What Does It Mean To Be Human — “Klara and The Sun”

Simple yet symbolic cover for this story

Please do notice that my stories are not a plot overview … so have a read!

It’s been a few readings since I’ve picked up something that presents a challenge to me as a reader. So your not going to be surprised if I decided to return to the doom and crush of reading a book from the Nobel Prize in Literature. Rather than focusing on the aspects of an interesting plotline and contour to the story, the context which is established in this novel is more influential and it constantly encircles itself in this area. These types of stories will help us perceive characters more than simply people with faces and bodies but with feelings and emotions. This is actually a major theme that is dwelt on in this novel. It would be definitely worthwhile to explore on the “great work of literature”, Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Klara and the Sun”.

This book was recently published this year, on 2 March 2021. This really fits the time we’re living in, not in the way that there is a global virus dominating our lives, but the fact that technology is rising and far-reaching. We don’t know the extent to which it will manipulate us and it will control the ways that we live and exist. We could conclude that “Klara and the Sun” is an indictment against the intervention of technology. It also teaches us that the human is unique from something else and that it can never be effectively copied exactly. There are some impactful quotes that represent these — and although you may have not read the book, it’s still quite pertinent. I’ll now categorise and discuss these themes in the novel.

Indictment Against Interventive Technology

This novel opens with a normal landscape of a typical first world country that is normally running that is somewhere such as you would see in stable European countries, America or Australia. Taxis zooming, pedestrians, dogs running with owners, Tow-Away-Signs. Except that he presents you with a new set of vocabulary (max 5 words) that are simply part of the new lifestyle he has constructed. AFs are clearly not humans, and are rather robots that still have feelings and understanding for nature and appreciation. They come in models and ranges and they are always constantly improved. Klara is one of these AFs who are on display in a store in a busy city. She either gets the view from the window, or the alcove, or one of those shelves at the back of the store.

What is the purpose of the AFs? They are to be a companion for the teenagers that will buy them and will constantly be at their side and assist in the household. However it’s simply sad when you realise that it’s the teenagers that choose the AF, not the AF who choses the teenagers.

Manager: “I supported you this time. But I won’t do it again. It’s for the customer to choose the AF, never the other way round.”

And Klara observes this as she looks out on the street, while being on display that not every AF is happy with their teenager — she once describes one treading 2m behind their teenager in despair. As for Klara she also managed to choose the teenager she would live with. But the manager warned her that this would only happen once. Off she goes with her new teenager Josie. There are of course fears that Klara is involved in (Josie won’t be kind teenager, she will ignore me, lock me up in a house).

I was surprised to learn that Klara is actually such a kind being although she was a robot. She is constantly putting Josie, Mother and Housemaid Melania in front of herself. At first you suspect that she is programmed to be like this, but apart from her immense knowledge she is always observant of her surroundings. We need to address the fact that although she is kind, I believe Ishiguro has designed and positions his novel so that there is that constant question for us to think about even after you read the novel: “Will there ever be a point in humanity when we can accept robots without doubt?” My opinion to that question sits on the fence — some particular models like Klara do have that ability, although they are practically not living and do not require the human heart.

This was what the Manager said to Mother when they were inquiring whether Klara was fit for:

Manager: “Klara has so many unique qualities, we could be here all morning. But if I had to emphasize just one, well, it would have to be her appetite for observing and learning. Her ability to absorb and blend everything she sees around her is quite amazing. As a result, she now has the most sophisticated understanding of any AF in this store, B3s not excepted.”

Human is Unique or Not?

There is one point in the story that we find out that Josie is like her deceased sister Sal — she has an illness that can potentially cause her death. Poor Mother knows that she cannot go through another death of her daughter so this is when he finally makes use of the theme of “What does it mean to be human”. Klara was originally seen to be use for Josie’s entertainment and overall convenience. But eventually we learn that Klara would be a robot that would be suitable to duplicate Josie. Mother’s true intentions were so that Klara could duplicate Josie’s behaviour in case exactly entirely. This revelation is at the end of the book, however we see this at the start of the novel!

Mother: ‘Good. Josie, I want you to keep absolutely silent. Now, Klara. My daughter’s voice. You heard her speak just now. How would you say her voice was pitched?’

Klara: ‘Her conversational voice has a range between A-flat above middle C to C octave.’

What’s ironic is that Klara herself believes that she cannot fulfill Josie entirely and that treatment is necessary — this being making the sun happy. This is what Paul, Klara’s father says to Klara about replication Josie.

Paul: “But then suppose you stepped into one of those rooms,’ he said, ‘and discovered another room within it. And inside that room, another room still. Rooms within rooms within rooms. Isn’t that how it might be, trying to learn Josie’s heart? No matter how long you wandered through those rooms, wouldn’t there always be others you’d not yet entered?”

Before I wrap it up, there is a term that I’d like to mention, because this may confuse you. Klara is a robot like person meaning that she doesn’t have normal vision. My interpretation of “box” is that they are the little eye things you see in games. Here are some photos:

That’s all folks!

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