Last updated: August 26, 2019
Topic: EducationSchool
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Each of these novels centre around a female character who has been placed in challenging circumstances which are heavily affected by her surroundings. For Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go it is Kathy and her sheltered existence at what is apparently a private boarding school called “Hailsham”, while for Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea it is Antoinette and her isolation in the newly-liberated Jamaica. Both of these women face problems which are either caused by or reflected through their location- something which can be seen as particularly microcosmic for the world outside of their localised experience. In Never Let Me Go, Kathy (the protagonist) tends to restrain her emotions, frequently assuming the role of the quiet observer, but the reader also sees her more extroverted side through her thought processes. This is shown in chapter two when Kathy meets Tommy on the stairs: “I felt like saying: Tommy, why don’t you grow up? But I stopped myself and said instead: Tommy you’re holding everyone up.” This could potentially be alluding to suffragette behaviour through the stereotype of women appearing quiet and devoid of substance, but actually being determined and emotionally intelligent- just as Kathy is underneath her silent exterior.The school is called “Hailsham.” Which is, coincidentally or otherwise, the name of a very prominent mid-century law lord in England, suggesting that Ishiguro meant to invoke the weight of judicial authority.These two novels represent gender roles in very different ways through their circumstances and time periods. In Never Let Me Go, the students from Hailsham appear to internalise gender roles in an attempt to feel connected to the outside world from which they have been so far removed. However, this only occurs once they are staying in the cottages and realise that their upbringing has not been ‘normal’. In the school itself however, there are largely only female teachers, meaning that all the clones have grown up seeing women in positions of power. This allows them to have a childhood largely devoid of society’s different roles for boys and girls, because the women in their lives give the girls no reason to doubt themselves with any sexist ideologies. Alternatively, it also shows a childcare facility cared for almost entirely by women, thus adhering to the natural gender expectation that women are maternal carers, highlighted by the way the clones refer to their teachers as “guardians”. However, the teachers all treat everyone the same, regardless- for the most part- of gender. As an example of this, we are shown that Kathy has a high sex drive. While she is at school she is taught that all her desires are natural, mentioning that they’re even encouraged to engage in healthy sex (which isn’t a problem because the clones cannot reproduce: “none of us can have babies”). This contrasts to the outside world due to how women are usually put under more pressure in society to stay ‘pure’ while men have more sexual freedom- but this is not the case at Hailsham. It is only when they move to the cottages and the clones are influenced by the outside world through television and porn magazines that Ruth begins to make Kathy feel ashamed for having sex, simply because she wants to fit in: “I suppose you haven’t been that slow making friends with at least some of the veterans”. This shows the entrapment of the female characters because it presents the way Ruth and Kathy are becoming familiar with the uncomfortable realties of the world outside of their sheltered youth as a bad thing, causing much more harm than good, such as the many arguments between the two girls. As well as this, the ease with which Ruth adopts these new behaviours shows how conditioned the clones are to conform to social pressures; they aren’t encouraged to have different sexual standards for men and women up until now, but they do it almost automatically because they are so used to conforming that it’s the only way they know how to act around each other.In Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette’s entrapment is referenced ironically even before the novel has begun; the title itself includes the adjective “wide”- a word which carries connotations of separation, distance, and loneliness. This foreshadows the continuation of the theme throughout the novel because of how it appears in the title of the book. As well as “sea”, perhaps implying isolation and an estrangement from people. The Sargasso Sea is an area located in the Atlantic Ocean which is well-known for being saturated with a thick type of seaweed called Sargassum1 which has accumulated a reputation for being a particularly dangerous spot for ships to pass through, as well as the lack of strong winds leading to many stranded ships in the days before motorised engines. This therefore adds to the sense of hopelessness and despair created by the brutal combination of “wide” and “sea”. Alternatively, this can be interpreted as independence; the novel is set primarily in Jamaica just after the emancipation act of 1833 has been passed, freeing all the slaves from plantation work.2In Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go however, the reader is given a false sense of security from the title; the wording implies a sense of intimate care or the idea of having as strong relationship with someone, asking them to ‘never let go’. This sets the story up to be one of perhaps a tragic kind of love. However, it becomes apparent in the first chapter that there is a sinister sense of being trapped woven into the children’s lives: “the pavilion had become the place to hide out…when you wanted to get away from Hailsham”. The children, at what seems to be a boarding school, are so trapped that they aren’t allowed to leave the site- their only ‘escape’ is the `pavilion- still on the school grounds. This induces an uncomfortable feeling within the reader very early in the novel, leaving the possibility open that there is really nothing wrong with the school other than some friendship troubles between the children themselves. Rachel Cusk says that “Never Let Me Go, like the characters it portrays, has in the and something of a double nature, for it both attracts and annihilates”.3 This holds relevance here because the children are shown to feel safe in the school (“it was a way to unwind for a while with your closest friends”) thus showing its ability to attract, but it is also shown to ‘annihilate’ in the way that they children are so clearly desperate for some relief from the intensity of their school environment.However, the entrapment of the clones is more psychological than physical; they are eventually allowed to venture into the town around their home and to mingle with ‘normal’ people, so theoretically it would be possible for them to run away. However, the thought to do such a thing simply never occurs to them. They have been brought up not to question their situation, living in acceptance of the life that has been set out for them. They are deliberately kept separate from the rest of society, attending only special school such as hailsham, being sent to communal living spaces like the cottages, and only being allowed to do jobs that do not require them to participate in society. This isolation keeps them helplessly dependent on the system, discouraging them from questioning the donation process entirely- they have never known any other way of life, so therefore cannot demand better. Whenever the system’s morality is questioned it is considered as a fantasy- not as an uprising for their own freedom. This suggests that they are unaware of their own autonomy.Part Three is the shortest part of the novel; it is from the perspective of Antoinette, renamed by her husband as Bertha. She is largely confined to “the attic” of thornfield hall, the Rochester mansion she calls the “Great House.” Similarly, Antoinette couldn’t have a conscious rebellion in Wide Sargasso Sea because she had no identity of her own, thus potentially being the true cause of her eventual insanity. She inherited the status of her mother and then became dependent upon a man who didn’t love her, losing herself in the process. If Antoinette had embraced her ‘otherness’- specifically her non-whiteness that she identified with more- she would have had a stronger foundation of support and identity to build on, but instead she ‘bought’ into the idea of white superiority and if cost her everything in the end. Antoinette’s inability to develop an identity, to choose a side, is why she’s lost. Even when she is talking to Christophine and asking for her help with Obeah she thinks that Christophine is inferior, which could potentially reflect the way she sees herself on some level. YET TO INCLUDE/ DEVELOP:Unreliable narration (due to the entrapment- perhaps the setting includes the reader? Is her unreliable speech an extension of her suspicious nature, now including the reader?)·        Antoinette has been raised a certain way- her mind is wired to reach questionable conclusions even if she feels like she’s doing the right thing·        Her mother’s instability·        Her disabled brother’s tragic death·        Her increased sense of paranoia and the bitter disappointment of her failing marriage unbalance hr already precarious mental and emotional state·        Part 3- she is renamed by her husband as “bertha” and largely confined to the attic of Thornfield hall – the great house.·        Grace- the servant who has to keep her guarded – as well as guarding her disintegrating life with mr. Rochester.·        Rochester makes empty promises to see her more, but eventually starts relationships with other women- eventually the young governess jane eyre.·        Part three the book is largely a stream of consciousness from Antoinette’s point of view Kathy and the song- “What I’d imagine was a woman who’d been so she couldn’t have babies, who’d really, really wanted them her whole life. Then there’s a sort of miracle and she has a baby, and she holds this baby very close to her and walks around singing: “Baby, never let me go…” partly because she’s so happy, but also because she’s so afraid something will happen”  Bibliography 1 Ocean Service, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administation website,, 10/10/172The National Archives, The Emancipation Act3 Rachel Cusk, The Guardian, January 2011