.

Both authors portray outsiders to be drawn to the past, as they had been shaped by it.

Ishiguro may be including a part of himself in Kathy as she is also an outsider; in fact Ishiguro had been so since when he moved from Japan to England. Indeed, Kathy may also show how Ishiguro thinks of his past, by constantly trying to “welcome the chance to rest – to stop and think and remember”. For Kathy, “Welcom[ing] the chance to rest” could depict that she needs to remember to escape the hardness of society, as the only chance to rest she’ll ever get will be to become a donor and “complete”. Indeed, it could be argued that she may be happy to become a donor, as she won’t have to watch her patients die, or perhaps even save herself from the guilt of being complicit to their death. In fact, it could be argued that Kathy thinks about her past as an “attempt to run away from the idea of … mortality” and perhaps even morality. Indeed, she could be argued to “think and remember” in order to avoid to realize the horrors society puts them through.

Through the character of Madame, Ishiguro introduces the dystopian and inhumane reality of a modern world. Her nostalgic view of “the old kind world”, can show Madame to realize the atrocity of this society and even wishing for it to go back. Even so, the use of “old” could present a dismissive attitude, showing the Guardians as powerless to make a difference. Furthermore, “kind world” could also depict human nature as, before humans were humble due that nothing lasted forever. In fact, it could be argued that as scientific advancements flooded in, society became harsher and took little things for granted, which for Kathy seem to have “an almost sacred value”, as now dying was a rare option. It could be argued that as soon as society started to use clones, perhaps it also started to lose its humanity. Ishiguro might have wanted to challenge the idea and raise the question of whether we are willing to take lives in order to survive. This could indeed be seen through Edward Jenner’s experimenting for Smallpox in 1796, when using an eight year old boy as a guinea pig. His test on Phipps would not be allowed by modern experimental standards due to the fact that the boy and parents hadn’t consented. This deception and trespass of human rights could be seen through the euphemisms used for clones, such as “donation”, “donor” and “completion”, when truly they had never volunteered. Ishiguro may be trying to tell readers that history repeats itself and minorities are always taken advantage of.

Both authors in fact present feelings of regret towards their past. Williams through Tom’s last speech, “Oh Laura, Laura I tried to leave you behind me” could in fact be trying to depict a melancholic and regretful feeling. The repetition in “Oh Laura, Laura” conveys his repetitive sense of guilt for leaving her behind. “I tried” shows that he might have had to forgive himself more than once. Through “Leave you”, his relationship with his sister is arguably unconventional as siblings abandon each other, grow up and may grow apart. In fact, this could be linked to Williams’ own experience of leaving his sister Rose in the mental hospital. His need to get away can show how entrapping the past can be through due to his memory of his father. In fact, this could depict how difficult it had been to leave his family behind even if they were partly responsible for his frustration. Similarly to Kathy, Tom could also long for his past even if it presents as a suffocating trap for him. Ishiguro and Williams could be trying to portray that the past affects human nature by focusing on our formative years and how much our lives are dependent on them. In fact, Tom’s disjointed family could be seen to have affected how he perceived them, as well as creating the instinct to leave them. His American Dream to go “much further” and following in his “father’s footsteps”, could be seen to have caused his “dramatized apology to his sister”, for failing to save her from lobotomy. However, the parentless upbringing the clones experienced could be seen as the cause of their passiveness and their ability to “accept and adapt to terrible atrocities”. It could be argued that the clones are “warnings” to let us think that we too are used to atrocities and horrors of our world, and don’t mind. Ishiguro, could be seen to want us to think about our past to make sure our future won’t be gone.

Similarly to Tom, Amanda is wistful towards her past as she relives it hoping to have it back one day. “One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain – your mother received – seventeen gentleman callers!” portrays the ideal and patriarchal view expected of women as young ‘marriable cattle’. “One” could convey her idolising attitudes towards her husband and the day she met him. “Sunday afternoon” could further indicate Sunday to be yet another day of the week she can enjoy by having suitors visit her, instead of going to church. “Blue Mountain” enforces peaceful and rural connotations, which could further build on her innocence as a young girl. It almost seems to be a perfect location, which may have been perceived through the “sentimental” and unrealistic filter of memory. The separation of the clause “- your mother received -” could portray her pride and need to brag, perhaps also indicating how desperate she might be for her children’s respect. In fact, Amanda could be seen as a quite shallow character as she takes her “seventeen gentlemen callers” to be the best thing she ever achieved, even if it was solely through her looks. Through a feminist view, it could be argued “Amanda is a person who lives alternately between a world of illusion and a world of reality”, as she only focuses on the good things she can remember to escape, much like Kathy, the world she lives in, as well as to assert her beauty and self confidence.

Williams could be trying to show that the past never dies as it is part of who we are, due to Amanda’s undying relationship between the “world of illusion…and..reality”.

In conclusion, both writers offer the idea that “the past is not dead” as it can change your inner nature and personality, by damaging you, teaching you, or ultimately changing the society you live in. Through “Never Let Me Go”, Ishiguro could introduce the idea that minorities seem to be the ones that experience the pain of human nature, being the victim of the powerful -be it racial, gender or sexual minorities.


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