Klara’s (Klara and The Sun) unreliability based on naivety and forgetfulness highlights her human features.

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  • Author Monika Gryniewicz
  • Published June 4, 2022
  • Word count 3,569

ABSTRACT

It is widely acknowledged that Kazuo Ishiguro favours creating first-person unreliable storytellers. His earlier unreliable narrators from novels such as A pale View of Hills, An artist of the Floating World, Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go have been thoroughly analysed. However, the (un)reliability of the storytellers from his most recent books, Nocturnes, The Buried Giant, or Klara and The Sun appears to be taken for granted and has not been so widely investigated. This article attempts to examine the fallibility of Klara – Ishiguro’s most recent narrator. The paper will prove her unreliability and it will propose factors which constitute her untruthful account and it will also investigate reasons behind her inaccurate account. The analysis is placed within the field of narratology and it requites the knowledge of the term “unreliable narrator”. The article only focuses on Klara’s narrowed understanding of the world which broadens with time, her naivety and her forgetful nature, however, surely there are more factors and functions which may be responsible for her unreliability, which merits a further discussion.

  1. About the book

Klara and the Sun is a science-fiction, dystopian novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro and published in March of 2021. The story takes place the USA in an unspecified, disturbingly near future. It is told through Klara's perspective. Klara is a solar powered, artificial friend chosen by Josie who is a mysteriously ill girl to be her childhood companion. During the novel, Klara grows-up. She learns about the beautiful, unique, yet mysterious nature of human heart. She gets to know about sacrifice and what it means love.

  1. Analogies with other Ishiguro’s narrators

Klara may be labelled as a typical narrator from Ishiguro's novels. Her story is subjective, told past her prime and it consists of an episodical form. During the interview after receiving a Nobel Prize in December 2017, Ishiguro discussed the characters-narrators he favours:

I think earlier in my career I was always very interested in looking at individuals who struggled with their past and their memories. So typically, I would look at a character in late middle age or old age. Someone who had been quite proud of himself or herself, but then quite late in life gains a perspective about his life. Let us just say his life. And he starts to think Oh actually, I had all my values wrong, I backed the wrong things, I backed the wrong causes. Does that mean my life has been wasted? I lived my life by the wrong values even though for most of my life I thought I was living by the right values (The Nobel Prize).

Ishiguro himself admits that he is fascinated with a subjective perspective of a storyteller, rather than reporting objective facts. He usually presents an old or middle-aged individuals who rethink and revaluate their life choices. Similarly, to Etsuko from The Pale View of Hills, Ono from An Artist of the Floating World, Stevens from Remains of the Day, and Kate from Never Let Me Go, Klara is past her prime. She spends her remaining days in a junkyard, and instead of socialising she prefers reliving her life, recalling her memories, and rethinking her decisions – just like the other narrators from Ishiguro’s previous works.

What is more, all the storytellers mentioned above are homodiegetic, autodiegetic narrators who focus on the stories of their lives. They themselves choose how to picture the tale, which automatically makes their narratives subjective. Klara’s story is no exception. Her mental abilities are composed of an algorithm, which is responsible for the knowledge she possesses, and of cognitive skills, which allow her to observe, analyse the world and draw her own conclusions about it. Yet, sometimes the reality Klara encounters is far too complex for her to comprehend, and it exceeds her knowledge as well as her intellectual abilities. As a result, she perceives the world as a set of boxes:

What was more, the room’s space had become divided into twenty-four boxes – arranged in two tiers – all the way to the rear wall. Because of this partitioning, it was hard to gain an overall view of what was before me, but I gradually made sense of things (80-1).

Usually, Klara divides the reality into boxes when she encounters new places, new situations, new emotions, and new people for the first time because the new data sometimes is too complicated for her. Such a depiction resembles a cubist painting. Although according to the Tate Museum, such works of art “appear fragmented and abstracted”, they also aspire to present various viewpoints at the same time and space, allowing the audience to see a broader perspective and provides more material to analyse. Klara’s perception is limited so she tries to give it more context, to gain more perspective and disassemble complex issues into primary factors which would be more comprehensible for her and give her more room for an interpretation. Therefore, the implied reader can infer that she is not an infallible machine which would have an objective answer to each question. If some issue transgresses a machine’s algorithm, it will not be able to produce an anticipated response. Klara, however, is not a typical machine. She always attempts to solve a problem which is out of her reach using her cognitive skills. Thus, making the way her tale is presented more human-like.

Moreover, all the stories mentioned above are composed of episodical forms. These are the flashbacks to the narrators' younger years. Therefore, it makes their narratives highly subjective – all the reader is faced with are the events which are deemed by the narrator as memorable and worth telling. Stevens from Remains of the Day, embarks on a journey to visit his old friend, co-worker and presumably the love of his life, Miss Kenton. During his trip, he recalls his younger days in Darlington Hall as a butler. Kate H., the narrator from Never Let Me Go, is a thirty-year-old woman whose life will soon end because she is to become a donor of vital organs. She tells her tale in three parts in forms of analepsis and prolepsis. Firstly, she describes her childhood at Hailsham. Secondly, she depicts her adolescence at the Cottages and lastly, she presents her life as a Carer. Klara, similarly, is a robot-carer whose stay at Josie's home has just ended. She is not as efficient and useful as she once has been, so she spends her remaining days in a junkyard recalling some of the crucial events during her stay at the AF shop and then her life at Josie's home.

What is more, all Ishiguro novels contain an unreliable storyteller and Klara is no exception. The notion of a fallible storyteller will be discussed in the next paragraphs.

  1. Klara’s unreliability

In Klara and the Sun, the audience is faced yet again with an unreliable storyteller. However, this one is highly unusual. Klara is not a human – she is a robot. One would think that machines are infallible. That they are not likely to deceive, their memories cannot be flawed, and the data they provide is absolutely precise. Nevertheless, Klara refutes all stereotypes. Her narrative is defective because of her limited, child-like perspective, her naivety, and forgetting.

3.1. Klara’s mental and emotional development broadens her perspective

In her article “Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’ is a haunting tale of love, loss and...a robot”, Isabelle Senechal argues that Klara’s tale may be reliable when it comes to describing facts, however, the author questions Klara’s emotional accuracy. As an example of Klara’s emotional limitation, the writer describes a situation when Klara is in the shop, and it is her turn to represent all artificial friends in the front alcove. One day she witnesses a fight between two taxi drivers. Based on their body language and facial expressions, she can identify their emotions quite accurately. Nevertheless, she is incapable of feeling empathy towards them (26-7). The event takes place closely to the beginning of the story when Klara has almost no experience at all. Therefore, she should not be judged primarily based on this happening because during the course of the novel she develops mentally as well as emotionally.

At the beginning of the story, her perception is limited and the range of emotions available to her is restricted. Firstly, she is only acquainted with basic emotions, such as sadness or happiness. One day, when Klara is again in the front alcove, she observes the death, as she assumes, of a beggar and his dog. She states than upon seeing them she feels sadness (Klara and the Sun 45-6). Earlier in the novel she watches an old couple who has not seen each other in years, and she speculates what kinds of emotions they feel. She identifies happiness but, at the same time, she notices sadness, which she cannot understand. She deems it a paradox. She asks the Manager about it, and she soon learns that it is possible to feel two such different emotions all at once. She even tries to imagine herself in such a situation and she wonders what feeling would accompany her (28-30). However, later, she learns a whole range of new, more complex emotions. One day, Josie feels too ill to go on a small trip to Morgan Waterfall. Instead, the Mother takes Klara to go with her. The Mother utters that she is envious of Klara not having any feelings. As a response Klara states that the more, she observes, she more feelings are available for her. Later, as she is asked whether she likes the place she presents a wide scope of emotions: “I didn’t mean to seem ungrateful. I’m very pleased to see the waterfall. But perhaps also a regretful Josie couldn’t be with us” (Klara and the Sun 108-9). Based on this small encounter, the reader may notice that she feels more complex, extreme emotions all at once, such as gratefulness, thankfulness, satisfaction but also remorse, in comparison to the Klara from the front alcove who wondered about happiness and sadness. She matures emotionally. Therefore, she should not be solely judged based on her initial emotional ignorance. Thus, her reliability when it comes to emotional accuracy, charges throughout the course of the novel.

Not only does she grow up emotionally, but also, she develops mentally. She is fascinated with human behaviour and the world outside. She is exceptionally content when she has the chance to spend the day in the front alcove because in this way she can observe the reality behind the shop window, which is new and exciting for her. At the beginning of the novel, she likes to estimate how old people from the outside are and what happens in their minds. She is honest about her mistakes and she herself states that she may misjudge, she may not be fully correct: “I estimated he was fifteen, though I couldn’t be sure” (Klara and the Sun 68). Klara guesses, learns, analyses, interprets. She is curious and inquisitive. She gets to know the world. When she is at the shop, her perception is limited – she only sees passers-by, taxis, and buildings – all behind the glass. However, later in the novel she experiences her first time being outside of the shop as well as outside Josie’s home, her first time seeing a waterfall, her first trip on her own and many more. Firstly, she is Josie’s companion, a friend, and a nanny but then she becomes her guardian and a mother-figure, as if, when she is ready to sacrifice herself in order to save Josie, as she believes. She develops like a real person. She grows up like a child to become a responsible adult. The reader embarks with Klara on a journey which broadens her perspective making her tale more and more reliable.

3.2. Klara’s naivety

Klara’s unreliability may also be traced based on her naivety, despite her emotional and mental maturing. She is an android which is powered by solar energy. In the novel, the Sun is not only the major star in our solar system, but it is a character in the story. It is a personified god-like deity. Klara and other Artificial Friends believe in the Sun. Already at the beginning of the narrative, the reader is faced with the robots almost worshipping the Sun. They are worried that the rays of the Sun may not touch them if they stand at the back of the shop, and they will not be able to function properly. Nevertheless, they truly believe that “the Sun [has] ways of reaching [them] wherever [they are]” (Klara and the Sun 9). One day during her stay in the front alcove Klara thinks that she sees a dead beggar man and his dog. The empirical reader supposes that they are rather asleep. However, Klara believes that the Sun has wanted to punish humanity for causing Pollution. The next they the machine which causes contamination of environment is gone. The man and his dog are alive again. Klara believes that they are brought back to life because the Pollution is gone, and the Sun is again content with the human species (Klara and the Sun 45-6). This situation gives her the idea to seek health for Josie at the Sun. She prays fervently several times in the barn where she is told that the sun is going to rest (Klara and the Sun 124-7, 284-90). It may appear slightly ridiculous, absurd, and untruthful for the authorial audience as well as narrative audience because even though they are a dystopian society the world known to the authorial audience is the one of their past.

3.3. Forgetting

Klara’s tale is also contaminated with forgetting which is a human trait. Even through, a reader expects machines to keep all the data saved throughout the years, Klara makes a sacrifice in order to save Josie and she gives some of a very important chemical component to destroy a machine which produces Pollution. She believes that in this way the Pollution would disappear, and the Sun would be so satisfied with her work that it would heal Josie (236-9). After her task is completed, she loses a part of her cognitive abilities, she becomes disoriented (250-5). After this accident Josie is healed and matures. The next step in her life is going to the university and she does not need her Artificial Friend anymore. Klara spends her remaining days in a junkyard where she recollects her memories:

Over the last few days, some of my memories have started to overlap in curious ways. For instance, the dark sky morning when the Sun saved Josie, the trip to Morgan’s Falls and the illuminated diner Mr Vance chose will come into my mind, merged together into a single setting. The Mother will be standing with her back to me, watching the mist from the waterfall. Yet I am not watching her from the wooden picnic bench, but instead from my booth in Mr Vance’s diner. And although Mr Vance isn’t visible, I can hear his unkind words coming from across the aisle. Meanwhile, above the Mother and the waterfall, the dark clouds have gathered, the same dark clouds that gathered the morning the Sun saved Josie, small cylinders and pyramids flying by in the wind. (313).

At the end she clearly states that it is difficult for her to recall a certain memory and that it all vanishes into one. When Klara narrates her story, there is a certain distance between the beginning of her tale and the moment which is contemporary to her. Although her story is told with precision in details, it still could be affected by her current state.

To conclude, it may be stated that Klara’s narrative is unreliable because she only starts to learn about the world she lives in, and some information is restricted from her. However, when she develops mentally and emotionally, she gains a broader perspective which allows her to narrate the story more reliably. Despite her unreliability, she has a child-like honesty which makes it impossible not to have positive feelings towards her. Moreover, while considering her unreliability one may include her naivety and her flawed memory.

  1. Functions of Klara as the narrator of the story

In 2008 Susannah Hunnewell interviewed Kazuo Ishiguro about his works. Asked about Never Let Me Go, the writer answered that the novel asks several questions, such as: “What does it mean to be a human being? It’s a secular route to the Dostoyevskian question, what a soul is?” It seems that seventeen years after the publication of the novel, he still touches upon the same, complex subject in his latest work – Klara and the Sun. The implied author forces his implied reader to further reflections.

Kathy H. is a clone whose humanity is contested. She is based on an actual human being while Klara is a robot who blurs the line between human and android (Askew R.K. 181). Klara is a machine. Yet, one can successfully find human traits within her – she develops mentally and emotionally. She grows up like a child and she learns what it means to love. Even her unreliable tale is a feature of a subjective tale narrated by a human-character. However, the unanswered question remains: Could she wholly, fully, and successfully learn Josie’s heart if the ending were different? The novel appears to be asking even more complex and general questions – Is it possible for machines to replace humans one day? Is there something unique about each person? What does it mean to have a heart/ a soul?

Answers to these questions seems to be found within the pages of the novel itself. Klara can walk like Josie, she is able to speak like Josie, it is possible for her to pretend to be Josie but she in not Josie. In the car Josie’s father undermines Klara’s ability to become Josie because learning Josie’s heart “might indeed be the hardest part of Josie to learn” (230). Paul compares human heat to the infinite number of rooms to explore. On the other hand, Klara thinks that human heart is limited, and it could be learnt (229-36). Eventually, she concludes on her own that she would never be successful in replacing Josie:

Mr Capaldi believed there was nothing special inside Josie that couldn’t be continued. He told the Mother he’d searched and searched and found nothing like that. But I believe now he was searching in the wrong place. There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her. (318)

Klara believes that humans are unique and the bonds between them are special. It is the relationships with other human beings are what makes people what they are. No matter how hard Klara would attempt to be Josie, she would never repeat and continue Josie’s relationships with her family and her friends because Klara would not have the same feelings as Josie would. Therefore, she would not develop in the same way as the real Josie would.

Today’s world develops very fast, new technology is speeding. Klara may be equipped with human traits but the newer model in the shop lack empathy which makes them less and less human-like. The novel seems to convey no matter what, machines could never replace humans.

  1. Conclusions

Klara and the Sun is a dystopian, science fiction tale of an android who learns about and lives in the human world. Klara is similar to other narrators of Ishiguro as her subjective, episodical story composed of analepsis is told from a perspective of an old individual reflecting on their life like in A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, Remains of the Day, or Never Let Me Go. The difference is that she is a robot who is decaying in a junkyard. What also links all the narrators, is their unreliable way of telling a story. Despite Klara’s honesty, she may be considered an unreliable narrator because throughout the course of the novel she develops and her initially narrow perspective becomes broader, more knowledge and more emotions are available to her. Yet, she is naïve and may be forgetful. Klara as the narrator of the story carries a significant function. She transgresses the line between human and robot. She resembles a child, a friend, a companion, and a guardian. Moreover, her unreliable narrative highlights her human traits. At first, she believes that it is possible to replace humans with machines but later she sees it impossible because each person is unique because of relationships with other people.

Bibliography:

Askew R.K (2021) Social System Research Book Review: Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (4): 181-185.

Hunnewell S (2020) The Art of Fiction No. 196 The Paris Review https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5829/the-art-of-fiction-no-196-kazuo-ishiguro.

Ishiguro K (2021) Klara and The Sun Faber & Faber.

Senechal I (2021) Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’ is a haunting tale of love, loss and...a robot America. The Just Review www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2021/04/30/kazuo-ishiguro-novel-review-klara-sun-robot-dystopia-240564?fbclid=IwAR0vRHuf4kHIzm8FNOqOAuCCDbwDwWLIddLC5NZfXxFJIZ4U0nGD1xCuZ6c.

Tate Cubism Tate www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/cubism.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 NobelPrize.org Nobel Media AB 2020 www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2017/summary

Monika Gryniewicz

I study English Philology at the University of Gdańsk. My MA thesis is about the unreliability of the narrators from Kazuo Ishiguro novels.

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