Essay: Four elements – earth, fire, water and air

Greek philosopher Empedocles was first to classify the four elements of earth, fire, water and air. However, modern science has scientifically proven that there are more than the four elements. Even so, throughout history, the four elements are considered to be associated with human mental states. Philip Ball illustrates that each element can be a representation of ‘different physical states’ that each element is able to become. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse employs extensive use of the classical elements with figurative and literal significances.

The reoccurring role of water in both novels can be a representation of a beginning and the end. Water is used to for transportation and travels. It is vital for humans, not merely for physical purposes, but also for spiritual meaning in life. Many scenes that include water are crucial to the plot of the novel. Firstly, life regresses as water degenerates. In part three of Kathy’s narrative, she sees a picture of a swimming pool taken in the ‘late fifties or early sixties’ (Ishiguro 199) and realizes that this is where people first arrive when they come to the center. Time passes by and the clones’ lives are also coming near to completion as to the swimming pool is now ‘filled in’ (Ishiguro 199) and constructed into the concrete surface. Ruth’s old books had become soggy and wet, ‘like they’d once belonged to the sea.’ (Ishiguro 109) This suggests degrading of material objects by water. Similar to the clones lives, they are degenerated by Hailsham and its supporters from leading a normal human life. Comparable to Kathy’s book being exposed to the wrong element, the stranded boat is also damaged because it should be in water rather than abandoned on dry land like how the clones should be able to live outside rather than be brought up in Hailsham.

The imagery of rain is closely related to ‘cognitive modes of people’s minds. Rain also suggests unhappiness and ill-omen signs. For Franklin, the rain ‘was an unwelcome setback.’ (Crace 292) He had always had bad experiences with rain. In the beginning, the rain had disrupted his journey with his brother, ‘Franklin’s knee had worsened in the rain and during his latest stumbles through the sodden undergrowth.‘ (Crace 32) Rain is something Franklin is never looking forward to,

‘Franklin had not expected so much rain… The rain was unforgiving in its weight. It meant to stay and do some damage and some good in equal parts. It meant to be noticed. It meant to run downhill until it found a river and then downstream until it found a sea.’ (Crace 28)

In some cases, however, rain eases the tension of interaction and calms down the mind, ‘[n]ow they could fall asleep more easily, apprehensive but amused.’ (Crace 43) In most religions, water is considered to ‘disintegrate, abolish forms, “wash away sins”[…]’ When the rain starts to fall, ‘[t]hen the snoring started, and the rain, beating on the roof slates noisily.’ (Crace 141) Sleeping is human nature that does not involve a cognitive process. The human mind is most at ease when thought process is momentarily paused. Moreover, rain does not always do harm. Thunder clouds shade over Ferrytown and rains. The absence of long awaited rain now brings ‘the hopes and promise … that used to be America’ (Crace 309) Water’s connection with cleansing symbolizes a rebirth of a new America.

In addition, towns that are located near the sea and oceans are considered destructive and are usually ignored by people passing by. Miss Lucy’s lecture on the country’s geography brings up Norfolk. In this moment the characters first hear about this seaside town, ‘[y]ou see, because it’s stuck out here on the east, …it’s not on the way to anywhere. People going north and south … they bypass it altogether … But it’s also something of a lost corner.’ (Ishiguro 60) The idea of lost items being sent to Norfolk stuck in Hailsham students’ heads but when the characters moved to the cottage, they experience Norfolk for the first time and ended up finding Kathy’s lost cassette. This reflects the possibility of the clone’s trying to recover themselves by ‘deferring.’ In The Pesthouse, Tidewater, the coastal town for those who want to board the ships must pass, is where the Ark is docked. Families determined to board the Ark has to give up their belongings that are made up of metal. People were asked to sacrifice all metal valuables before boarding the ship. Arriving at the sea, families are expecting to be achieved more freedom because reaching the sea makes them believe that they are closer to escaping this land. However, once they arrive, instead of escaping the old America, they are stripped of their belongings. They cannot choose to leave without giving up their valuables. Also, after finding out that the deferral is non-existent, Tommy tells Kathy that their love for each other is impossible like two people in a river with strong current, ‘trying to hold onto each other, […] ,but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart.’ (Ishiguro 258-9) This water imagery also emphasizes the fact that it is impossible to change fate as it is impossible to change the way in which water flows.

Similar to Kingsfield’s swimming pool that no longer consists of water, the absence or the disfiguration of water suggests a change. Margaret looks at how that sea changes colors, ‘in such variety, now blushing blue, now gray as ash, now green.’ She does not understand the inconsistency of colors and questions, ‘What could be the purpose of so much restlessness and indecision?’ (Crace 254) Magaret’s second opinion of the ocean had changed when she went over with Jackie and Franklin. There were

‘residues of blues and greens. The water seemed to have withdrawn, leaving a deeper beach with fringes of green-black weed, and there were yellow banks of sand offshore that she had not noticed previously.’ (Crace 237)

Franklin asks Margaret what she thinks of the ocean. She replies, ‘It’s frightening, it’s beautiful…’ (Crace 237) Margaret’s different opinions show her ability to develop her own thoughts. In the beginning of her journey to the sea, she was sick and had to stay in the Pesthouse by order. Later on in the novel, she learns how to think for herself when Franklin is gone. She has to make her own decisions and once she reaches the sea, she is able to counter the different colors the ocean is showing in parallel to her own feelings. The boat that is left stranded on the marsh represents an object that is supposed to be in the water element but is beached in the wrong element. The immobility of the boat reflects the helplessness of the clones. Being stranded without anyone acknowledging how it was stranded in the marshes are like the donors. Once they complete, they will also be forgotten. Similar to the clones’ lives in Hailsham. They are not meant to be clones and even Madame feels sorry for not being able to take action to change it, ‘Poor creatures. I wish I could help you. But now you’re by yourselves.’ (Ishiguro 249) On the trip Kathy took Ruth and Tommy to see the boat, all three were fascinated by the sight. While admiring the boat, Tommy brings up the possibility of Hailsham being a marshland like the boat is in. This suggests that he associates the stranded boat like the students stranded in Hailsham. Ruth starts to talk about Chrissie and Rodney. The three friends talk about rumors of their completion. Ruth’s conversation with her friends also their acceptance of approaching death. Ruth never seems to have a connection with water. When she follows her possible to the art gallery, the more she realizes that they were less alike. After they left the art gallery, the group went to the cliff edge again. Everyone realizes that the woman was not like Ruth at all but Ruth showed no emotions. Kathy describes that ‘[s]he was squinting into the distance, at the sky rather than the water. I could tell she was upset, but someone who didn’t know her well might well have supposed she was being thoughtful.’ (Ishiguro 151) At the cottage, when Kathy mentions the short-cut to the pond through the rhubarb patch, Ruth looked confused as though she could not remember anything about Hailsham anymore. However, when Ruth becomes a donor, she wants to visit the stranded boat at the marsh. This can be acknowledged as Ruth’s change through time. Boats and ships are not supposed to be stationary. Travel by water suggests fre

edom as the journey across the sea would bring ‘many opportunities to feast and many reasons to celebrate.’ (Crace 87) The boat in Never Let Me Go suggests the clones’ absence of liberty to escape.

Salty water is connected with tears and sadness but also the truth. Joanie explains the coast is bad luck and it is not a coincidence that the sea is salty. She adds that the sea water is salty because, ‘[t]here’s salt in tears, that’s why. The ocean’s one great weeping eye. On clear days, we can see the curve of it.’ (Crace 258) The emigrant women were separated from their husbands because the boats refused to take women on board. Margaret experienced it, ‘The rain that night had been more salty than she’d expected. When the rain tastes like tears, the sea is close.’ (Crace 6) As part of an element that the body generates, tears also suggest emotional instability. In the final scene of Never Let Me Go, Kathy fantasizes seeing Tommy wave at her and ‘tears rolled down [her] face,’ (Ishiguro 263)

Just as oceans tides and waves can change from calm to raging within minutes, the lives of the characters are also life-changing when they are close to water. Kathy found Tommy ‘seated on a large flat rock not far from the water’s edge.’ (Ishiguro 13) Kathy acknowledges that ‘[i]t must have been just before my talk with him by the pond … when Tommy was still coming out of that phase of being teased and taunted.’ (Ishiguro 76-7) Kathy admits that her conversation with Tommy by the pond was a ‘turning point’ and she ‘think[s] of it now as a kind of marker between the two eras.’ (Ishiguro 70)

In both novels, water is deceptive. Characters in The Pesthouse are dependent on faith that upon arriving at the sea there will be hope for a new life wherever the ocean takes them. Franklin took notice of the water in the valley and had his hopes up, ‘[p]erhaps the sea would be like that, flat and safe and breathtaking.’ (Crace 18) This is what thrives him to continue the journey. He had hopes for the other side of the water. When Margaret arrives at the Tidewater, she had mixed emotions. She thought that ‘[t]he smell of water was overpowering, both energizing and nauseating. The wind was sharper than any wind she’d known before. It cut into her face and made her eyes water.’ (Crace 181) Despite the hopes that people had to cross the ocean to find a new America, Franklin starts to ponder about the unpleasant side of water travel,

‘ships becalmed on windless plains of water with great birds circling, waiting for the passengers to die; ships swept forward by such determined winds that water slammed and crashed against the hulls until their timbers split and the ocean’s tongues had reached across the decks and snacked on all the voyagers;’ (Crace 246-7)

However, after experiencing the sea up close can lead to the realization that things are not what it appears what it seems to be. Franklin walks with Jackie to the beach but detested the smell of the ocean. He concluded that ‘[h]e did not like the shore. It seemed ungenerous. Its music was funereal. It was a mystery.’ (Crace 246)

In the Pesthouse, when Franklin and Margaret finally had a chance to sleep, they slept ‘like children in a fairytale, almost floating, almost out to sea. So, finally, some happiness.’ (Crace 101) The use of ‘almost’ also suggests that they are still on their journey to the sea. In the end of the novel, looking back, if they had known that the sea would not have fulfilled their hopes, they would realize that their ‘almost happiness’ is enough for them in the end.

Locations near water act as barriers. Kathy goes to Littlehampton to find Madame with the hope of deferral in mind. She walked passed the seafront and ‘terraced houses with names like “Wavecrest” and “Sea View”’. (Ishiguro 222) It is in Littlehampton that Kathy and Tommy are confronted with the truth that there is no such thing as a deferral and their deferral hopes are put to an end. In addition, Ruth is a put in the recovery center at Dover. This is where Ruth completes. The final scene, also in Norfolk, Kathy stands in front of a field and between her is a fence ‘with two lines of barbed wire.’ Rubbish had been caught and tangled in the fence ‘like the debris you get on a sea-shore: the wind must have carried some of it for miles and miles before finally coming up against these trees and these two lines of wire.’ (Ishiguro 263) The washed up shoreline of rubbish suggests the separation between the clones and normal humans.

It should be noted that there are absences of male characters in the Ishiguro’s novel. The main male character is Tommy. When Ruth, Kathy and Tommy drove to look at the old fishing boat, they walked through the woods and reached a clearing. However, they were not able to get to the boat because Kathy ‘noticed [her] feet singing beneath tufts of grass,’ (Ishiguro 204) Water seems to hold a strong power and can be considered as a female element. The constant cycle of living things in water represents life and ‘in a symbolic sense, to return to the sea is to return to the mother, that is to die, yet to be reborn.’ The tides coming up and down the shore is connected with the moon. The cycle of the moon can be used to identify life or even menstrual cycles. The ‘sea-themed’ art gallery in Norfolk, had ‘walls and ceilings [that] were peppermint, and here and there, you’d see a bit of fishing net, or a rotted piece from a boat stuck up high near the cornicing. The paintings too—mostly oils in deep blues and greens’ (Ishiguro 149) The paintings in the gallery are the clones, entrapped in the art gallery as the students are in Hailsham and as clones.

On the trip to Norfolk, the sea seemed vast and never-ending but is the parameters were limited for them. Upon arriving, they reached the sea but ‘were standing on a road carved into a cliff edge. It seemed at first there was a sheer drop down to the sands, but once you leant over the rail, you could see zigzagging footpaths leading you down the cliff-face to the seafront.’ (Ishiguro 136) Even though they saw the pathway that leads to the seafront, they did not go there. Instead, they went into a café on ‘perched on the cliff just where one of the footpaths began.’ (Ishiguro 136) and sat on the table that was the nearest to the cliff’s edge. Kathy describes feeling ‘virtually suspended over the sea.’ (Ishiguro 136) Though the sea is quite close, yet the only feeling that the clones’ experienced was indoors and through windows similar to how they were brought up in Hailsham. Their only experience of the world was with their interaction with each other and through what they are told.

Seas and oceans hold the promise of freedom and hope. Characters thrive for the hopes that water promises. Margaret and the Boses still had hopes to reach the sea, ‘keen to discover if there was any truth in the big man’s promises that the salt water was only four days distant.’ (Crace 147) Travelers that have yet to experience the ocean have passed on concepts from what they have heard from other travelers, ‘When there’s salt in the water, there’ll be ships in water, too. Sea ships. That’s what I’ve heard,’ (Crace 145) Franklin reflects on what he is led to believe,

‘that once the river had been crossed, something of the old America would be discovered, […] where the encouragements held out to strangers were a good climate, fertile soil, wholesome air and water, plenty of provisions, good pay for labor, kind neighbors, good laws, a free government and a hearty welcome.’ (Crace 42)

When Chrissie and Rodney visits a town called Cromer, ‘up on the north Norfolk coast’ (Ishiguro 126) They claim to have spotted Ruth’s possible and this encourages Ruth to daydream about working in an office and carrying about a normal life.

Another imagery that is used extensively in both texts is fire. Similar

to the water sources, characters engage with each other more when they are situated near fire elements. Fires are commonly conceptualized to the ‘behavior of a group of people than to an individual.’ Kathy thinks about how she and her friends ‘spent ages in that steamed-up kitchen after breakfast, or huddled around half-dead fires in the small hours, lost in conversation about our plans for the future.’ (Ishiguro 130) It was a place to share thoughts and dreams. Ruth shared her ideas of ‘the sort of office she’d ideally work in’ while the cottage residents ‘were sitting around a fire in the farmhouse’ (Ishiguro 132) The night that Franklin and Margaret met the Boses, they sat together around a fire, ‘in the dry shelter of the stone and metal cave, all of them, three ‘families’ sharing their provisions as travelers should, sharing the fire, and glad of the company.’ (Crace 120) At the cottage, the students were experiencing trouble with the heating. Even though they tried to ignite fire but the ‘boxy gas heaters had been giving [them] trouble.’ (Ishiguro 131) Eventually, they gave up and endured through the bitter cold. Although the students seemed like normal students living together but they were never raised with the idea to live a normal life. The students had been imprinted with the goal to become a carer and a donor after they leave the cottage. The lack of warmth during their time at the cottage shows the lack of true homeliness. Although some of the students knew each other from previous schools but the absence of familial amiability stirs. In contrast, the travelers that Franklin and Margaret meets and sits together ‘at the fireside,’ until they fell asleep. Margaret describes that ‘[i] It was such a pleasure just to listen and to talk with friendly strangers.’ (Crace 122) Feeling content with lighting the fire, the fireplace also acts as a companion for Franklin and Margaret that keeps their settlemet ‘in good heart.’ (Crace 278) Therefore, other than being a place for familial gatherings, fire and smoke also reflects safeness and homely surroundings. The first thing that Franklin notices when they arrived back at the Pesthouse is that ‘[t]here were no smoke fumes, for a start. The grate had not been used for months, evidently.’ (Crace 307) The presence of fire or flames or a flicker of a candle in buildings and houses suggest inhabitance,

‘[t]hen, between the timbers of its door — but for a moment only — he caught the reassuring and alarming flicker of a candle flame, just lit from the grate.’ Franklin apprehended right away what this means, ‘whoever was inside had heard him creeping up.’ (Crace 30)

The object used to create a spark shows the potential to ignite. Alice Diegnan suggests that ‘entities that are ignited or sparked…can include an individual’s actions but more likely to be wars and other mass events.’ The spark stone along with other equipment that Franklin’s mother gave him for his and Jackson’s journey had been in his possession through the novel. When Jackson left Franklin for Ferrytown, he left the spark stone with Franklin. (Crace 14) The spark stone was one of the possessions that Franklin had decided to keep when he left the Pesthouse and Margaret decides to make use of it, ‘[s]he found the spark stone and the pouch of tinder,’ (Crace 104) When Franklin is held captive and Margaret decides to continue the journey in pursuit of Franklin, she chooses to keep ‘her fishing net, one of Franklin’s knives, his spark stone…’ (Crace 131) Up until her arrival to shelter at the Ark, she chooses to keep ‘her comb and hairbrush, her spark stone’ and her scarf. When Margaret and Franklin escape the rustlers together she realizes that she had left all the items by the bed, the items which are her only ‘remnant of her youth in Ferrytown.’ (Crace 229) Franklin realizes that without a spark stone, he will still be able to make a fire since he had been able to do that when he was young. (Crace 245)

A changed state of fire, for example, fire burning out into smoke is a ‘metaphorical extension of prototypical causation.’ This is a state from being conceptualized as one form to have a change of state and therefore manipulates into an emerging ‘new form and function.’ This change, often conceptualized as an ‘emergence metaphor,’ creates direct manipulation emerging directly to cause an event or state. From the absence of smoke, Margaret could sense right away that there was something different in Ferrytown. She notices that ‘[t]here was hardly any hearth smoke for a start…she would have expected to see the flames of braziers and courtyard lanterns,’ (Crace 58) Resonating the fact that at this time of day, there should be smoke, she came to a conclusion that the residents of Ferrytown had the flux because of ‘the almost empty roads, the stillness and the absence of smoke.’ (Crace 60) Fireplaces being used in homes are considered a norm. If not in use, that means that something has gone awry. Smoke exhibits the sign of life. Franklin ‘hoped for lights and smoke or any other evidence of habitation’ but was disappointed because ‘[t]here was not any smoke, … No voices. No tools. No creaking evidence of life.’ (Crace 292) Franklin and Margaret is constantly looking for signs of other inhabitants but other than themselves, even a ‘distant curl of smoke from a chimney … was out of sight.’ (Crace 173) Smoke can be used as a ‘causal metonymy’ for fire ‘because it is caused by it.’ Several times, Franklin and Margaret uses smoke to indicate whether there were people residing in the houses. Margaret looked for signs of a ‘woman or a child’ but ‘[t]here wasn’t even any smoke. For all she knew, all these places might be abandoned’ (Crace 161) Trying to get away as far from the rustlers as they can, Margaret and Franklin rode until she could see ‘no sign of any roofs or any smoke.’ (Crace 227)

Smoke from the fire is also protective as Franklin believes that ‘[t]he Pesthouse smoke would protect him from her contagion.’ (Crace 51) Franklin sits near the fire enough to prevent himself from catching Margaret’s flux in the Pesthouse. The color of black also comes from the remains that are left in ashes after a fire. The remains of the buildings and houses of Ferrytown after Franklin and Margaret returns from the sea were ‘scorched and blackened beyond recognition. Even the earth and the flagstones in the compounds were charred. The town was colorless.’ (Crace 301) Margaret had ‘ash memories’. She recollected the Baptists teachings that metal brings about death but the only remains of Ferrytown were ‘few scraps of metal implements she’d recognized.’ She noted that God had definitely not answer to Ferrytown since ‘[m]etal was the only thing that God had not reduced to ash.’ (Crace 304)

In cases where the fire is connected to color, some features of fire are associated with ‘warm colours being “predominantly red or yellow in tone,’ thus linking fire to the summer season. In Never Let Me Go, most of Katy’s memories of Hailsham and the cottage sets in the summer. She loved ‘those meandering talks we had, through the summer to the early autumn, sitting on that balcony together, talking about Hailsham, the Cottages, whatever else drifted into our thoughts.’ (Ishiguro 16) Hailsham students would ‘hang about out on the veranda’ (Ishiguro 6) in the summer and most conversations that Kathy remembers happens during summer, ‘[w]e were having this conversation on a fine summer evening…’ (Ishiguro 16) The last summer that Hailsham students spent together Kathy recollected their habits of listening to music together on the Walkmans, ‘[t]hat summer, right up until the warm weather faded, we developed this odd way of listening to music together in the fields…I can’t remember that last summer without thinking about those afternoons around the Walkmans.’ (Ishiguro 94) Kathy felt that Tommy has changed during

her last summer in Hailsham,

‘Tommy’s whole act fell apart that summer, but there were times when I got seriously worried he was turning back into the awkward and changeable figure from several years before.’ (Ishiguro 84)

As summer approaches, she ‘began to feel more and more the odd one out.’ (Ishiguro 89) Tommy’s forth donation happens towards the end of summer, ‘with Tommy getting stronger, and the possibility of notice for his fourth donation growing ever more distinct, we knew we couldn’t keep putting things off indefinitely’ (c 20) When summer ends Kathy narrates that ‘the route was challenging. Within a month the weather would have mugged the final stragglers, and the roads and ways would be empty again, untrodden till spring.’ (Ishiguro 159) For Kathy, summer is an ideal season to enjoy time with others. Upon seeing benches on the cliff’s edge facing the sea she commented that in the summer it was a good location ‘for an ordinary family to sit and eat a picnic.’ (Ishiguro 159) She contemplates on how she or any of the other clones will have an ordinary life. Kathy’s story can be seen as the evolution from the beginning of summer towards fall. Fall is associated with change or loss. The leaves fall from the trees, just like how each donor will eventually complete.

As with water, fire is destructive. Fire and smoke destroyed the venom of the flux in Margaret’s body. All her body hair was thrown into the fire which was believed to end the spreading of the flux so that ‘Margaret would survive her illness, as trees survive the winter if they shed their leaves.’ (Crace 21) Flames from the fire can be frightening. When Franklin set fire on Ferrytown he believed that ‘[t]he flames would allow the passage of the dead.’ He compared this to the ‘past burning at their backs.’ (Crace 82) Once Franklin and Margaret cross the bridge, he cut it not to stop the fire from spreading to the side they crossed to, but ‘[h]e meant to cut himself off from his own timidity.’ (Crace 92)

In conclusion, for Ishiguro and Crace, the imagery and metaphors of fire act as a product for the characters’ consciousness. It displays their psychological development figuratively. Different forms of water are shaped around maturation of characters and their journey through life. Water imagery presents growth and regeneration of the characters. Although fire is suggested to be destructive, more often than not, fire represents warmth and comfort within a home and strengthens relationships between characters. On the other hand, where water is presumed to convey freedom and hope, it is exhibited as barriers and damaging in both novels. Though both novels are set in different settings, the imagery of water and fire remains parallel and continues to influence the characters depicted in the texts.