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Never Let Me Go - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz will test your language skills in Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is narrated in the first person. Kathy’s voice is consistent throughout. Most of the language in this text fits her idiom, which means her own personal way of speaking. We have a very clear sense of Kathy’s character through her manner of speaking. She also reports the dialogue of others and because she is a fairly reliable narrator, the reader can easily distinguish the voice of other characters. The reader can almost hear the condescension when Ruth speaks, although it is important to remember that this is filtered through Kathy’s memory and her own idea of Ruth.

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Language choices in the text often tell us what Kathy is thinking, even if she does not tell us directly. We can recognise emotions that she refuses to recognise, or understand her feelings through the way she describes what she sees in her environment. The way that she expresses herself tells the reader much more about her thoughts than the literal meaning of her words does.

Analysing language in a text

Although visual elements, including illustration, layout and font, certainly have some effect on the reader's understanding and interpretation of a text, language is the primary medium through which meaning is conveyed. Without words, there would be no text.

Authors choose the language that they use carefully. Every word has its literal meaning, but it will also carry a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Language can convey literary effects through the use of imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification. Dialogue, setting and characterisation all depend on language.

Pay close attention to language choices in a text; greater understanding will reward your effort. Remembering that much of the meaning of a text is not apparent from a surface reading, take time to consider what is going on below the surface. Pausing to think about language will help you to decipher these deeper meanings.

Answer the questions below on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.

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  1. What is implied by the use of the word "donor" for the clones?
    '"Donation'' comes from the Latin word for gift. To give a gift is a voluntary act. Yet the clones have no freedom to deny the removal of their organs
  2. To what do the donors refer when they use the word "possible" as a noun (i.e. "the possible")?
    Ruth believes for a while that she has seen her ''possible'' in a magazine advertisement
  3. In the novel, the word "complete" is used to describe the end of donation, or the death of the donor. This use of the word is an example of which of the following?
    The use of this euphemism leads to one of the greatest fears the donors share, which is that ''completion'' might not mean death but a twilight existence on life support as organs are removed one by one
  4. What is implied by the use of the word "guardian" for those who work at Hailsham?
    The adults ''guard'' the students for their own safety, but also because they are responsible for containing them at Hailsham until they are ready to make the transition into becoming carers. Prisons, too, have guards
  5. "I tried to run to him, but the mud sucked my feet down. The mud was impeding him too, because one time, when he kicked out, he slipped and fell out of view into the blackness." Which language choices build a sense of despair in these lines?
    Nearly every word in these lines helps to create a scene of utter despair
  6. What makes the use of the word "possible" poignant?
    The word "possible" means a particular person who has a chance of having been cloned; when the clones use the word, it is laden with all the possible futures which they will be denied
  7. The last words Madame says to Kathy and Tommy are, "You poor creatures". What is significant about her choice of language?
    Creatures are created. Although this word is used frequently as easily exchangeable with ''animal'' or ''human being'', Madame's use of the word here betrays her deep discomfort with clones
  8. Which word do the Hailsham students employ when they first begin to joke about the donation process?
    The use of the word ''unzipping'' makes the process of donation appear as a manageable, everyday activity almost as controllable as dressing and undressing. The students turn the horror of their situation into dark humour when they joke about letting their organs spill out over the dinner table
  9. Why are the Exchanges capitalised?
    Exchanges happen four times a year. The fact that the students look forward to them shows how hungry they are for some excitement and how much rituals come to mean in an enclosed environment
  10. "Then that feeling would come right to the fore and I'd have to put my hand over his mouth, whenever he said things like that, just so we could go on lying there in peace. I'm sure Tommy felt it too, because we'd always hold each other very tight after times like that, as though that way we'd manage to keep the feeling away." What is significant about the use of the word "feeling" here?
    Kathy refers to the emotion as ''that'' feeling and ''the'' feeling, rather than giving the feeling a name

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