Never Let Me Go - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz looks at the context of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Context is very similar to setting. You might even think of it as the author’s setting. The context for any particular text means the environment in which it was written. Context includes social issues, geographical location and political events, some of which are contemporary to the author and other which are from the recent past. The author’s personal beliefs also provide some context for any work of fiction.

How to write about context

It is important to understand the context of a fictional work because of the effects which this has on the meaning of text.

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The relationship between the two can be complicated, however. History itself is complex and does not dictate the meaning of any text. Instead, the context of a work is mediated through the mind and aims of the author.

When writing about context, pay the closest attention to the text itself. What does it say about history, about politics, or about social issues? This is what is important. It can be useful to research a novel’s context. What was happening at the time it was written? What were the lively public debates of the time? Understanding context can help you better understand the meaning of the text or of the issues it raises. Context is not everything, of course, and good texts continue creating meaning long after the time when they are written.

Remember to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context. Even a text which is set in a time and place very close to that when it was written will be affected by the difference between setting and context. Thinking about the relationship between the two will help you to understand the text more deeply.

Research the context of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, remembering everything you have learned in English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. Kathy's description at the end of the novel of the rubbish caught up in a barbed wire fence can easily be imagined since it is a familiar sight across Britain, especially in windy sites. What might this familiar image represent?
    Although for Kathy the sight represents all that she has lost, the fact that what is precious to her is rubbish to the rest of the world is important. The outer world is responsible for creating a life which can be so easily disposed of
  2. Why is the very ordinary setting of this novel significant?
    By setting the novel in a very familiar context, Ishiguro challenges his readers to consider the hidden injustices happening in modern Britain, especially those benefitting some people at the great expense of others
  3. With its sports pavilion, large grounds and dormitories, Hailsham resembles which of the following?
    Like a public school, Hailsham is a place of privilege, and it is clear that its students see themselves in this way. This impression makes the realisation that the only privilege on offer is that of a ''normal'' childhood all the more devastating
  4. The clones are trained to be entirely selfless. Which of the following terms best expresses this aspect of their education and expectations of themselves?
    Carers in modern British society are undervalued and underpaid for their work. The use of the word implies both duty and a sense that people who engage in such work are naturally selfless
  5. Organ donation sometimes takes place when a patient's brain no longer functions, but the body is kept on life support. This statement gives some context for which of the following concerns?
    Organ donation can be voluntarily undergone during life, such as when donating a kidney, or upon accidental or sudden death. Sometimes in these cases the person is still on life support. Tommy fears that he might be kept alive during endless organ removal after his fourth donation
  6. Which one of the following is related to the "Morningdale scandal" which eventually causes the closure of Hailsham?
    Eugenics is the practice of breeding individual specimens with more desirable genes, aiming to improve a species over time. Plants and domesticated animals have long been subjected to this treatment. Attempts to extend the practice to human beings have been responsible for some of the darkest episodes in human history as well as provoking (and continuing to provoke) profound ethical disagreements
  7. When was Never Let Me Go first published?
    The events of the novel are set in the very recent past; Kathy narrates from the late 1990s
  8. Why is the outside world afraid of the clones?
    Society easily turns away from its most unpleasant sub-layers. In the novel, the outside world wishes to treat the clones as the products of factory farming, reducing them to their function as containers for spare parts. Interacting with clones forces people to see them as human and to confront the inhumanity of a social system reliant on reducing humans to their body parts
  9. Kathy worries that other carers might be envious of her bedsit. Why is this significant?
    A bedsit is a single-roomed accommodation which includes a place to cook. Kathy's accommodation is only luxurious in comparison to prison cells and hospital wards, or a small room in a large institution. Her gratitude for the bedsit tells us immediately about her character and the world she inhabits
  10. Which of the following historical events is most closely linked to the context for the cloning programme in the novel?
    Dolly the sheep was cloned and born healthy in 1996, marking a major success for research into cloning

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