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Spark Notes
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954; his family immigrated to
England in 1960. During his childhood in England, Ishiguro always thought his
family would someday return to Japan, though they never did. When the family
left Japan, his close relationship with his grandfather was abruptly severed. His
grandfather's absence especially affected Ishiguro because his grandfather died a
few years later.
Ishiguro was schooled to the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University
of East Anglia. After graduating, his rise to fame was amazingly rapid. His first
novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982) won the Winifred Holtby Prize from the Royal
Society of Literature. The novel discusses the postwar memories of Etsuko, a
Japanese woman trying to deal with the suicide of her daughter Keiko. His second
novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), won the Whitbread Book of the Year
in 1986 and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. This story chronicles the life of
an elderly man named Masuji Ono, who looks back over his career as a political
artist of Japanese imperialist propaganda. The Remains of the Day (1988),
Ishiguro's third novel, won him the Booker Prize.
The Remains of the Day is commonly branded a post-imperialist work, as its
protagonist harbours nostalgia for the English way of life before World War II,
when Britain still held colonies all over the world. However, this fact is merely
tangential to the novel, which is primarily a story of human—not political—
regret. Furthermore, though many of Ishiguro's works are branded as postcolonial novels, The Remains of the Day again does not fit into this classification:
Ishiguro's Japanese heritage is not relevant to the plot nor to the narrative.
Indeed, the body of Ishiguro's work defies simplistic classification. Even in his
other post-war narratives set in Japan, his own heritage is much less important
than the larger human concerns that the novels raise. This characteristic is,
perhaps, reflective of the fact that Ishiguro felt himself neither English nor
Japanese. His constructions of each society are those of one who felt himself an
outsider in some sense. Each of Ishiguro's novels describe an individual's
memories of how his or her personal life was changed by the Second World War,
and the regret and sorrow that reminiscences have the power to awaken.
Among his primary influences, Ishiguro cites Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Kafka. He
also admires the Czech exile writer Milan Kundera, the Irish exile writer Samuel
Beckett, and the American exile writer Henry James. Though Ishiguro never
referred to himself as an "exile," this theme of exile or expatriation plays a role in
many of his works.
Plot Overview
The Remains of the Day is told in the first-person narration of an English butler
named Stevens. In July 1956, Stevens decides to take a six- day road trip to the
West Country of England—a region to the west of Darlington Hall, the house in
which Stevens resides and has worked as a butler for thirty-four years. Though
the house was previously owned by the now-deceased Lord Darlington, by 1956,
it has come under the ownership of Mr. Farraday, an American gentleman.
Stevens likes Mr. Farraday, but fails to interact well with him socially: Stevens is a
circumspect, serious person and is not comfortable joking around in the manner
Mr. Farraday prefers. Stevens terms this skill of casual conversation "bantering";
several times throughout the novel Stevens proclaims his desire to improve his
bantering skill so that he can better please his current employer.
The purpose of Stevens's road trip is to visit Miss Kenton, the former
housekeeper of Darlington Hall who left twenty years earlier to get married.
Stevens has received a letter from Miss Kenton, and believes that her letter hints
that her marriage is failing and that she might like to return to her post as
housekeeper. Ever since World War II has ended, it has been difficult to find
enough people to staff large manor houses such as Darlington Hall.
Much of the narrative is comprised of Stevens's memories of his work as a butler
during and just after World War II. He describes the large, elaborate dinner
parties and elegant, prominent personages who come to dine and stay at
Darlington Hall in those times. It is gradually revealed—largely through other
characters' interactions with Stevens, rather than his own admissions—that Lord
Darlington, due to his mistaken impression of the German agenda prior to World
War II, sympathized with the Nazis. Darlington even arranged and hosted dinner
parties between the German and British heads of state to help both sides come to
a peaceful understanding. Stevens always maintains that Lord Darlington was a
perfect gentleman, and that it is a shame his reputation has been soiled simply
because he misunderstood the Nazis' true aims.
During the trip Stevens also recounts stories of his contemporaries—butlers in
other houses with whom he struck up friendships. Stevens's most notable
relationship by far, however, is his long-term working relationship with Miss
Kenton. Though Stevens never says so outright, it appears that he harbors
repressed romantic feelings for Miss Kenton. Despite the fact that the two
frequently disagree over various household affairs when they work together, the
disagreements are childish in nature and mainly serve to illustrate the fact that
the two care for each other. At the end of the novel, Miss Kenton admits to Stevens
that her life may have turned out better if she had married him. After hearing
these words, Stevens is extremely upset. However, he does not tell Miss Kenton—
whose married name is Mrs. Benn—how he feels. Stevens and Miss Kenton part,
and Stevens returns to Darlington Hall, his only new resolve being to perfect the
art of bantering to please his new employer.
As Salman Rushdie comments, The Remains of the Day is "a story both beautiful
and cruel." It is a story primarily about regret: throughout his life, Stevens puts
his absolute trust and devotion in a man who makes drastic mistakes. In the
totality of his professional commitment, Stevens fails to pursue the one woman
with whom he could have had a fulfilling and loving relationship. His prim mask
of formality cuts him off from intimacy, companionship, and understanding.
Character List
Stevens - The protagonist and narrator of The Remains of the Day. Stevens is the
epitome of perfect English butler. He is meticulous and proper in everything he
does, and his manner of speaking is always formal and refined.
Miss Kenton - The head housekeeper of Darlington Hall until just before World
War II. Miss Kenton, like Stevens, excels at her job, but she is less formal and
more personable than Stevens. She and Stevens often bicker about household
Lord Darlington - The nobleman and proprietor of Darlington Hall for whom
Stevens worked until Lord Darlington passed away. Lord Darlington is a
traditional English gentleman who has honorable instincts and old-fashioned
opinions. His manner of speaking, like Stevens's, is formal and refined.
Mr. Farraday - The new owner of Darlington Hall after Lord Darlington's death,
and, as such, Stevens's new employer. Mr. Farraday is a very easygoing American
gentleman, and frequently jokes around with Stevens, who does not know how to
handle such "banter." Mr. Farraday does not figure very prominently in the novel.
Stevens's father - A world-class butler for many years who comes to work at
Darlington Hall when he is already in his seventies and struggling with arthritis.
Mr. William Stevens and his son only communicate very formally until the night
the elder Stevens is on his deathbed. Stevens's father is extremely dedicated to his
work as a butler; Stevens often holds him up as an example of what a "great
butler" should be.
Mr. Reginald Cardinal - Lord Darlington's godson. After Reggie Cardinal's father
passes away, Lord Darlington treats the young man as his kin, though their
political views differ widely. Cardinal is a journalist, and it infuriates him that the
Nazis have used Lord Darlington's noble instincts to turn him into a pawn for
their fascist regime. Cardinal is the one who tells Stevens directly that the Nazis
have been using Lord Darlington—Cardinal is amazed that Stevens has not
noticed himself. Cardinal is later killed in the war, in Belgium.
Sir David Cardinal - A close friend of Lord Darlington's, and Reginald Cardinal's
father. During the March 1923 conference that Lord Darlington hosts, Cardinal
makes a speech saying that the German reparation payments should be stopped,
and that the French troops should be withdrawn from the Ruhr region.
Mr. Marshall, Mr. Lane, and Mr. Graham - Butlers in other distinguished houses
during Lord Darlington's time. When any of these men came to Darlington Hall,
Stevens could look forward to a pleasant chat by the fire, in which they would
discuss various problems they were having at work, or larger questions such as
debating the definition of "dignity." Throughout the novel, Stevens constantly holds
these men up as paragons of all that a good butler should be.
Herr Ribbentrop - The German Ambassador during World War II, who makes
several trips to Darlington Hall. Herr Ribbentrop uses Lord Darlington to exert
Nazi influence on British heads of state.
Mr. Lewis - An American gentleman who visited Darlington Hall for the March
1923 conference. He is a congenial man who smiles often. On the last night of the
conference he makes a speech denouncing Lord Darlington as an "amateur"
whose noble instincts are out of date in the modern world.
Monsieur Dupont - A Frenchman with a small amount of political influence in
his home country. M. Dupont is present at the same March 1923 conference as
Mr. Lewis. M. Dupont constantly badgers Stevens to get him more bandages for
his feet, which are sore from sightseeing.
Herr Karl-Heinz Bremann - A German friend of Lord Darlington who commits
suicide after World War I, presumably due to the dire postwar economic
conditions in Germany.
Dr. Carlisle - A gentleman in Moscombe who gives Stevens a ride back to his car
the morning after he stays at the Taylors. Although the other residents of
Moscombe think Stevens is some sort of lord because of all the famous people he
has met, Dr. Carlisle correctly guesses that Stevens is a manservant.
Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield - An American couple who are friends of Mr. Farraday and
come to visit Darlington Hall. When Mrs. Wakefield asks Stevens if he worked for
Lord Darlington, he denies it, raising doubts in her mind about the legitimacy of
Mr. Farraday's purchase of the mansion.
Dr. Meredith - The doctor who comes to Darlington Hall the first time Stevens's
father falls ill, and again when Stevens's father dies.
Ruth and Sarah - Two Jewish maids at Darlington Hall whom Lord Darlington
orders Stevens to fire simply because of their religion.
Lisa - The maid hired to alleviate the staff shortage after the dismissal of Ruth
and Sarah. Lisa applies for the position with dubious references, causing Stevens
to be wary of her professional promise. Though Lisa improves quickly under the
Miss Kenton's tutelage, she eventually elopes with the footman.
Sir Oswald Mosley - The leader of the British Union of Fascists, who visited
Darlington Hall several times.
Mrs. Carolyn Barnet - Another member of the British Union of Fascists. Mrs.
Barnet is very glamorous and intelligent. Stevens contends that it is due to her
influence on Lord Darlington that he fires the Jewish maids.
Lady Astor - A member of the "blackshirt" organization (British Union of
Fascists) and a Nazi sympathizer who used to visit Darlington Hall.
Mr. John Silver - The employer Stevens's father's served before coming to work
at Darlington Hall.
Lord Halifax - The Foreign Secretary of Britain during the period culminating in
World War II.
Lloyd George - The Prime Minister of Britain during the end of World War I and
the early postwar period. Mr. George attended a conference in Switzerland to
review the Treaty of Versailles in 1923, prompting Lord Darlington to precede the
conference with a gathering of dignitaries at Darlington hall several months
Winston Churchill - The Prime Minister of Britain during World War II. Mr.
Churchill visited Darlington Hall on several occasions before he became Prime
George Bernard Shaw - A famous playwright who came to dine at Darlington
Hall, and who examined the finely polished silver when he sat at the dinner table.
Mr. Taylor - A man Stevens runs into when he is crossing a field, in search of help,
after his car runs out of gas near the town of Moscombe. Mr. Taylor insists that
Stevens accept the hospitality of him and his wife, Mrs. Taylor, for the night.
Harry Smith - A resident of Moscombe who is a passionate politician. During
dinner at the Taylors' house, Harry tells Stevens that he believes that people
exhibit dignity only when they accept their responsibility to vote and strongly
exercise their own opinions.
Mrs. Clements - The current cook in Darlington Hall.
Mrs. Mortimer - The cook in Darlington Hall when Lord Darlington was alive.
Rosemary and Agnes - Two girls Stevens has recently hired to work at
Darlington Hall.
Stevens, the head butler at Darlington Hall, is the protagonist and narrator of The
Remains of the Day. A mercilessly precise man, his relentless pursuit of "dignity"
leads him to constantly deny his own feelings throughout the novel. For Stevens,
"dignity" involves donning a mask of professional poise at all times. Although
there is merit in the ideas of decorum and loyalty, Stevens takes these concepts to
an extreme. He never tells anyone what he is truly feeling, and he gives his
absolute trust to Lord Darlington—a man who himself makes some very poor
choices in his life. Although throughout much of the story it seems that Stevens is
quite content to have served Lord Darlington—believing that Darlington was
doing noble things at the time—Stevens expresses deep regret at the end of the
story for failing to cultivate both intimate relationships and his own personal
viewpoints and experiences.
Stevens is strongly influenced by his father. He constantly speaks of his father as
though the older man perfectly exemplifies the quality of dignity, telling stories of
his father's brilliantly self-effacing execution of his duties as butler. It is clear that
Stevens wishes to be like his father, and, indeed, he succeeds only too well.
Though Stevens is clearly a very competent butler who is always gracious and
precise, his inheritance of his father's impossibly formal interactions with other
people ends up limiting his personal growth and relationships. The interactions
between Stevens and his father are, for the most part, completely devoid of any
sign of familial warmth. If Stevens's relationship with even a family member is so
distant, we can easily imagine how difficult it is for him to break away from codes
of repressed formality.
With Stevens, Ishiguro uses two levels of narrative voice in one character: Stevens
is alternately a narrator who is superior to the story he tells, and a narrator who
is a part of, or within, the story he tells. Stevens at once displays himself as both a
paragon of virtue and a victim of historical or cultural circumstances beyond his
own control. In this second role, he manages to cultivate our sympathy. His extranarrative role crumbles at the end of the story when he realizes that the façade he
has cultivated is a false one. Ishiguro subtly increases the amount of doubt that
Stevens expresses about his past actions, so that by the end of the story, a fuller
picture of Stevens's regret and sadness has emerged.
Miss Kenton
Miss Kenton is the former head housekeeper of Darlington Hall; she and
Stevens's father were hired at the same time. Miss Kenton is Stevens's equal in
efficiency and intelligence, but she has a warmth and personality that Stevens
never displays. When Miss Kenton first starts working at Darlington Hall, for
example, she brings flowers into Stevens's austere room to try to brighten it up.
Stevens summarily rejects Miss Kenton's attempts to introduce flowers. Indeed,
the two disagree over household affairs with great frequency. Initially, these
battles of wits only seem to highlight the affection the two feel for one another,
but as the years progress, Miss Kenton grows increasingly tired of Stevens's
nagging and his unwillingness to admit any more personal feelings, even though
this is the only way he knows how to communicate with her. She finally leaves
Darlington Hall to marry someone else when it becomes clear that Stevens will
never be able to let himself express his feelings for her. Miss Kenton, unlike
Stevens, does not substitute Lord Darlington's values for her own; she makes
decisions based on her own thoughts and beliefs. In this sense, she displays more
dignity and personal integrity than Stevens ever does.
Lord Darlington
Lord Darlington is the former owner of Darlington Hall. He dies three years
before the present day of Stevens's narrative. Darlington is an old- fashioned
English gentleman who feels regret and guilt about the harshness of England's
treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. This
guilt is compounded by the fact that a close friend of Darlington's, Herr Bremann,
commits suicide after World War I. This event, in conjunction with the dire
economic situation Lord Darlington witnesses on his visits to Germany, inspires
him to take action. In the early 1920s, he organizes conferences at Darlington
Hall to allow prominent Europeans to meet and discuss ways to revise the Treaty
of Versailles; later, he invites British and German heads of state to Darlington Hall
in an attempt to peacefully prevent the Second World War. All the while, however,
Darlington never understands the true agenda of the Nazis, who use him to
further Nazi aims in Britain. After World War II, Darlington is labeled a Nazi
sympathizer and a traitor, which ruins his reputation and leaves him a broken
and disillusioned old man at his death. Stevens always speaks highly of Darlington
throughout the novel; he says it is a shame that people came to have such a
terribly mistaken view of such a noble man.
Dignity and Greatness
The compound qualities of "dignity" and "greatness" pervade Stevens's thoughts
throughout The Remains of the Day. Early in the novel, Stevens discusses the
qualities that make a butler "great," claiming that "dignity" is the essential
ingredient of greatness. He illustrates the concept with a number of examples,
finally concluding that dignity "has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to
abandon the professional being he inhabits." Stevens develops this exclusively
professional mindset only too well. Because he always dons the mask of an
imperturbable butler, he necessarily denies—and therefore leaves unexpressed—
his own personal feelings and beliefs. Stevens's pursuit of dignity in his
professional life completely takes over his personal life as well. By suppressing
his individuality in this manner, he never achieves true intimacy with another
person. The fact that his view of dignity is so misguided is sad; we can tell that
Stevens has wanted great things, but that he has gone about attaining them the
wrong way.
Although Stevens never overtly discusses what he thinks "regret" may mean, it
becomes clear, when he breaks down and cries at the end of the novel, that he
wishes he had acted differently with regard to Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington.
The tone of the novel is often wistful or nostalgic for the past; as the story goes
on, the tone deepens into one of regret as Stevens reevaluates his past actions
and decisions, and finds them unwise. Miss Kenton also openly says at the end of
the novel that she often regrets the choices she has made in her own life. The
overwhelming sadness of the ending is only slightly lifted by Stevens's resolve to
perfect the art of bantering—it seems a meager consolation considering the
irreparable losses he has experienced in life.
Literal and figurative loss abounds for almost every character in The Remains of
the Day. Stevens loses his father, Miss Kenton, and eventually his hope of
convincing Miss Kenton to return to Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton loses her aunt,
her only relative; and loses Stevens when she leaves to marry a man she does not
love. Lord Darlington loses two friends, Herr Bremann and Sir David Cardinal, and
his godson, Reginald Cardinal, when they die. Furthermore, Darlington loses his
reputation and some degree of his own sanity by the end of his life. Reginald
Cardinal loses his father to death and his godfather, Lord Darlington, to Nazi
brainwashing. There are both literal and figurative deaths: deaths of loved ones,
and figurative deaths of dreams and ideals.
Bantering provides an element of lightness and humor in the narrative, yet it is
still one that ultimately demonstrates the degree to which Stevens has become an
anachronism. Stevens repeatedly tells of various failed attempts at bantering, and
muses over why Americans like his new employer, Mr. Farraday, like to speak in
such a casual and seemingly meaningless manner. By the end of the novel,
Stevens cedes that perhaps bantering can be a way to exhibit warmth, and he
resolves to try again with renewed zeal. The fact that Stevens uses the word
"bantering" instead of "joking around" or "sense of humor" in itself shows how
old-fashioned and formal he is.
Stevens's Rhetorical Manner
A recurrent structural motif in the novel is the rhetorical method Stevens uses to
make his points. His primary manner of discussing a new topic is to pose a
question and then answer it himself, incorporating into his answers a number of
responses to anticipated counter-arguments. As rhetoric is a form of art and
debate closely associated with England, this mode of discourse lends the novel
greater authority as one firmly grounded in English culture and tradition. The
rhetorical mode of discourse is intended to convince its audience; indeed,
particularly in the early parts of the narrative, Stevens often succeeds in
conveying the illusion that he fully understands all sides of the issues he
discusses. As the novel progresses, however, we realize there are whole realms he
has failed to consider, rendering many of his assumptions and arguments much
weaker than they initially appear.
The English Landscape
The most notable symbols in The Remains of the Day are associated with people
and events, not with objects and colors. The English landscape that Stevens
admires near the beginning of his road trip is one such significant symbol, as we
see that Stevens applies the same standards of greatness to the landscape as he
does to himself. He feels that English landscape is beautiful due to its restraint,
calm, and lack of spectacle—the same qualities Stevens successfully cultivates in
his own life as a butler aspiring to "greatness." By the end of the novel, however,
Stevens is no longer certain that he has been wise to adhere to these values so
rigidly, to the exclusion open- mindedness, individuality, and love.
Stevens's Father Searching on the Steps
Stevens and Miss Kenton watch Stevens's father, after his fall on the steps,
practicing going up and down the steps. The elder Stevens searches the ground
surrounding the steps "as though," Miss Kenton writes in her letter, "he hoped to
find some precious jewel he had dropped there." The action of searching for
something that is irretrievably lost is an apt symbol for Stevens's road trip, and
indeed his life as a whole. Just as his father keeps his eyes trained on the ground,
Stevens keeps thinking over memories in his head as though they will give him
some clue as to how his values led him astray in life.
Giffen and Co.
The silver polish company in Mursden that is closing down is a symbol for the
obsolescence of Stevens's profession. Indeed, the butler is also almost entirely
obsolete by 1956. It is significant that Stevens knows all about the quality of the
silver polish, the houses in which it was used, and so on—though he knows an
incredible amount of detail about all things related to the maintenance of a great
household, his knowledge is no longer nearly as important as it once was. There is
no longer the demand that there once was in England for either silver polish or
butlers; they are a part of a bygone era.
Prologue: July 1956 / Darlington Hall
Stevens, the head butler at Darlington Hall in England, discusses the journey upon
which he is about to embark—a journey that his employer, Mr. Farraday, has
suggested Stevens take. Mr. Farraday is going back to the United States for five
weeks, and he tells Stevens that he should take the opportunity to get out and see
a bit of the country.
Stevens does not initially take Mr. Farraday's suggestion seriously. However, upon
receiving a letter from Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall,
Stevens decides to go. Stevens feels that Miss Kenton's letter contains "distinct
hints" of her desire to return to Darlington Hall as an employee. In the past few
months, Stevens has been a little slipshod in his work. He attributes his errors to
the fact that the house is understaffed, so he plans to ask Miss Kenton if she would
like to return to work at Darlington Hall again. Currently, only four people staff
the entire manor house: Stevens, Mrs. Clements, and two hired girls, Rosemary
and Agnes. Mr. Farraday does not wish to keep on a larger staff, because he does
not entertain guests nearly as frequently as the house's previous owner, Lord
Darlington, did.
Stevens begins choosing the proper attire for the journey. He consults a road atlas
and several volumes of a series of travel books titled The Wonder of England. The
last time Stevens looked over these volumes was twenty years ago, when he
wished to obtain an idea of the region where Mrs. Kenton was moving when she
left Darlington Hall to get married.
Once Stevens has decided to take the trip, he broaches the idea again with Mr.
Farraday when he brings his employer his afternoon tea. Stevens tells Farraday
that the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall resides in the West Country, but
he then pauses, realizing he has not discussed with Mr. Farraday the idea of
bringing on another staff member. Mr. Farraday teases Stevens for having a "ladyfriend," which makes the extremely proper butler feel very awkward. Mr. Farraday
of course gives his consent for Stevens to go on the trip, and reiterates his offer to
"foot the bill for the gas."
Stevens then muses about the joking around that is so characteristic of Mr.
Farraday's conversational style. Stevens thinks that the American form of
"bantering" is somewhat vulgar, but that he must endeavor to participate in it, or
his employer will see it as a form of negligence on Stevens's part. Stevens goes on
to say that the matter of bantering is more difficult because he cannot discuss it
with his cohorts anymore—in past times, other butlers would accompany their
employers to Darlington Hall, and Stevens would have the opportunity to discuss
various work dilemmas with them. Now, however, there are fewer great butlers,
and Stevens rarely sees those that remain, as Farraday does not frequently
entertain guests from other houses.
Until the last few pages of The Remains of the Day, the entire narrative is written
in retrospect. In this section, Stevens goes back in time and tells us all of the
events leading up to his impending departure. In almost every section of the novel,
the narrative begins in the present: Stevens briefly reminisces over the events of
the present day, and then returns to a more lengthy discussion of events from the
past. Fluctuations within the narrative between past and present allow Stevens to
present us with fragmentary information to which he returns later in the
narrative to explain more fully.
The narrative is complex because it incorporates both Stevens's knowledge of and
his blindness to the events he recounts; we is strictly limited to knowing only
what Stevens wishes to disclose. The narrative style is extremely discursive and
unhurried, and incredibly deliberate and detailed.
From the narrative style we immediately see that Stevens is a very proper,
meticulous person. His attention to detail is extraordinary; he even lists all the
various different sorts of traveling clothes that he might need for the journey.
Though Stevens repeatedly says that his trip is professional in nature, we see
through his words that, on a personal level, he very much looks forward to seeing
Miss Kenton again. Indeed, it is the arrival of her letter that incites his desire to
take the trip. The fact that Stevens used to look at books to get a clue as to Miss
Kenton's new home once she left Darlington Hall also demonstrates that she is
constantly in his thoughts, even when she is no longer working with him.
In the novel, Ishiguro presents two ways of being English that are largely at odds
with each other. Stevens embodies older codes of decorum—gracious, practical,
and undemonstrative. The present culture is less concerned with what is proper,
and more concerned with what is efficient. While the older England scorned
American culture and politics to some degree, the more current England
embraces these concepts, causing a division within the country between two very
different viewpoints. Stevens's discussion of "bantering" demonstrates his
entrenchment in old-fashioned values and judgments. In order to banter in the
manner of Mr. Farraday, Stevens would have to stop taking himself so seriously—
and it is difficult to imagine a more serious character than Stevens. Stevens is far
too afraid of offending Mr. Farraday to ever be relaxed enough to joke with him;
he literally thinks that he is inferior to Mr. Farraday because he is a servant and
Mr. Farraday is his master. Although the strict hierarchy that used to characterize
the ordering of English manor houses has faded away in favor of more democratic
views, Stevens has not adapted to a climate in which he might joke with his
employer as an equal.
Day One–Evening / Salisbury
Stevens spends the first night of his trip in a guesthouse in Salisbury. He looks
back over the day. He describes the excitement he felt during the moment that
morning, after the first twenty minutes of driving, when the landscape was no
longer familiar to him. At that moment, Stevens stops the car to stretch his legs. A
man relaxing at the bottom of a hill suggests that Stevens walk up a trail to the
top of the hill to see the view, which the stranger claims, is unparalleled in all of
England. The view at the top is indeed beautiful, and Stevens feels "a heady flush
of anticipation" for the adventures he is sure await him.
In the afternoon, Stevens arrives at the guesthouse in Salisbury. At around four
o'clock, he takes a walk in the streets of the town for a few hours. He visits a
beautiful cathedral and, though he is generally impressed with the city, the view
that remains with him is the view of the English countryside that he saw that
morning. Stevens thinks that the sort of subtle beauty typified by the English
countryside is best captured by the term "greatness." The landscape is great
precisely because it lacks any "drama" or "spectacle"; the beauty is "calm" and has
"a sense of restraint." These thoughts lead Stevens to discuss the qualities that
constitute a "great" butler.
The Hayes Society, an elite society of butlers in the 1920s and 1930s, claimed that
any butler applying for membership to the Society must possess "a dignity in
keeping with his position." Through a set of examples, Stevens goes on to define
what he believes this notion "dignity" encompasses.
Stevens's first illustration of dignity involves a story Stevens's father used to tell
about a butler who was working for his employer in India. One day, while the
employer was entertaining guests in his drawing room, the butler went into the
dining room and found that there was a tiger under the table. After conferring
with his employer, the butler shot the animal, removed its carcass, cleaned up the
dining room, and returned to calmly inform his employer, "Dinner will be served
at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of
the recent occurrence by that time."
Stevens's next two examples of dignity are about his father, who was also a butler.
The first story tells how two drunken houseguests of his employer instructed
Stevens's father to drive them around in the car late one afternoon. Though the
men were loutish, Stevens's father behaved with immaculate courtesy until the
men began to make disparaging comments about his employer, Mr. John Silver. At
that point, Stevens's father pulled the car over and got out. He opened the back
door and stared silently at the two men until they realized they had been really
rude. They apologized, and he took them back home in perfect silence.
The third example is about an episode between Stevens's father and an Army
general. Stevens's father hated the general because, during the British campaign
in South Africa, the general's poor leadership and bad judgment in a particular
military maneuver resulted in the needless death of Stevens's older bother. The
very same general came as a guest to Mr. Silver's house, and Stevens's father
himself waited on the general for four days. Despite the personal pain it caused
him, Stevens's father did his duty so well that the general never had a clue as to
his true feelings, and left a generous tip. Stevens's father unhesitatingly donated
the tip money to charity.
Stevens sums up the ideas of "greatness" and "dignity" by saying that while some
people may certainly be more naturally inclined to be dignified, dignity is also a
quality that one can, and must, strive to attain.
The fact that Stevens thinks that a "restrained" landscape is beautiful is not at all
surprising, given that he himself is the embodiment of self-restraint. In this
regard, the landscape is a symbol of all that Stevens stands for. The qualities that
make the landscape "great" are the same qualities that Stevens thinks make a
butler "great."
Stevens has to stop and stretch his legs because he needs to take a moment to
adjust to seeing unfamiliar landscape. The fact that this unfamiliar landscape is
only a few minutes' drive from Darlington Hall demonstrates how enclosed
Stevens's entire existence has been; due to his incredible professional
commitment to Darlington Hall, he has hardly ever ventured into the outside
world. However, the fact that his travels are limited never bothers him; it would
never even occur to him to allow himself to feel discontentment at his
confinement, as he believes a butler's greatest fulfillment is the graceful
execution of his duties for his employer.
Stevens's story about the tiger describes a butler acting with perfect poise under
great duress. For Stevens and his father to feel dignified, they must, like that
butler in India, succeed in acting unruffled even in the hardest of circumstances.
The stories concerning the general and the reprimanding of the drunken guests
are similar: all three examples involve the butler's negation of his own feelings in
order to promote the harmony of his employer's household. This ideology is an
extension of the customs in English culture at that time: servants were commonly
thought of as inferior not just as workers, but as people. As inferior beings, they
were expected to exist solely to serve the household in which they worked.
Though Stevens provides these examples as an illustration of the triumph of the
butlers involved, we may just as readily view the stories as pathetic. According to
Stevens, a dignified butler is never able to freely express himself: the butler in the
tiger story cannot acknowledge the urgency and bizarreness of the situation, just
as Stevens's father must put up with annoying houseguests without ever
expressing his dislike for them. Butlers cannot choose whether or not to react to
any given situation; they are always expected to repress their own feelings.
Furthermore, the third example demonstrates Steven's father's loyalty to his
employer, Mr. John Silver, at the total exclusion of his own personal pain and
feelings. Stevens himself feels the same unquestioned loyalty for Lord Darlington.
Stevens's lengthy discussion of dignity may appear a bit extraneous to the plot, as
he presents it in this section as a sort of mental digression. However, Stevens's
concept of dignity is vital to understanding his motivation for his actions, both
past and present. The narrative has not, as of yet, raised any doubts as to the
wisdom of Stevens's beliefs. However, the lengthy explanation of these beliefs
suggests that they later become essential to decisions Stevens makes that shape
the plot of the story as a whole.
Day Two–Morning / Salisbury
The next morning, Stevens wakes up early and thinks again about Miss Kenton's
letter. Though her married name is Mrs. Benn, Stevens continues to refer to her
as Miss Kenton. She has recently moved out of Mr. Benn's house in Helston and is
staying with a friend in a nearby town. Stevens believes she feels lonely, and he
thinks the seeming nostalgia she expresses in her letter might indicate she might
like to return to Darlington Hall as housekeeper. Stevens quotes several passages
from the letter, some of which are very sad. One particular incident Miss Kenton
mentions in her letter leads Stevens into a long reminiscence about the past.
Miss Kenton and Stevens's father both came to work at Darlington Hall at the
same time, in the spring of 1922, because the former under-butler and
housekeeper of Darlington Hall had just eloped. Stevens thinks that such
abandonment of a professional post for marriage is irritating and thoroughly
unprofessional. He quickly adds that though Miss Kenton did likewise leave to get
married, she in no way falls into this irritating category, as she was always
extremely professional and worked at Darlington Hall for many years.
Miss Kenton and Stevens's father both arrived with excellent employment
histories to recommend them. However, Stevens's father was already in his
seventies, and he suffered from arthritis and other ailments. Over the first few
weeks of their employment, Miss Kenton points out several errors that Stevens's
father has committed: he has reversed two statues in the hall, and has left traces
of polish on the silver. Finally, Miss Kenton tells Stevens directly that his father
has perhaps been entrusted with more responsibility than a man of his age can
handle. Stevens tells Miss Kenton she is being foolish.
Two months later, Stevens's father falls down some steps on the lawn while
carrying a tray to Lord Darlington and two guests. Dr. Meredith suggests that
Stevens's father had been overworked. After this incident, Lord Darlington asks
Stevens to reduce his father's workload. Stevens goes to speak to his father, a
conversation that is awkwardly formal because the men have spoken less and
less over the past few years. Stevens's father does not show any emotion, and
says only that he fell because the steps on the lawn are crooked. That evening,
Miss Kenton and Stevens, looking out the window of the house, see Stevens's
father outside on the lawn, walking up and down the steps upon which he fell. His
eyes are trained on the ground, "as though," Miss Kenton recalls in her letter, "he
hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there."
Stevens moves to a discussion of an international conference held at Darlington
Hall in March 1923. Lord Darlington was a close friend of Herr Karl-Heinz
Bremann, a distinguished German soldier who fought in the Great War (World
War I). Lord Darlington was disturbed by the fact that the Treaty of Versailles
sent the economy of post-war Germany spiralling into ruin—he said it did
England "great discredit to treat a defeated foe like this."
A while later, Herr Bremann shot himself, most likely due to the dire conditions in
Germany. This tragedy prompted Lord Darlington to try to act. He assembled
leaders of a wide variety of nationalities and professions—diplomats, clergymen,
writers and thinkers—to think of ways to revise the Treaty of Versailles to
alleviate the situation in Germany. Though none of the dignitaries present were
government officials, they were prominent figures in their respective countries,
and Darlington hoped that they would influence people who held official offices
before Prime Minister Lloyd George and the heads of other European nations
reviewed the treaty again in Switzerland later that year.
During the period of hectic preparation for the conference, Lord Darlington gave
Stevens a bizarre extra task: he asked him to tell Sir David Cardinal's son, Mr.
Reginald Cardinal, who was twenty-three at the time and engaged to be married,
"the facts of life." Stevens makes two failed attempts to inform Reginald Cardinal
about sex, but due to the generally hectic state of the household, and the early
arrival of Monsieur Dupont, Stevens never accomplishes his task.
Some of the guests present at the conference include Sir David Cardinal, Monsieur
Dupont, an American named Mr. Lewis, and two German countesses. Before the
arrival of M. Dupont, Lord Darlington and Mr. Lewis engage in a discussion in
which Lord Darlington explains that the English find the present unforgiving
French attitude towards the Germans "despicable." M. Dupont is a very important
figure at the conference, as Lord Darlington was especially keen on convincing
him that the Treaty of Versailles should be made more lenient.
During the first morning of the conference, Stevens's father falls ill. Dr. Meredith
instructs Stevens to call him immediately if his father deteriorates at all. That
night, Stevens overhears a discussion between M. Dupont and Mr. Lewis, in which
Mr. Lewis tells Mr. Dupont that Lord Darlington called the French "despicable" and
"barbarous." The next day, the discussions among the guests are heated and
intense. Stevens keeps making trips upstairs to see his father throughout the day,
but his father is usually asleep. However, when Stevens goes upstairs the next
evening, a chambermaid wakes up Stevens's father. The elder Stevens asks his
son if everything is in hand downstairs, and then says that he is proud of him,
telling him that he has been "a good son." Stevens only replies that they can talk
in the morning, and that he is "glad Father is feeling better."
At dinner that night, the last night of the conference, M. Dupont stands up and
makes a speech. He says he has been impressed with the views presented and
will do what he can to further less vindictive opinions in France before the
upcoming conference in Switzerland. M. Dupont makes disparaging remarks
about Mr. Lewis, revealing that the American made nasty remarks about
everyone present, and closes by toasting Lord Darlington.
Mr. Lewis stands up in rebuttal, declaring that each dignitary present is a "naïve
dreamer" who has no idea how to make official decisions. He ends by toasting
"professionalism" and dismissing Lord Darlington as an "amateur." Lord
Darlington responds by saying that what Lewis deems amateurism is what most
people call honor. Darlington says that if deceit and cheating lie at the base of
professionalism, he has no desire to acquire such a quality. The dignitaries
thoroughly applaud this speech.
Miss Kenton suddenly comes in to tell Stevens that his father has become very ill.
He goes up to see his father, and Mrs. Mortimer, the cook, says that his father's
pulse has gone very weak. Stevens is distressed, but goes downstairs to ensure
that everything is taken care with the guests. Stevens goes into the smoking
room, and Mr. Reginald Cardinal and Lord Darlington both ask him if anything is
wrong, concerned that he appears to be crying. Stevens apologizes and says it is
merely the strain of a hard day.
Miss Kenton comes downstairs and tells Stevens that his father passed away four
minutes earlier. Stevens says that he will come up and see his father in a little
while, but that his father would have wanted him to take care of his duties as a
butler first. Stevens seats M. Dupont, who is complaining about his sore feet, in
the billiard room. Then Dr. Meredith arrives and tells Stevens that his father died
of a severe stroke. Stevens thanks the doctor, asks him to tend to M. Dupont, and
shows him downstairs.
Stevens feels that that night constituted a turn in his professional development
with regard to the level of dignity that he displayed in his capacity as a butler. He
feels that on that night he displayed a dignity that was "at least in some modest
degree" worthy of his father: "For all its sad associations, whenever I recall that
evening today, I find I do so with a large sense of triumph."
The fact that Stevens reads Miss Kenton's letter over and over is in itself a clear
indication that he misses her quite a bit: he is so eager to have any news of her
that he repeatedly peruses the letter for details. It also becomes clear how highly
Stevens thinks of Miss Kenton as a person when he says that she was an
exceptional professional who served Darlington Hall well for many years. We
begin to see that when Stevens cares about someone, he makes exceptions for
that person. Because Stevens thinks so highly of his father, he wants Miss Kenton
to address him as Mr. Stevens; though Stevens does not approve of people leaving
their stations to get married, he says that Miss Kenton did no discredit to her
career by doing so.
If another employee made errors such as misplacing statues or leaving polish on
the silver, Stevens would certainly call it to his attention, if not fire him. But
because it is his father who makes these mistakes, Stevens is reluctant to admit to
himself that his father is at fault. Stevens's reaction demonstrates that, despite the
fact that his interactions with his father often seem cold, Stevens really does love
and respect his father. Miss Kenton, however, persistently points out the errors
Stevens's father makes; she knows that Stevens is extremely strict about her own
mistakes, and she wants to make sure he applies his high standards fairly to all his
workers. Miss Kenton is also afraid that it is only a matter of time until Stevens's
father makes a more serious blunder.
Miss Kenton is proved right when Stevens's father falls while carrying the tray on
the steps. When Stevens must give his father a revised list of chores, it is as
difficult for him to do as it is for his father to hear. The fact that Stevens is so
formal even with members of his own family demonstrates how completely he
and his father are wedded to their jobs. Stevens clearly admires his father a great
deal, and in many ways aspires to be just like him, imitating his coldly
professional manner. When Stevens's father actually says that he is proud of
Stevens, and that Stevens is a good son, it is a surprising and moving moment, as
the two hardly ever speak.
The moment when Stevens and Miss Kenton see Stevens's father walking up and
down the steps is a painfully powerful one. It is as if the elder Stevens is
practicing or searching for something he has lost. This poignant image serves as
a symbol for much of the novel as a whole: just as Stevens's father, in his old age,
keeps examining the scene of his fall to see where he went wrong, so Stevens
constantly relives his memories in an attempt to justify a life he is afraid he may
have wasted.
Lord Darlington clearly has personal reasons for his sympathy to Germany.
Before World War I, he believes that he and Herr Bremann will be able to be
friends again after the war is over. After the war, however, the German economy
suffers a great deal. Lord Darlington obviously feels partly responsible for
Bremann's suicide, as England was part of the Allied forces that fought Germany
and drew up the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. The personal
tragedy of Bremann's death, in addition Darlington's first-hand glimpse of poverty
upon visiting Germany, motivates him to hold the March 1923 conference to
promote peace. Lord Darlington's motivations for helping Germany are indeed
noble ones, and show how easy it can be to be led astray in a certain time by
certain inclinations.
The fact that Stevens is enlisted to tell Reginald Cardinal the facts of life because
two other grown men are too uncomfortable to do so is an illustration of
repressed English social norms. It is simply not proper for gentlemen to speak of
such things, so when someone must, no one knows how to do it. Stevens finds
Reginald in the garden, and is going to use flowers or geese as a metaphor to
explain sex. However, when he learns that M. Dupont has arrived at the house, he
rushes off, probably relieved to escape such a daunting task. The fact that Stevens
must do whatever Lord Darlington wishes him to do, however awkward and
unprofessional, also illustrates the complete power that the head of the household
exercised at that time.
During the final night of the conference, when Stevens must constantly rush
around attending to all of the guests and run upstairs to check on his father, not
once in his narrative does he admit to feeling stress or sadness. However, both
Reginald Cardinal and Lord Darlington ask if Stevens is all right, and Lord
Darlington even remarks that Stevens looks as though he has been crying. It is
only through these remarks that we realize Stevens is upset, as his own narrative
gives no indication. We learn through this instance that Stevens is not a wholly
reliable narrator, as he does not always say how he is honestly feeling. The fact
that Stevens does not admit, even in retrospect, that he was upset shows how
deeply the denial of his emotions is ingrained in him. In moments like these,
Stevens treats us, as readers, just as he treats his employer or the guests: he does
not want us to be bothered by his grief, even though his father is on his deathbed
upstairs. Even after his father his dead, Stevens hardly takes a moment to grieve,
immediately asking the doctor to attend to the insufferable M. Dupont's sore feet.
The importance of the concept of dignity comes to light again in this section of
the novel, as all of Stevens's actions are guided by his pursuit of dignity. As
always, Stevens's first duty is to ensure the smooth running of the household,
even if this necessitates his absence from his father's deathbed. The extreme to
which Stevens negates his own emotions in this section becomes excruciatingly
painful when we learn—through the comments of Reginald Cardinal and Lord
Darlington—that Stevens is suffering. Ironically, the moments when Stevens feels
he is being "unprofessional" are those when he seems most human, and when
we can best relate to him.
Miss Kenton, in this section, is shown to be a character upon whom we may
depend, much as Stevens, however unwittingly, depends upon her. It is she, not
Stevens, who notices that his father's ability is waning, and who forces Stevens to
realize this fact, despite his efforts to deny it. Indeed, Miss Kenton does not have
the blind spots that Stevens does. Yet she also understands, to some degree,
Stevens's commitment to his profession, as she is also an excellent and devoted
housekeeper. When Stevens's father is dying, Miss Kenton stays with the old man
when Stevens must attend to matters downstairs, and it is she who closes his
father's eyes after he passes away.
Day Two–Afternoon / Mortimer's Pond, Dorset & Day Three–Morning / Taunton,
Day Two—Afternoon / Mortimer's Pond, Dorset
While on his morning drive, Stevens once again discusses the quality of
"greatness" in a butler. He says that a butler should be associated with a
distinguished household, but that the "distinguished" butlers of his time, unlike
the previous generation of butlers, search for employers who further the
progress of humanity—employers who, in addition to being aristocratic, are
morally noble.
Stevens suddenly realizes that an odd heated smell is coming from the engine of
the car. He keeps driving, looks for a house where a chauffeur can assist him, and
draws up in front of a large Victorian mansion. A man comes out of the house and
fixes the Ford, which merely needs a refill of radiator water. Stevens asks the man
how many people are employed at the house, because he can see through the
windows that many of the rooms are dust-sheeted. The man tells Stevens that his
employer is trying to sell the place off, because he "hasn't got much use for a
house this size now." The man asks where Stevens is a butler, and when Stevens
replies that he is from Darlington Hall, the man is very impressed, commenting,
"You must be top-notch, working in a place like that. Can't be many like you left,
eh?" The man then asks if Stevens used to work for Lord Darlington, but Stevens
denies it. The man recommends that Stevens visit Mortimer's Pond.
While at the pond, Stevens explains to us that this is not the first time he has
denied working for Lord Darlington—he also did so once before when an
American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, came to visit Mr. Farraday. When Mrs.
Wakefield asked if Stevens had been at the house during Lord Darlington's
residence, Stevens replied that he had not. Stevens explains that he is not in any
way ashamed to have worked for Lord Darlington, but that so many foolish
things are said about Lord Darlington that he denies working for him in order to
avoid "unpleasantness." Stevens reiterates that Darlington was a man of great
moral stature, and that he is proud to have worked in a truly distinguished
Day Three—Morning / Taunton, Somerset
The previous night, Stevens slept in a small inn called "The Coach and Horses"
outside the town of Taunton, Somerset. Upon arriving he went down to the bar,
and the six or seven people there made a joke about how Stevens would not get
much sleep that night due to the frequent loud arguments between the proprietor
and his wife. The bar patrons all laughed at this remark, and Stevens felt that he
should respond in kind. He says that the mistress' noise is "A local variation on the
cock crow, no doubt." His remark is followed by silence, and Stevens is
disappointed that his attempt at bantering failed once again, especially because
he has lately been listening to a comedy show on the radio to help improve his
After setting off, Stevens stops in the center of Taunton to take his midmorning
tea. Out the window, he sees a directional sign for the village of Mursden. Mursden
was where Giffen and Co., a silver polish company, used to be located. Stevens
thinks that the founding of Giffen and Co. in the early 1920s is largely responsible
for aristocratic households placing increased emphasis on having finely polished
silver. Stevens claims that Mr. Marshall, a contemporary butler whom Stevens also
deems "great," had such a high standard for the polishing of silver in Charleville
House that visitors would often compliment the host on the brightness of the
Stevens recalls that Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw, during visits to
Darlington Hall, complimented the silver. Stevens also tells of one night when
Lord Halifax and Herr Ribbentrop came to dinner. After the dinner was over, Lord
Darlington commented to Stevens that the finely polished silver had quite
impressed Lord Halifax, and had put him into a better frame of mind.
Stevens remarks that while Herr Ribbentrop is regarded today as a "trickster,"
around 1936–1937 he was regarded as an honourable gentleman who, when he
dined at great houses in England, always did so as a guest of honour. Stevens is
annoyed with people who talk of those times as though they had known all along
that Ribbentrop was deceitful, because these same people also speak poorly of
Lord Darlington. It was not uncommon for Lord Darlington to stay with Nazis
when his visited Germany during those times, but Stevens emphasizes that many
established ladies and gentlemen in England also did so, not knowing the true
nature of the Nazi regime. Though the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir
Oswald Mosley, visited Darlington Hall on three occasions, Stevens insists that
these visits all took place before the fascist organization "had betrayed its true
Again, Stevens reflects with great satisfaction upon the episode with Lord Halifax
and the silver, reiterating that he is happy to have worked in a house that
contributed to the course of history. Indeed, he feels he practiced his profession at
the fulcrum of great affairs. Stevens thinks of an incident that alarmed him last
April regarding the silver. One evening at dinner, he saw Mr. Farraday examining
the tip of his fork, at which point Stevens quickly removed the offending utensil
and replaced it with a new one. He says the mistake was due to the current staff
shortage, and thinks that if Miss Kenton returns, such slips would become a thing
of the past.
These two sections give us a number of examples that demonstrate how much
Stevens is out of place with the present time. The manservant who refills
Stevens's radiator exemplifies the new sort of handyman that has replaced the
more specific employees—butler, under-butler, housekeeper, and so on—that
large manor houses required before World War II. The manservant's comment
that there "aren't many like [Stevens] left" is completely accurate: it is as though
Stevens is a species on the verge of extinction. Furthermore, Stevens's failed
attempt at bantering in the bar of The Coach and Horses again illustrates his
inability to adapt to new situations. His attempt at a witty comment is
overwrought and bizarre, with the result that his audience fails to understand
what he is talking about.
The fact that Giffen and Co. is closing signifies more than the fact that the practice
of polishing silver is becoming obsolete: it is symbolic of Stevens's profession
itself. Polishing silver is no longer high on most people's list of priorities now that
the days of manor house galas are coming to an end. In these two sections of the
novel, Stevens shows himself to be so far behind the times that he is a somewhat
pathetic character. It is sad that polished silver is Stevens's only concrete
contribution to the course of history, and that his skewed concept of dignity
allows him to take a great deal of pride in this meagre claim.
However, Stevens’ emphasis on the fact that Lord Darlington was not the only
Englishman who was a Nazi sympathizer is accurate. Stevens makes a good point
when he says that it is easy for people to look back and be critical, but that it was
much harder to tell the true nature of the Nazi regime at the time. Lord
Darlington's personal situation involving Herr Bremann also demonstrates why
Darlington was especially prone to giving the Germans the benefit of the doubt in
World War II, even though this course of action turned out to be the worst
possible one. In the character of Lord Darlington we see that in war, motives and
people are more complicated than they may first appear. However, there is little
doubt also that in persisting to help Germans, Lord Darlington acted stupidly,
even if he did so with the best of intentions.
Although Stevens says that the only reason he denies having worked for Lord
Darlington is to avoid "unpleasantness," it is clear that this claim is flimsy. If
Stevens were truly proud of Lord Darlington and had no doubts about the
virtuous nature of his employer's actions, it seems that Stevens would take every
opportunity to defend Darlington. Stevens's strange behavior demonstrates that
he does have doubts of his own: perhaps, though Stevens will never admit it
himself, he feels that Lord Darlington may have been mistaken in what he did. To
admit this, however, would be to admit that he himself was also mistaken, as he
lived to serve an employer he viewed as virtuous. Because it is difficult for
Stevens to admit an error on his own part, it is a small wonder that he is loath to
admit that Lord Darlington may have been wrong.
In this section it becomes clear that Stevens feels that Miss Kenton will be able to
fix everything. It seems she will not only work wonders around the house, but
also allay Stevens’ doubts about the past. If Miss Kenton were to return, Stevens
could stop mulling over memories in his head and stop doubting the wisdom of
his past actions and choices, at least with regard to his relationship with Miss
Kenton. Especially because Stevens will never be able to change the fact that he
trusted Lord Darlington to a fault, it is all the more important that he reclaim part
of his past through Miss Kenton. She appears to be the solution not only to literal
problems such as polishing silver, but to many deeper doubts and regrets as well.
Day Three–Evening / Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon
Uncharacteristically, Stevens does not open this section of the novel in the
present; he instead immediately tells about the one overt instance of antiSemitism at Darlington Hall. He says that Lord Darlington came under the
influence of Mrs. Carolyn Barnet, a member of the blackshirts organization, the
British Union of Fascists. Stevens states that it was during these few weeks in the
early 1920s, when Lord Darlington saw Mrs. Barnet frequently, that he decided to
fire two Jewish maids.
Stevens tells Miss Kenton of Lord Darlington's decision to fire the maids that night
over cocoa, during one of the customary end-of-day meetings he and she have
instituted to discuss the day's events (meetings Stevens claims were merely
professional in nature). Although Stevens is personally opposed to the decision to
dismiss the Jewish maids because they have been excellent workers, he does feel
it is his place to question Lord Darlington's decision, even in the privacy of his
discussion with Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton cannot believe Stevens's indifferent
attitude. She says it is wrong to dismiss the maids solely because they are Jewish,
and she claims that she also will quit if the two are fired.
A year later, Miss Kenton is ashamed to admit that it was mere fright that kept
her from quitting her post at Darlington Hall: she had nowhere else to go. After
this admission, Stevens tells Miss Kenton that Lord Darlington has recently
repented about firing the maids, and has asked Stevens to try and trace them.
Stevens tells Miss Kenton that he thought she would like to know of this
development because the firing had distressed her as much as it had distressed
him. Miss Kenton is astounded and upset that Stevens never told her the firings
had bothered him at all. She says to him: "Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you
always have to pretend?" Stevens is unable to answer.
A housemaid named Lisa is hired to fill the staff shortage that results from the
firing of the two Jewish maids. Stevens does not think Lisa will do a good job, as
her references are dubious, but Miss Kenton is determined to prove him wrong.
Lisa's behavior, though unpromising at first, improves greatly after several
weeks, and Stevens admits that Miss Kenton has had "modest success" in
reforming the new employee. Miss Kenton notes the "guilty smile" on Stevens’
face as he says this, and tells him that she has noticed he always seems averse to
having pretty women such as Lisa on the staff at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton
suggests that perhaps Stevens does not want attractive women on the staff
because he feels he cannot trust himself. Stevens, of course, denies Miss Kenton's
teasing accusation.
After a period of eight or nine months, Lisa runs off with the footman. Miss
Kenton is very distraught, and says that Stevens is proved right in the end after
all. Stevens disagrees, however, and says that Miss Kenton did a fine job training
Lisa, and that such elopement is not uncommon among staff. The two agree that
Lisa made a foolish decision in giving up her professional promise for a mere
Stevens thinks about why his relationship with Miss Kenton underwent such a
change around 1935 or 1936. He muses over various events that may have
represented turning points. One such episode was a night when Miss Kenton
came into Stevens’ pantry without knocking and, noticing him reading, asked him
what book it was. Stevens clutched the book to his chest and asked that Miss
Kenton respect his privacy. She persevered, however, suggested that perhaps it
was something "rather racy," and finally approached him and pried it out of his
fingers very slowly. Miss Kenton exclaimed that the book was not anything but a
sentimental love story. Stevens shows her out of his room.
Stevens claims that he was reading the book to "maintain and develop his
command of the English language." He admits that he also enjoyed the romantic
aspects, but only for the aesthetics of the language and phrasing. He also
emphasizes that he needed to be strict with Miss Kenton to drive home the point
that he did not wish to be disturbed when he was off duty in his private study.
Stevens feels that Miss Kenton's behaviour was inappropriate, and he resolved to
re- establish their relationship as merely professional.
Miss Kenton had suddenly begun taking full advantage of all her contracted
vacation time shortly before the event in the study. One night over cocoa she
explains to Stevens that she is "renewing her acquaintance" with a man who used
to be a butler at Granchester Lodge, her previous place of employment. She
comments that Stevens must be perfectly contented with his life, as he is so
excellent at his profession. Stevens claims that until Lord Darlington has
accomplished all that he can, only then will he consider himself contented.
A week or so later, when they meet over cocoa, Miss Kenton is absentminded.
Stevens tells her that she seems increasingly distracted lately, and she replies in a
sudden outburst that she is very, very tired. Stevens is taken aback, and suggests
they abandon their evening meetings if she is so tired. She protests, but he insists,
and the meetings over cocoa stop.
A few weeks later Miss Kenton receives news that her aunt, her only living
relative, has passed away. She tells Stevens the news, then asks for a few moments
alone and goes into her room. Stevens realizes that he has neglected to offer Miss
Kenton his condolences; though he wishes to amend his error, he senses that on
the other side of the door she is crying, and that if he enters he will interrupt her
private grief. When Miss Kenton comes out of her room in the afternoon, Stevens
only asks if everything is in order. He talks around the issue of condolences,
pointing out a few mistakes that the new maids have made. Miss Kenton wearily
says she will check over the maids' work, and, tiring of Stevens’ relentlessly
professional conversation excuses herself from the room.
Stevens speculates that if he had acted differently on any of these occasions,
things may have turned out better for him. He says, "there was certainly nothing
to indicate at the time that such evidently small events would render whole
dreams forever irredeemable."
Stevens's car runs out of gas near nightfall, and he is forced to stay with a local
couple named Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Many neighbors and friends of the Taylors
come over to meet Stevens over dinner, and these townsfolk declare that Stevens
is a true gentleman. They ask Stevens what he thinks makes someone a
gentleman, and he responds that he thinks the quality to which they refer might
be termed "dignity." The Taylors' friends say that the doctor in their town, Dr.
Carlisle, is also a gentlemen, and they hope that Stevens can meet him.
The guests ask Stevens relentless questions about his involvement with politics,
and he says he was more involved before the war, in the arena of international
affairs. Stevens tells of some of the famous people he has met, such as Winston
Churchill and Lord Halifax, and the guests are very impressed. When Dr. Carlisle
arrives at the Taylors' home, the other guests tell him of all the famous people
that Stevens has claimed to know, and Dr. Carlisle looks at Stevens in a funny way.
After a few more moments Stevens excuses himself to retire for the evening, and
Dr. Carlisle offers to give him a ride to his car in the morning.
Stevens says he suffered "much discomfort" because of the dinner guests'
mistaken impression of him. One guest, Harry Smith, had disagreed with
Stevens's idea of dignity, claiming that dignity is evident when a common man
acknowledges his responsibility to vote and to have strong opinions about
political affairs. Stevens dismisses Mr. Smith's views, saying that his statements
are too idealistic because there is a limit to what "ordinary people can learn and
To support this assertion, Stevens recalls an instance when a Mr. Spencer, a friend
of Lord Darlington, asked Stevens his opinion on three different complex political
situations, about none of which Stevens had the knowledge necessary to
comment intelligently. Spencer was using Stevens to make a point—that
democracy does not work because it allows ignorant people like Stevens to
participate in important decisions. Though Lord Darlington apologizes to Stevens
for the embarrassment, he agrees with Spencer's view, saying, "democracy is
something for a bygone era." Stevens claims that while such ideas currently seem
unattractive, there is a great deal of truth in them, and that it is quite absurd to
expect any butler to be able to answer such questions.
Stevens concludes by saying that only misguided butlers would constantly
question the motives and beliefs of their employers, and that butlers who attempt
to form their own strong opinions lack loyalty. He does not advocate misplacing
this loyalty, but feels that there must come a time in one's life when one ceases to
search, and is content to commit their services to one employer. It is by this
reasoning that Stevens claims it is not his fault if Lord Darlington's life and work
seem, in retrospect, "a sad waste," and is why he himself does not feel any shame
or regret to have served Lord Darlington.
This section of the novel clearly demonstrates that Stevens's loyalty to Lord
Darlington is absolute and blind. Unfortunately, it seems that nothing can shake
Stevens's persistence in trusting Lord Darlington. Stevens fails to understand that
firing people based on religion suggests a serious moral deficit on Lord
Darlington's behalf. Miss Kenton, however, immediately understands the gravity
of the situation, and is so opposed to it that she threatens to leave. Unlike Stevens,
Miss Kenton does not substitute Lord Darlington's judgment for her own, and she
always feels it a sign of personal weakness that she did not follow her own
principles and quit her post Darlington Hall. She is also hurt that Stevens did not
share his own sentiments with her.
Miss Kenton feels doubly defeated when Lisa runs off to get married. Stevens,
however, attempts to cheer Miss Kenton up by telling her she did a good job
training Lisa nonetheless. Though Miss Kenton says that Lisa is "bound to be let
down" by her marriage, she does not seem convinced, and maybe even a little
wistful. This moment is a little ironic because though she does not really believe
the words as she speaks them, she is, in the end, "let down" by her own marriage.
This moment, to some degree, eerily foreshadows Miss Kenton's later marital
The moment in Stevens's study when Miss Kenton pries the book out of his hands
is the most sensual or erotic moment in The Remains of the Day. It is clear by
Stevens's words that there is a strong physical attraction between the two of
them. Nothing comes of it, however, and Stevens explains to us that he was only
reading the romance novel to further his command of English—he cannot admit
that perhaps love is something he longs for in his own life.
When the two meet over cocoa, Miss Kenton can well imagine what more Stevens
might "wish for in life": a wife and family. It is clear by the way she says these
words that she would like a family, and that she is tired of waiting for Stevens to
figure this out. This frustration is the cause of Miss Kenton's outburst when
Stevens persists in talking about work duties and she tells him she is tired. She is
weary not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one as well. She is tired of
waiting for Stevens to realize that he loves her, because she already knows that
she loves him, and she is frustrated by his incessant formality. Stevens does not
understand any of this, however, and says only that if the meetings tire Miss
Kenton, perhaps they should discontinue the meetings altogether.
Stevens again acts stupidly when Miss Kenton's aunt dies. He is so socially rigid
that he is unable offer her any words of condolence or consolation. The only
things Stevens can ever speak to Miss Kenton about are affairs of the
household—that is the only way he knows how to interact. It is not surprising
that Miss Kenton starts taking more time off; she is merely trying to meet other
people. These memories are sad moments for Stevens because he now appears to
realize that they were turning points in his relationship with Miss Kenton, and
that if he had acted differently, perhaps Miss Kenton may not have left to marry
someone else.
On the whole, Stevens's regret resounds very strongly in this section of the novel,
especially regarding Miss Kenton. When Stevens tells us that her marrying
someone else made "whole dreams forever irredeemable," there can be little doubt
that the dreams to which he refers involve Miss Kenton. This is the only time in
the novel, aside from the very end, when Stevens admits to having dreams of his
own independent from the wishes and desires of Lord Darlington.
Stevens also displays a greater degree of regret over his choice of Lord Darlington
as his employer—a sentiment that gradually emerges out of Stevens's recounting
of the episode with the townspeople who visit the Taylors' house for dinner.
When the guests mistake Stevens for some sort of dignitary or political figure, he
allows their misperception to continue; indeed, it is probably the one time in
Stevens's life when he has been treated with great respect.
Harry Smith's views about democracy stand in sharp contrast to the elitist views
of Lord Darlington and his cohorts, as Stevens's recollection of Mr. Spencer so
viciously demonstrates. Mr. Smith claims that dignity is not just for gentlemen,
and Stevens agrees, merely out of politeness. This response seems to ease Mr.
Smith, who elaborates that dignity is defined as the right to be a free citizen, and
to vote for whom you want in your government. Mr. Smith's modern viewpoint
seems ridiculous to Stevens, who still believes that certain people are more
entitled to vote than others. Stevens is entirely influenced by the times in which
he was brought up: in his view, a butler's place is to serve, not to answer—or
even consider, for that matter—political or economic questions. In Stevens's eyes,
a butler does what he can to further humanity from within his restricted role—
that is the most one can hope for. His viewpoint is very imperialist. When the
British colonized other nations, they frequently felt they were superior to the
indigenous people who lived in these nations. Stevens comes from a time when
such "ranking" of people is commonplace and accepted.
In light of Stevens’ acceptance of such a restricted role, it is all the more vital for
him to feel he has chosen to serve a gentleman of impeccable judgment, so that
Stevens himself can essentially live his life through the words and deeds of that
gentleman. Stevens has chosen Lord Darlington, and though he must admit that
in retrospect Lord Darlington's actions do not look wise, they did seem worthy of
complete loyalty at the time. However, at this point it is clear that Stevens thinks
that he probably trusted the wrong man. Indeed, the fact that he uses the words
"a sad waste" to describe Lord Darlington's life indicates that he himself thinks
that this to be true.
Day Four–Afternoon / Little Compton, Cornwall
Stevens is sitting in the dining hall of the Rose Garden Hotel in the town of Little
Compton, Cornwall, watching the rain outside before his impending visit with
Miss Kenton. He has told her he will arrive at three o'clock, so he has forty
minutes to wait.
Stevens recalls his morning drive with Dr. Carlisle to refill the gas in his car.
During the drive, Dr. Carlisle abruptly asks Stevens if he is really a dignitary, or
just a manservant to a dignitary. Stevens, somewhat relieved, says he is indeed
the butler at Darlington Hall. He begins to explain that it was not his intention to
deceive anyone as to his position, but the good-natured doctor says that the
simple townspeople are likely to mistake someone like Stevens for even a lord or a
duke. Stevens tells Dr. Carlisle that Harry Smith spoke quite a bit during dinner.
The doctor replies that many people see the benefit of have strong political views
like Harry, but they cannot be bothered to have such views themselves—they
would rather just be left alone. The doctor's tone is one of disgust as he makes
this assertion, but Stevens does not understand why the doctor feels this way.
When the two arrive at Stevens's scar, Dr. Carlisle fills up the tank, the men
exchange goodbyes, and Stevens goes on his way.
Stevens once again muses on the past while he is killing time before making the
trip to Miss Kenton's at three o'clock. Stevens again thinks over why it was he did
not go into Miss Kenton's room after she heard that her aunt died. He says he felt
a peculiar sensation inside him as he stood, transfixed by indecision, outside her
door. Then he abruptly changes his mind and says that perhaps the moment he
recalls so vividly was not the day Miss Kenton learned of her aunt's death, but on
another occasion several months later, when he again stood outside her door.
Stevens now thinks that the memory in question occurred the evening that Mr.
Reginald Cardinal arrived at Darlington hall on an unexpected visit.
Reginald Cardinal, the son of Lord Darlington close friend Sir David Cardinal—
who had been tragically killed in a riding accident in the 1920s—is also Lord
Darlington's godson. When Stevens goes to tell Miss Kenton that Mr. Cardinal has
arrived, he catches her in a pensive mood. She tells Stevens she is taking the night
off, and reminds him that she had requested the time off a month ago. Miss
Kenton then tells Stevens that the man she is going to meet has asked for her
hand in marriage, and that she is still thinking the matter over. Stevens briefly
thanks her for telling him and excuses himself.
A tense atmosphere prevails during the dinner between Lord Darlington and his
godson. Darlington is expecting guests, but he refuses to tell his godson who
exactly the guests are. After dinner, the two get into an argument in the smoking
room. Herr Ribbentrop arrives at the house under police escort.
Miss Kenton returns from her outing and tells Stevens she has accepted her
acquaintance's marriage proposal. Stevens offers her brief congratulations, but
says in the same breath that he must return upstairs. Miss Kenton calls to
Stevens, amazed that after all her years at Darlington Hall he has nothing more to
say about her news. Stevens replies only that events of global significance are
occurring in the house and that he must go upstairs. Miss Kenton then tells
Stevens that she and her fiancé often pass the time by making fun of Stevens and
his incessant professionalism. Stevens does not react, and merely excuses himself
once again.
Mr. Cardinal, who is alone in the library, asks Stevens to fetch more brandy. When
Stevens returns, Mr. Cardinal says that Lord Darlington has assembled the British
Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the German Ambassador in the other
room in order to promote the idea of the Prime Minister making a visit to Nazi
Germany. Cardinal says that Hitler, through Herr Ribbentrop, has been using Lord
Darlington to extend Nazi influence in England. Though Lord Darlington is a true
gentleman whose instinct is to help a defeated foe, the Nazis have manipulated
him to their own evil ends.
Stevens then goes to fetch a bottle of port from the cellar for the dignitaries. When
he reaches the first floor he sees Miss Kenton standing in the doorway of her
room. She apologizes for making fun of him earlier. He replies that he can hardly
recall what she said, and that furthermore he does not have time to exchange
pleasantries. Stevens goes downstairs and gets the bottle of port. As he comes
back upstairs and passes by Miss Kenton's room, he is under the distinct
impression that she is crying on the other side of her door. He pauses, uncertain
why he is so sure she is in tears, but then he hurries upstairs. As he stands outside
the drawing room door where the men are talking, a sense of triumph wells up in
him because he thinks he is helping to serve men who will change history.
Stevens cannot understand Dr. Carlisle's disdain for people who "just want to be
left alone" and do not like to bother much about political affairs. This is not a
surprise, as Stevens thinks that "ordinary" men will never understand the affairs
of "great" men. This episode illustrates again Stevens's old-fashioned, conservative
views. When Dr. Carlisle asks, Stevens again denies having known Lord
Darlington—the third time he has done so in the novel. The more Stevens denies
knowing Lord Darlington, the more certain we feel that he does not really think
that Lord Darlington acted in a way befitting a gentleman.
Stevens again mentions the night when he thought Miss Kenton was crying but
did not enter her room. He remembers that it was not the night of her father's
death, but the night she became engaged, the same night the secret meeting took
place at Darlington Hall. Perhaps, if Stevens had been less concerned with the
affairs of the house and paid more attention to his own emotions, he could have
told Miss Kenton of his feelings for her, which might would have prevented her
from leaving and marrying the other man. The fact that Miss Kenton is crying on
the same night of her engagement foreshadows the many nights she will spend
crying during her unhappy marriage.
It is striking that even when Mr. Cardinal tells Stevens the alarming truth of what
is really happening in the house, Stevens persists in thinking that Lord
Darlington is only doing what is best for everyone involved. Mr. Cardinal cannot
understand how Stevens can persist in thinking that all is well, as the Nazi agenda
and motives at this point are no longer mysterious to most observers. Cardinal is
very angry and upset at Lord Darlington's, and Stevens’, naïveté. Cardinal recalls
Mr. Lewis's controversial views from the March 1923 conference, saying that Mr.
Lewis had been right—old-fashioned gentlemen who do not fully understand what
they are doing, and who hold values out of touch with the times, should not try to
influence the decisions of heads of state. Like Mr. Smith, Mr. Cardinal typifies a
more modern democratic political viewpoint, whereas Stevens persists in seeing
things as though times have not changed. Because Stevens fails to understand that
Hitler is annihilating certain racial and religious groups because they are
"inferior," Stevens does not perceive how harmful it can be to say that certain
people are "inferior" or "ordinary"—claims that we see him make repeatedly
throughout the novel. The horror of World War II made it virtually impossible to
further entertain such notions of inferiority and superiority, but because Stevens
never sees the war first-hand nor evaluates its implications, his views remain
At this point, there is no doubt that Stevens has become a rather tragic and
pitiable character. His reluctance to doubt Lord Darlington and his inability to
acknowledge his own feelings result in dangerous political steps on Lord
Darlington's part and in the departure of the woman Stevens loves. The fact that
Stevens has twice mentioned the evening that he thought Miss Kenton was crying
makes it clear that this memory haunts him. The only thing that can save Stevens
from despair is the consolation of having done his job as a butler well, so he
stubbornly clings to this thought as a drowning man would cling to a piece of
driftwood. However, Stevens's eagerness to once again see Miss Kenton indicates
that, through her, he hopes to recapture a past that is otherwise irretrievably lost.
Day Six–Evening / Weymouth
Stevens next writes from a seaside town in Weymouth, where he goes after he
visits Miss Kenton. He is sitting on a pier watching all of the colored lights come
on in the evening. He arrived at Weymouth the afternoon of the day before, and
has stayed another day so that he might spend a little leisure time away from
Miss Kenton actually surprises Stevens by coming to meet him at the hotel where
he was staying in Little Compton. She has aged, but very gracefully, and he is
extremely pleased to see her again. It strikes Stevens that Miss Kenton seems to
have lost the spark that used to make her so lively; when her face is in repose, he
thinks that its expression is sad.
Stevens and Miss Kenton fill each other in on their lives over the last twenty
years. Although Stevens had thought that Miss Kenton's letter indicated that she
had left her husband, she tells him she is in fact moving back in with her husband.
Miss Kenton urges Stevens, on his return trip, to visit her daughter Catherine,
who is expecting a child in the fall. Stevens tells Miss Kenton what Darlington Hall
is like now with the reduced staff and Mr. Farraday as the employer. Stevens tells
Miss Kenton the sad news that Reginald Cardinal was killed in World War II, in
Belgium. Miss Kenton inquires about the unsuccessful libel action that Lord
Darlington took against a newspaper that made claims that he was a Nazi
sympathizer and a traitor to England. Stevens says that Lord Darlington lost the
libel suit, and after his good name was ruined, he practically became an invalid.
The meeting goes on for two hours before Miss Kenton says she must return
home. Stevens drives her to a bus stop a little way outside the village. While they
are waiting at the bus station, Stevens asks Miss Kenton a question that he says
has been troubling him for some time: he asks if she is being mistreated in some
way, as her letters often seem unhappy. Miss Kenton says that her husband does
not mistreat her in any way at all. Stevens says he does not understand why, then,
she is unhappy. She tells him that for a long time, she did not love her husband,
but that after having a daughter and going through the war together, she has
grown to love him. However, there are times when she thinks she has made a
great mistake with her life. She even says, "For instance, I get to thinking about a
life I may have had with you, Mr. Stevens." But then she says that it is of no use to
dwell on what might have been.
For the first time in the novel, Stevens appears to realize how much he loves Miss
Kenton. Upon hearing her words about the possibility of a life they might have
had together, he says that his "heart is breaking." He does not speak for a
moment, but when he does, he only says that Miss Kenton is right: one cannot
dwell on the past. He says that she must do all she can to ensure many happy
years ahead with her husband and her grandchildren. Then the bus comes, and
Miss Kenton leaves. Stevens sees that her eyes have filled with tears.
A man comes up and sits next to Stevens on the bench on the pier, and begins
talking to him. During the conversation, the man reveals that he was once a butler
at a small house. Stevens says that he is the head butler at Darlington Hall, and
the man is very impressed. Stevens tells the man about how Darlington Hall was
in the old days. Then Stevens tells the man he gave what he had to give to Lord
Darlington; even though he is trying hard to please his new employer, he feels that
he is making more and more errors. The man next to him offers Stevens a
handkerchief—our only clue that Stevens is crying.
Stevens says that Lord Darlington at least made his own mistakes, but says that
he himself cannot even claim that, because he trusted Lord Darlington so
completely. Stevens does not think that there is much dignity in such an action—
not even being able to say he has made his own mistakes. The man seated next to
Stevens tells him not to look back so much because it will only make him
unhappier. Then he says that the evening is the best part of the day for most
folks. Stevens agrees, and apologizes for crying. He decides to make the best of
"what remains of my day." The first thing he will work on upon his return to
Darlington Hall is bantering: he hopes, when Mr. Farraday comes back, that he
will be able "to pleasantly surprise him."
The final section of The Remains of the Day is incredibly sad, as Stevens never
tells Miss Kenton that he loves her because he feels that it is too late. Listening to
her talk about her husband and her daughter has made him realize how much
time has passed, and how much opportunity lost. Stevens does ask Miss Kenton if
she has ever thought of working again; she replies that she has, but now that she
is going to have a grandchild, she wants to be nearby. Though Miss Kenton's words
crush Stevens's last hope of her ever returning to Darlington Hall, he, of course,
never even says to her that he was hoping she would do so. Stevens's last and
largest hope has now been shattered, compounding the other losses and regrets
that seem to have characterized much of his life.
The meeting is the climax of the novel. Even though Stevens relates his meeting
with Miss Kenton at the end of the story, he tells it after the fact, a day afterward.
The intervening falling action—what would constitute Day Five—is not
presented in the narrative; we are left to imagine Stevens wandering around on
the day after his meeting with Miss Kenton, having ultimately failed in both
expressing his feelings and attaining any deep intimacy with another person.
It is clear that Miss Kenton has married the wrong man. Stevens notes that her
passionate nature seems to have dissipated, and that her expression often seems
to be one of sadness. When Miss Kenton voices regret at not spending her life
with Stevens, it makes him realize how much better it would have been for both
of them if they had been the ones to marry. It is at this point that Stevens tells us
that his heart is breaking—an astounding revelation from a character who gives
virtually no evidence of any emotion at all during the course of the novel.
Stevens finally breaks down during the evening when he is sitting on the pier,
reaching at last the realization that he has deluded himself throughout his entire
life. He finally questions aloud the use of being loyal to someone who used bad
judgment, and finally sees how it may be foolish to completely accept someone
else's judgment in place of one's own. Indeed, Stevens suddenly realizes that such
blind loyalty may not be very dignified after all. It is in this part of the novel that
Stevens's role—his mask as a perfect, poised butler —crumbles, and his real
self—a sad, disillusioned man—takes over the story.
The man next to Stevens cheers him up by telling him not to look back or focus
on regret and lost opportunity so much. Finally, Stevens comforts himself with the
thought that there is dignity in the fact that he willingly sacrificed other things in
life in order to devote himself to Lord Darlington. Small as this comfort may be, it
seems enough for Stevens, who then tells us about his plans to improve his skills
at bantering in an attempt to better serve his new employer. It is not clear, in the
end, the extent to which Stevens realizes he has deceived himself. After all, as he
never has known anything outside of his own limited existence, it may be
difficult, if not impossible, for him to fully appreciate what he has missed, just as
someone who is born blind would never miss seeing colour. Indeed, despite its
slightly optimistic ending, The Remains of the Day remains, on the whole, a tragic
story of regret and missed opportunity.
Historical Background
Both World Wars play a significant part in The Remains of the Day, the period
between the wars being of is especial significance. As the narrative is confined to
a butler's experience of the outer world from within the walls of a noble manor
house, we are given only snippets of information—references to the Treaty of
Versailles, the rise of Nazism, and so on. The Treaty of Versailles is an important
historical document to understand, as the document forms a large part of Lord
Darlington's impetus to help Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles, drawn up at the end of World War I, was signed by the
Allied and Associated Powers at Versailles, France, on June 28, 1919. The original
intention was that the Treaty should be only one part of a general and inclusive
settlement with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as with Germany.
However, delays in dealing with the smaller nations, especially Hungary and
Turkey, not only separated the German treaty from the others, but also caused it
to be the first to be signed and the first to come into force.
The Versailles Treaty was bitterly criticized by the Germans and by many people
in other countries, such as Lord Darlington in the novel. One complaint was that
the treaty has been "dictated"—not only in the sense that it was imposed on a
defeated enemy, in the sense that there had been no verbal negotiations with
Germany. Germany also protested that the Treaty was not in harmony with the
fourteen points that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the pre-Armistice
agreement had set out as the basis of peace. Indeed, there was much truth to
Germany's claim. The third, and perhaps most important complaint Germany set
forth was that the Treaty demanded staggering sacrifices that could not be carried
out without completely wrecking the German economy. This claim, however, was
only partly true. Though the war reparations were significant, it was not the
reparations themselves that landed Germany in economic dire straits—it was the
staggering cost of the war itself.
Important Quotations Explained
"Embarrassing as these moments were for me, I would not wish to imply that I
in any way blame Mr. Farraday, who is in no sense an unkind person; he was, I am
sure, merely enjoying the sort of bantering which in the United States, no doubt,
is a sign of a good, friendly understanding between employer and employee,
indulged in as a kind of affectionate sport. Indeed, to put things into a proper
perspective, I should point out that just such bantering on my new employer's
part has characterized much of our relationship over these months- though I
must confess, I remain rather unsure as to how I should respond."
This passage is an excerpt from the Prologue. Because the meticulous, formal
Stevens is not used to humour of any kind, he finds it extremely unsettling when
his new employer, Mr. Farraday makes jokes, as he does not know how to reply in
kind. Stevens is far too formal, and far too afraid of offending his employer, to
hazard a reply that he has not carefully thought out. At several other points in the
novel, while Stevens is on his road trip, he again voices his concerns about
bantering, and describes several failed attempts at making funny remarks. This
bafflement over the concept of casual banter characterizes Stevens's overall
devotion to professionalism at the exclusion of personal or informal concerns.
"The English landscape at its finest—such as I saw this morning—possesses a
quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic,
inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English
landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world,
and this quality is probably best summed up by the term 'greatness.' … And yet
what precisely is this greatness? … I would say that it is the very lack of obvious
drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the
calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its
own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it."
This quotation is taken from the section titled: "Day One—Evening / Salisbury."
When Stevens says that the "greatness" of the landscape stems from its restraint
and its lack of demonstrativeness, he is also saying something about himself. He is
constantly restrained, hiding his emotions in much the same way that the English
landscape does not disclose anything dramatically or loudly. This narrow view on
Stevens's part is one that eventually crumbles by the end of the story, when he
realizes that his façade of calm has circumscribed his entire existence with
"'He was my enemy.' he was saying, 'but he always behaved like a gentleman.
We treated each other decently over six months of shelling each other. He was a
gentleman doing his job and I bore him no malice. I said to him: "Look here, we're
enemies now and I'll fight you with all I've got. But when this wretched business
is over, we shan't have to be enemies anymore and we'll have a drink together."
Wretched thing is, this treaty is making a liar out of me. I mean to say, I told him
we wouldn't be enemies once it was all over. But how can I look him in the face
and tell him that's turned out to be true?'"
This passage, from one of Stevens's reminiscences about the past, is presented in
the "Day Two—Morning / Salisbury" section. Lord Darlington speaks these
words to Stevens in the early 1920s, just after the end of World War I. Darlington
is speaking of Herr Bremann, his German friend who was a soldier in World War
I. Herr Bremann shoots himself shortly after the evening on which Lord
Darlington speaks those words to Stevens. This quotation reveals the nobility of
character at the heart of Lord Darlington, and highlights one reason why he is
especially vulnerable toward Nazi propaganda: because he feels England has been
unfair to Germany in the aftermath of World War I, he continues to give Germany
the benefit of the doubt, even when it becomes clear to most others that the Nazi
agenda is not one that can be condoned.
"How can one possibly be held to blame in any sense because, say, the passage
of time has shown that Lord Darlington's efforts were misguided, even foolish?
Throughout the years I served him, it was he and he alone who weighed up
evidence and judged it best to proceed in the way he did, while I simply confined
myself, quite properly, to affairs within my own professional realm. And as far as
I am concerned, I carried out my duties to the best of my abilities, indeed to a
standard which many may consider 'first-rate.' It is hardly my fault is his lordship's
life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste-and it is quite
illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account."
This passage, taken from the very end of the "Day Three—Evening / Moscombe,
Near Tavistock, Devon" section, demonstrates Stevens's inner doubts about
whether or not he has acted nobly, or with dignity, by unquestioningly accepting
all of Lord Darlington's decisions. Stevens is trying to justify his actions not only
to us, but to himself. If he were to admit that he was not actually serving
someone with exemplary moral stature, he would have to admit that he made a
mistake in whom he chose to trust and serve for so long and with such diligence.
Though Stevens fears he has been mistaken, for solace, he clings to the fact that
he did his work well. The entire narrative, in a sense, is a re-examination of his
life, and at the end of the story, he admits to feeling both shame and regret.
"But that doesn't mean to say, of course, there aren't occasions now and thenextremely desolate occasions—when you think to yourself: 'What a terrible
mistake I've made with my life.' And you get to thinking about a different life, a
better life you might have had. For instance, I get to thinking about a life I may
have had with you, Mr. Stevens. And I suppose that's when I get angry about
some trivial little thing and leave. But each time I do, I realize before long—my
rightful place is with my husband. After all, there's no turning back the clock now.
One can't be forever dwelling on what might have been."
These words, spoken by Miss Kenton, are taken from the "Day Six—Evening /
Weymouth" section of the novel. Miss Kenton, like Stevens, is not content with
the decisions she has made in life. She reveals that she did not really come to love
her husband until many years after she married him. After she makes the above
declaration, Stevens says that his "heart is breaking." It is a tragic moment in the
novel, for Stevens fails to tell Miss Kenton that he also had—and continues to
have—deep feelings for her. The fact that neither his, nor her regret is ever
relieved makes the ending of The Remains of the Day haunting, poignant, and
Key Facts
full title · The Remains of the Day
author · Kazuo Ishiguro
type of work · Novel
genre · English aristocratic novel; tragedy; pre-World War II novel
language · English
time and place written · England, late 1980s
date of first publication · 1989
publisher · Faber & Faber Limited
narrator · Stevens, a butler
point of view · First person
tone · Extremely proper and formal diction, with many English locutions, though
hints of nostalgia and regret colour most of the narrative
tense · Present, when speaking about the present road trip; past, when speaking
about memories
setting (time) · Early 1920s–July 1956, with especial focus on the period leading
up to World War II
setting (place) · Darlington Hall; Stevens's road trip through the West Country to
Little Compton, Cornwall
protagonist · Stevens
major conflict · Stevens's struggle with the knowledge that he has devoted his life
to serving a man who may not in fact be a "great gentleman"; his regret that in
doing so he has limited his worldview and been unable to accept or express his
feelings for Miss Kenton
climax · Stevens's brief meeting with Miss Kenton at the end of the novel
falling action · Stevens's newfound resolve to perfect the art of bantering and to
stop thinking about what might have been
themes · Dignity and greatness; regret; loss
motifs · Bantering; Stevens's rhetorical manner
symbols · The English landscape; Stevens's father searching on the steps; Giffen
and Co.
foreshadowing · Stevens's occasional offhand allusions to events that turn out to
be highly significant later in the narrative
Study Questions and Essay Topics
Study Questions
Use specific examples to demonstrate why Stevens is or is not a reliable narrator.
Stevens is not a reliable narrator for several reasons. The biggest reason is that
he often deludes himself, and—as the narrative is entirely in his perspective—
misleads us as well. We learn that some of Stevens's assumptions and values are
questionable only through other characters' reactions to him in the text. For
example, when Stevens decides not to question Lord Darlington's decision to fire
the Jewish maids, Miss Kenton is absolutely outraged. As readers, we are willing
to grant Stevens the benefit of the doubt, as he is precise in so many other ways,
and is very good at his job as butler. But when he indifferently tells Miss Kenton
that the maids must be fired, it becomes clear that his willingness to fire them
solely for his employer is due to his extreme idea of "duty," not because of the
confusion of his historical times. Though Miss Kenton is as good and dedicated a
worker as Stevens is, she is so struck by the immorality of the firings that she
threatens to resign. Her reaction clearly shows that she and Stevens are not a
part of a larger warped, anti-Semitic reality in which it is difficult to tell right from
Another reason Stevens can be considered an unreliable narrator is because he
delays divulging important facts to us until very late in the narrative. Indeed, he
gives us only a biased, foggy perspective throughout much of the novel. For
example, he fails to tells about the conversation he had with Reginald Cardinal—in
which Cardinal says that the Nazis are using Darlington as a pawn for their own
aims—until almost the end of the novel. Though Cardinal's words ring true to us,
Stevens responds that whatever Lord Darlington is doing must be for the good of
humanity, as Darlington is a noble gentleman. Cardinal reacts much as we would:
he is incredulous that Stevens can persist in believing that nothing is wrong. At
this point in the novel, we understand how completely Stevens has deluded
himself, and it is sad: he has completely trusted a man who we now know has
made very stupid decisions. This realization gives us further confirmation that
Stevens himself is not really reliable. Indeed, we must depend upon other
characters in the novel to deliver accurate insights about other characters and
At one point in the novel, Stevens and Miss Kenton see Steven's father searching
near the steps he fell on "as though he were searching for a precious jewel he
had dropped there." How is this image symbolic of the novel's concerns as a
In a sense, Stevens's entire journey is a search for the precious jewel he has lost—
Miss Kenton. When Stevens's father falls on the steps, he insists he fell because
they were crooked, not due to any fault on his own part. After his fall, he is
bewildered, and peruses the steps as if searching for a clear indication of how he
made such a grave mistake. Stevens's father, like Stevens himself, cannot admit to,
or even recognize, his own human fallibility. In Stevens's recollections of his
interactions with Miss Kenton, he is constantly searching for where he
figuratively "fell" from her good graces. Like his father, his eyes are trained on the
landscape of his past; his father's fall demonstrates his own descent into selfdeception and eventual regret. Both men's mistakes unrelentingly haunt them.
How are Stevens and Miss Kenton similar? How are they different?
Both Stevens and Miss Kenton are extremely committed to their work. However,
Miss Kenton eventually decides that there are other things in life that are worth
striving to attain, like getting married and having a family. The thought of these
alternate goals never appears to enter Stevens's head; if it does, he never tells us.
There is a moment in the novel when Miss Kenton says that Stevens has
comfortably reached the top of his profession, and asks him what more he could
want from life. Miss Kenton seems to be trying to unearth any personal goals that
Stevens may have. Stevens, however, merely responds that until Lord Darlington
achieves all that he can, he himself will never be perfectly contented. This
exchange perfectly illustrates how Stevens differs from Miss Kenton: she does not
substitute her professional life for her personal, while he does, to the utmost.
Suggested Essay Topics
Compare and contrast Stevens and his father. Do they hold the same ideals?
Why is it important that Stevens is a butler, and not a lord or a duke of some kind?
How does his profession shape his life? With what result?
Does the narrative ultimately condemn Stevens for the choices he has made? Is
the ending hopeful?
Why is it significant that during Stevens's "best years of service" occur while
World War II is going on?
Trace Stevens's use of pronouns throughout the novel. What does his use of "I"
versus "one" indicate?
The Remains of the Day (1989) is Kazuo Ishiguro's third published novel. The
work was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989. A film adaptation of
the novel, made in 1993 and starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson,
was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
As in Ishiguro's two previous novels, the story is told from a first person point of
view. The narrator, Stevens, a butler, recalls his life in the form of a diary while the
action progresses through the present. Much of the novel is concerned with
Stevens's professional and, above all, personal relationship with a former
colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton.
Plot summary
The Remains of the Day tells, in first person, the story of Stevens, an English
butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington
(mentioned in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins with Stevens
receiving a letter from a former colleague, Miss Kenton, describing her married
life, which he believes hints at an unhappy marriage. The receipt of the letter
coincides with Stevens having the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished
relationship, if only under the guise of investigating the possibility of reemployment. Stevens's new employer, a wealthy American named Mr Farraday,
encourages Stevens to borrow his car to take a well-earned break, a "motoring
trip". As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his immutable
loyalty to Lord Darlington, on the meaning of the term "dignity", and even on his
relationship with his own late father. Ultimately Stevens is forced to ponder the
true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses,
increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and of his for her,
is revealed.
Working together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens
and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings towards each other. All of their
recollected conversations show a professional friendship which at times came
close to crossing the line into romance, but never dared to do so.
Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore
is no longer Miss Kenton but has become Mrs Benn. She admits to wondering
occasionally what a life with Stevens might have been like, but she has come to
love her husband and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild.
Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his longtime employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses
on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr Farraday.
Characters in The Remains of the Day
James Stevens (Mr Stevens) – the narrator, an English butler who serves at
Darlington Hall. He is a devoted butler with high standards and particularly
concerned with dignity
Miss Kenton – housekeeper at Darlington Hall, afterwards married as Mrs Benn
Lord Darlington – the owner of Darlington Hall, whose failed efforts toward
talks between English and German diplomats caused his political and social
William Stevens (Mr Stevens senior) – the 72-year-old father of butler Stevens
(the narrator), serving as under-butler; Stevens senior suffers a severe stroke
during a conference at Darlington Hall. His son was divided between serving and
Senator Lewis – An American senator who criticises Lord Darlington as being
an "amateur" in politics.
Mr Farraday – the new American employer of Stevens
Young Mr Cardinal – a journalist; he is the son of one of Lord Darlington's
closest friends and is killed in Belgium during the Second World War
Dupont – a high-ranking French politician who attends Darlington's conference
On his motoring trip, Stevens briefly comes into contact with several other
characters. They are mirrors to Stevens and show the reader different facets of
his character; they are also all kind and try to help him. Two in particular, Dr.
Carlisle and Harry Smith, highlight themes in the book.
The most important aspect of Stevens's life is his dignity as an English butler.
Such aspects of refined dignity, especially when applied under stressful situations,
are, to Stevens, what define a "great butler". As such, Stevens constantly maintains
an inward and outward sense of dignity to preserve his own identity. He dedicated
his whole life to Lord Darlington
These philosophies of dignity, however, greatly affect his life—largely with
respect to social constraints, loyalty and politics, and love and relationships. By
preserving dignity at the expense of such emotions, Stevens in a way loses his
sense of humanity with respect to his own personal self. Stevens's primary
struggle within the novel is how his dignity relates to his own experiences, as well
as the role his dignity plays in the past, present, and future.[1]
Banter is a central and underlying theme in the novel. Stevens introduces it in the
prologue as a problem which he considers his duty to solve to please Mr Farraday.
Stevens takes this new duty very seriously. He ponders over it, practices in his
room, and studies a radio programme called "Twice a Week or More" for its
witticisms. He practises banter on the people he meets, such as the locals in the
Coach and Horses inn near Taunton, but is unsuccessful. He agonises over it yet
fails to realise that it is his delivery that is lacking. The true significance of banter
becomes apparent at the end of the novel when Stevens has met the retired
butler who strikes up a conversation with him and tells him to enjoy his old age.
Stevens then listens to the chatter of the people around him, in a positive frame of
mind, and realises that banter is "the key to human warmth".
Social constraints
The novel does not present the situation of Stevens as simply a personal one. It
seems clear that Stevens's position as butler, and servant, has gradually made it
impossible for him to live a fulfilling emotional life. His father dies, and Stevens is
too occupied with worrying about whether his butlering is being carried out
correctly to mourn (something that he later reflects on with great pride). Stevens
too cannot bring himself to express feelings about personal matters, as
expressing such emotions would compromise his dignity.
The social rules at the time were certainly a major constraint. As we see in the
book, servants who wish to get married and have children immediately find
themselves without a job, since married life is seen as incompatible with total
devotion to one's master. A truly "great butler" does not abandon his profession,
and, as such, Stevens feels that such choices are foolish in regard to the life of a
Loyalty and politics
Stevens is shown as totally loyal to Lord Darlington, whose friendly approach
towards Germany, through his friendship to Mrs Charles Barnet, also results in
close contacts to right-wing extremist organisations, such as the Blackshirts of Sir
Oswald Mosley. Due to this, he also discharges the two Jewish staff members
(which he regrets later as a mistake). He also had contact with British and German
diplomats. In "day four – afternoon" a meeting is described between the Prime
Minister and German Ambassador Ribbentrop in the rooms of his estate. Stevens
is quite incapable of believing his master to be wrong in this, as Lord Darlington's
upbringing and heritage carry a certain type of dignity that is above and beyond
Stevens' own.
Love and relationships
Stevens is arguably aware on some level of Miss Kenton's feelings, but he fails to
reciprocate. Miss Kenton's actions often leave Stevens bemused and puzzled, but
his recollections reveal to the reader the lost possibilities of their relationship, as
past interactions are recreated. However, Stevens is never able to acknowledge
the complexity of feeling he possesses for Miss Kenton, insisting only that they
shared an 'excellent professional relationship'. It is not only the constraints of his
social situation, but also his own emotional maturity (or immaturity) that holds
him back. During their time spent at Darlington Hall, Stevens chose to maintain a
sense of distance born from his personal understanding of dignity, as opposed to
searching and discovering the feelings that existed between himself and Miss
Kenton. It is only within their final encounter that Stevens tragically becomes
aware of the lost potential of his life with Miss Kenton.
Memory and perspective
In common with his other novels, Ishiguro uses the structural devices of memory
and perspective within this novel. Past events are presented from the view point
of the main protagonist, the ageing Stevens; elements of the past are presented as
fragments, apparently subconsciously censored by Stevens to present (explicitly)
a description of past occurrences as he would have the reader understand them
and (implicitly) to relay the fact that the information supplied is subjective. On
occasion the narrator acknowledges the potential inaccuracy of his recollections
and this serves the reader by inviting him to question the pedigree of the
information relayed by Stevens; the more the reader learns about Stevens’
character, the more we are able to interpret the sub-textual intention of the
fragments of memory presented by him. This device serves to engage the reader
who is invited to look beneath the facts of the incidents in question and provides a
clever literary device for looking beyond the public face presented by a character
whose very essence is characterised by the presentation of a dignified façade.
Allusions to real life events
The theme of the decline of the British aristocracy can be linked to the 1911
Parliament Act, which reduced their power, and to inheritance tax increases
imposed after World War I, which forced the break-up of many estates that had
been passed down for generations.
The pro-German stance of Lord Darlington has parallels in the warm relations
with Germany favoured by some British aristocrats in the early 1930s, such as
Lord Londonderry.
The Remains of the Day is one of the most highly regarded post-war British
novels. In 1989 the novel won the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious
literary prizes in the English-speaking world.[2]
The Remains of the Day appeared in a 2007 Guardian list of "Books you can't live
without"[3] and also in a 2009 "1000 novels everyone must read".[4] In 2006,
The Observer asked 150 literary writers and critics to vote for the best British,
Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005; The Remains of the Day placed
joint-eighth.[5] It ranks 146th in a composite list of greatest twentieth-century
English-language novels by Brian Kunde of Stanford University.[6]
Grade Saver
The Remains of the Day Summary
The Remains of the Day, the third novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, was published in
1989 to great acclaim, winning the Man Booker Prize for Literature. The book
tells the story of Stevens, an English butler working at Darlington Hall. At the start
of the novel, he is encouraged to take a vacation by his employer, Mr. Farraday, an
American gentleman who believes Stevens needs a break from his duties. Stevens
believes the suggestion dovetails nicely with his desire to visit a former colleague
at Darlington Hall - Miss Kenton, now Mrs. Benn, residing in West England.
Twenty years ago, Miss Kenton and he worked at Darlington Hall together, he as
butler, she as maid, but she left upon her marriage, and now twenty years later,
she is divorced, and Stevens looks forward to bringing her back to Darlington Hall
to help with his increasing staff problems. Specifically, Stevens has had trouble
since the end of the second World War finding a large enough staff to handle the
work at the estate. An act of Parliament in England severely limited the power of
the aristocracy and ultimately began to break up these huge estates - Darlington
Hall is one of the last few.
The book spans his one week trip to visit Miss Kenton and involves a mainly
stream-of-consciousness 'moral inventory' of Stevens' life. It's as if he's creating a
mental diary of his life over this trip, aiming to come to terms with his life choices
and his ultimate direction. He first reflects upon what makes a butler a 'great' one,
something he clearly has aspirations to achieve. In his eyes, a great butler is what
the Hayes Society describes as a man of a distinguished household and a man of
dignity. It is this definition of dignity that most concerns Stevens - and he believes
it reflects a man who maintains his professionalism no matter what the
circumstances. Much of the book, then, is dedicated to providing accounts of
Stevens' exhibiting this professionalism at the expense of his human feelings.
For instance, during a great convention at Lord Darlington's house in 1923,
Stevens had to handle his dying father in an upstairs room all the while managing
the guests of the convention. Ultimately he forgoes his father to focus on the
guests, and ultimately misses his father's passing. Stevens looks back on this
moment with pride. At the same time, he looks back on the fact that he resisted
his attraction to Miss Kenton and stayed faithful to Darlington Hall, even after she
left. In his eyes, there is triumph in sacrifice for the sake of one's own employer.
Even small anecdotes reveal this - like when Stevens fires two Jewish maids at the
behest of Lord Darlington even though he doesn't agree with his employer's
But the majority of the novel is dedicated to Stevens and his relationship with
Miss Kenton over the course of their 20 years at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton
arrived at a time when Stevens and his father both worked at the estate. It is Miss
Kenton who informs Stevens that his father no longer can do the work required
and must be stripped of his major duties. And indeed, though Stevens is offended,
it is Miss Kenton who ultimately stays with Stevens' father as he lays dying. Upon
Stevens' father's death, Miss Kenton becomes almost a substitute for him in
Stevens' life - the only person who seems like family, the only person who can
provide him love. When the novel begins, then, she's been gone nearly twenty
years, but Stevens seizes upon the fact that her marriage might be crumbling as a
reason to visit her. Twenty years before, however, Miss Kenton had given Stevens
an opportunity to stop her marriage and take her for himself - an opportunity he
let go.
Stevens finds his car runs aground in Moscombe and spends the night with the
Taylors. They have a dinner there, where Stevens speaks of his past meetings
with dignitaries, never once revealing that he is, in fact, a butler. When Dr. Carlisle
drives him back to his car the next day, the doctor pokes a hole in the facade and
Stevens finally admits that he is, in fact, the butler at Darlington Hall. With this
revelation, Stevens finally makes the last part of his journey to meet Miss Kenton.
But when Stevens finally does meet her, with full plans to bring her back to
Darlington Hall and perhaps confess his love, he finds that the spirit has gone out
of her. She reveals that she is going back to her husband. Even though she may
not love him, he has always been there for her. Stevens realizes he's too late and
sends her off with well-wishes and returns to Darlington Hall to fulfill the
'remains of his day.'
About The Remains of the Day
Remains of the Day, published in 1989 is the third novel by Kazuo Ishiguro after
A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World. Remains of the Day has
since become a modern classic after it won not only the Man Booker Prize in
1989, but also was turned into an 1993 film by James Ivory and Ismail Merchant,
starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, which went on to win a slew of
major international awards.
Ishiguro had already developed a penchant for first-person narration, which
Remains of the Day epitomizes through its stream-of-conscious writing. Indeed,
Remains of the Day seems similar to epistolary novels, comprised of letters, in
that it renders clearly the thoughts of a hero with no objective reporting from the
outside world to verify or disprove given assumptions. Though Remains of the
Day was faithful to this first-person trend in Ishiguro's work, it departed in that it
was not based in Japan or involved a Japanese main character.
Historical context is a key aspect of Remains of the Day, and in this case, the
novel takes place during the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, major
sections of the novel consider Lord Darlington's response to various climaxes of
the war - specifically the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt unfairly punished
Germany and set out to ruin the country economically. The purpose of this
historical context is to suggest that the main character had a front seat to major
goings-on during this crisis in international affairs, while also symbolizing the
deterioration of 'old Britain.' Most crucially, it is important to note that Stevens'
employer - Lord Darlington - seems to be a sympathizer of Hitler, adding more
burdens to Stevens as an employee who must cast off his boss' political
allegiances. At the same time, the novel's title - The Remains of the Day - serves to
highlight the decline of British aristocracy, linked specifically to an act of
parliament in the early 20th century which levied large inheritance taxes to break
up the manorial estates which had become a major source of accumulated
Ultimately, Remains of the Day doesn't necessarily reflect Ishiguro casting
negative aspersions or nostalgia upon a time in Britain's history when the
aristocracy ruled so dominantly. That said, Stevens' deep examination of the
aristocracy's place in England suggests that the novel is less a critique of
imperialism and more a struggle to evaluate its legacy.
Stevens is one of the most beloved characters in modern literature because his
emotional arc is so clear. At the beginning of the novel, he is hopeful and
anticipatory of a new adventure - one that he hopes will bring him personal
fulfillment. By the end, he finds his dream quashed, and limps back to his old life
to bear out the 'remains of his day.' Stevens very much owns every cell of
Ishiguro's creation. He is the sole narrator and has full domain over every
assumption, assertion, and thought. At no point can we question Stevens' veracity
or retelling of events because there is no arbiter of truth in the novel, aside from
his own recollections and comprehension of his own memories. Indeed, Stevens
is so self-aware and clear about his own shortcomings and mistakes that we fully
trust his rendition of events. At the same time, we're also clearly aware of Stevens'
shortcomings in self-analysis. He is terribly blind to his own repression and
inability to let go of work and pursue his own human desire. As the novel
progresses, Stevens becomes a prisoner of his own fear, ultimately destroying his
chance for true love. By the time he finally comes to terms with his own
weaknesses, it is, in fact, far too late.
Miss Kenton
Miss Kenton is Stevens' object of desire, despite his inability to truly confess it.
Miss Kenton, when the novel opens, has long left Darlington Hall. Indeed, the book
begins nearly twenty years after her departure, which came before the start of
World War II. The book, then, is Stevens' recollection of his time working
alongside her as he begins his journey to go meet her. Miss Kenton clearly
harbored her own affections for Stevens and tried deeply to get him to admit his
affections for her. And yet, Stevens never could. As a result, Miss Kenton ends up
marrying a man that she does not even love, it seems. The pivotal moment of her
own personal journey comes when she tells Stevens of her engagement, hoping it
seems that he might stop her. He doesn't, and as a result, twenty years later, when
he arrives at her door, it's too late. She's already committed to a loveless marriage
- one that she's grown accustomed to and settled for.
Lord Darlington
Lord Darlington is Stevens' and Miss Kenton's employer in the years leading up to
WOrld War II. Darlington, himself, appears to be a German-sympathizer specifically a Hitler sympathizer, as he seeks to keep Germany from falling apart
in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles. That said, Darlington is a gentle man and
treats Stevens and his staff delicately - except for one moment when he does fire
two Jewish maids because of his German sympathies. Ultimately, Darlington is
considered honorable by Stevens and a man worthy of deep respect.
Stevens' Father (William Stevens)
Stevens' father works at Darlington Hall with Stevens and Miss Kenton up until
his death. Stevens' father is even more dutiful and devoted to his profession than
Stevens. Indeed, Stevens refers to him as a great butler because of his prodigious
skill and commitment. But his relationship with his son suffers greatly because of
this devout dedication to work.
Mr. Farraday
Mr. Farraday is an American aristocrat who takes over from Lord Darlington
upon his death, and thus becomes Steves' employer. Compared to Lord
Darlington, Mr. Farraday is nowhere near as formal -- and teases Stevens at his
inability to be more casual and relaxed.
Sir David Cardinal
Sir David Cardinal is a friend of Lord Darlington's who shares his pro-German
sympathies. SPecifically, David Cardinal believes that Germany should not have to
pay reparations or suffer tremendously as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. He
also asks Lord Darlington, who in turn asks Stevens, to teach his son Reginald
about the birds and the bees.
Sir Reginald Cardinald
Reginald Cardinal is quite different from his father in that he is anti-fascist and
anti-Nazi. Indeed, Sir Cardinal tells Stevens that Lord Darlington is being unduly
influenced by his father to take pro-German action and ultimately help prop up
the Nazis.
Herr Ribbentrop
Herr Ribbentrop becomes a close friend to Lord Darlington while serving as the
German Ambassador during World War II. He becomes a chief source of
propagating Lord Darlington's pro-German sentiments.
Mr. Lewis
Mr. Lewis is an American senator who visits Lord Darlington's convention that
aims to lift German penalties for supporting the World War I Axis. In the end, he
denounces Lord Darlington as an amateur politician.
Mr. Dupont
Mr. Dupont is a friend of Lord Darlington who attends his seminal 1923
conference to help alleviate the penalties on the Germans post WW1. He arrives
with sores on his feet and makes it a point of constantly harassing Stevens for
medicine, ultimately leading Stevens to spend more time with him than his dying
Herr Breman
Herr Breman is another German friend of Lord Darlington's who ultimately kills
himself. Lord Darlington uses him as an example of the terrible conditions in post
WW1 Germany.
Mr. John Silver
Mr. Silver is Stevens' father's employer before Lord Darlington.
Rosemary and Agnes
Stevens' current staff at Darlington Hall includes Rosemary and Agnes, two young
Mrs. Clements and Mrs. Mortimer
Mrs. Clements is the current cook at Darlington Hall while Mrs. Mortimer worked
there during the time of Lord Darlington, Miss Kenton, and Stevens' father.
Lord Halifax
Lord Halifax is the correspondent to Germany during World War II from Britain,
who is also the Foreign Secretary of the country.
Lady Astor
Lady Astor convinces Lord Darlington to fire his two Jewish maids because she is
pro-Nazi and pro-fascist (and a member of a British fascist sympathizer group.)
Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor lives in Moscombe with his wife and takes Stevens in when his car runs
Harry Smith
Harry is a friend of the Taylors who has dinner with them the night Stevens
arrives. He tells Stevens he is a politician and that it is man's moral duty to speak
up when it comes to his opinions.
Ruth and Sarah
Ruth and Sarah are the two Jewish girls that Lord Darlington fires upon the
suggestion of Lady Astor. Miss Kenton tells Stevens she will quit if they are indeed
fired, but later reneges on her vow.
Lloyd George
Lloyd George is the prime minister of England in the years following WW 1, and
thus Lord Darlington's efforts on behalf of Germany are meant mainly to convince
Mr. George to change England's harsh policies in the wake of the Treaty of
Dr. Carlisle
Dr. Carlisle meets Stevens at the Taylors and offers to give him a ride back to his
car after hearing of Stevens' problems. He also says that he knows Stevens was a
servant, and not a dignitary.
Dr. Meredith
Dr. Meredith attends to Stevens' dying father on the pivotal night of Lord
Darlington's convention in 1923.
Major Themes
Duty vs. Desire
Perhaps the deepest theme of Ishiguro's novel involves the conflict between
Stevens' duties and his personal desires which in his mind are in profound
conflict. Stevens always believed that a dignified butler never let his facade go never let go of the professionalism no matter the circumstances. Thus, though he
is deeply in love with Miss Kenton, Stevens cannot express it - both because he
believes it improper to fall in love with one who serves below him in the staff
hierarchy, but moreso because he believes that such love would be a distraction.
The other thing to note is that Stevens is so determined to hold onto his dignity
that he creates a straightjacket for himself that prevents him from feeling
emotions or even recognizing them. Indeed, Stevens takes pleasure in his own
asceticism - in his ability to ignore his dying father and focus on the sore foot of a
visiting French ambassador, or in his ability to accept his employer's pro-Nazi
sympathizers. What's created, then, is an inverse relationship between duty and
authenticity, leaving Stevens emotionally bankrupt by the end of the novel. At the
end, he has nothing but duty and must finally sacrifice his desires entirely.
Dignity vs. Authenticity
One of the more compelling aspects of Stevens' philosophy involves his definition
of dignity. According to Stevens, a butler has dignity if he is able to maintain his
professionalism no matter what the circumstances. According to Stevens, dignity
is holding on to one's duty no matter what's happening around you. But he finds
others with competing definitions. At the Taylor's house in Moscombe, he meets a
man who believes that dignity comprises quite the opposite - namely the ability
to express oneself fully, authentically. In this man's definition, a person who
represses his own feelings and opinions in the name of professionalism would be
considered "undignified". Thus part of the point of Ishiguro's story is to lay out
the basis for two different understandings of what dignity means and offer a
character stranded between them. Ultimately, of course, Stevens follows his own
definition, but suffers the consequences of finding his deep feelings sublimated,
crying out for acknowledgment. In the end, he loses his dignity by recognizing his
feelings and discovering that he indeed had followed the wrong definition all
Formal vs. Informal Relationships
In the course of the novel, we're exposed to a slew of different social interactions
- many of which demand formal interaction and others which can subsist on
more casual engagement. All are dictated by class hierarchy, specifically
associated with the British aristocracy in the time the novel takes place - namely
the early twentieth-century. Stevens is extremely fastidious about the formality of
his interactions. We sense that he learned this from his father, who treats his son
with the utmost formality. Even close to death, Stevens' father is concerned with
his duties - only able to acknowledge his relationship with his son as he takes his
last breaths. Stevens, meanwhile, is so tied to his own formal nature that he is
unable to 'banter' or joke with his new employer, Mr. Farraday, without having to
practice incessantly. Stevens even goes so far as to try out his new bantering skills
when he visits Moscombe, but finds that in his new context as an individual, not a
servant, his bantering is taken differently. Stevens, upon leaving Darilngton Hall,
suddenly realizes that there is a world outside rigid formality.
Aspiring vs. Settling
By the end of the novel, we find ourselves with characters that much choose
between seeking to fulfill their dreams or settling for what's most readily
available. In the case of Miss Kenton, for instance, she always loved Stevens and
fully gave him the chance to intervene in her marriage before she accepted her
husband's proposal. When he doesn't, however, Miss Kenton makes the choice to
marry a man she doesn't necessarily love. But at the end of a twenty-year journey,
when Stevens finally does find her again, we discover that Miss Kenton never did
come to terms with her settling - but only recently has accepted that she will
never find the passionate love to which she aspired. Stevens ultimately makes the
same decision when faced with Miss Kenton's story of the last twenty years.
Instead of confessing his love for Miss Kenton at this pivotal moment, then, he
agrees with her and tells her to go back to her husband. He heads back to
Darlington Hall, settling for his duty and renouncing love.
Upstairs vs. Downstairs
Stevens inhabits two worlds. There is the 'upstairs' world which involves serving
Lord Darlington and Mr. Farraday and all their guests -- a world in which he must
maintain rigid formality and attentiveness at all times. Stevens sees himself fully
as an extension of Lord Darlington at this point - without his own desires or
identity. In the 'downstairs' world, however, Stevens is not subservient, and
instead fully in charge of his own staff. In one world then, he is acquiescent, while
in the other he takes the reins. These two worlds come into conflict precisely
because they require different conceptions of identity. Upstairs, Stevens must
learn to let go of his own ego, feelings, and desires in order to do his job as
professionally as he can. Downstairs, however, Stevens finds his feelings
constantly stirred by human events - the death of his father, falling in love with
Miss Kenton, the firing of two maids because of their religious faiths. Upstairs,
then, he wears a mask, while downstairs he takes it off. The question is whether
Stevens can reconcile these two worlds - a feat which he ultimately fails to
Ego vs. Subservience
Perhaps one of the more compelling moments in The Remains of the Day comes
when Stevens has dinner at the Taylors' house in Moscombe and details the
stories of his time at Darlington Hall without revealing that he was a butler
during the time. At this precise moment, then, we see the conflict between a man
who still preserves his own sense of ego and integrity and a man who's given his
life over to another. Outside of Darlington Hall, Stevens finds power in
appropriating the power of an aristocrat, if even fleetingly. To be his own man,
even for this brief moment, is enough to give him an intoxicating feeling of
freedom. When he's discovered, however, he feels relieved - as if finding his place
as a butler again reminds him of the truth and makes him feel less ashamed.
Indeed, there is a deep part of Stevens that is afraid to come into his own as a man
and make his own decisions. Taking orders and executing them to the best of his
ability is what gives him his self-esteem.
Sexual Desire vs. Sexual Repression
Miss Kenton has managed to find a balance between her duties and her own
human qualities - specifically her ability to temper human sexual desire with her
ability to remain a professional. On her vacation days, she visits with a man, and
sees a future as a servant not in conflict with that as a wife. Stevens, however,
cannot speak in terms of love or human desire. Every time he wants to
compliment Miss Kenton or reach out to her romantically, he can only do it in the
context of their work. Miss Kenton grows increasingly frustrated by his
limitations and subtly begs him to just confess his love for her so they might both
live their lives to fulfillment. But Stevens cannot separate his human desire from
work - and cannot find any other way of framing his own identity or sexuality
without contextualizing it in work. Ultimately, this enables Miss Kenton to leave
Darlington Hall and find life as her own person - as a wife and mother - while
Stevens is condemned to spend the rest of his life alone at Darlington Hall, as if
he's a prisoner.
Prologue - Darlington Hall (July 1956)
Stevens, the narrator of Ishiguro's novel, is the head butler to Mr. Farraday, the
Lord of Darlington Hall. The story opens with Stevens prepared to take an
'expedition,' for which he has full permission of Mr. Farraday - including the use
of his Ford car - and for which he has been planning quite some time. Mr.
Farraday is on his way to the United States for five weeks in August and
September and has encouraged him to take a break, and drive off somewhere in
the country.
At first, Stevens is a bit incredulous, assuming there is little behind Mr. Farraday's
suggestion. But his employer presses him, saying he should take a break from the
big house - and he'd even foot the bill for gas. Still, Stevens does not take the
prospect of a 'vacation' seriously - until a letter arrives for him. The letter is from
Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, who he has not heard
from in seven years. In the letter, Stevens believes he picks up subtle cues from
Miss Kenton that she would like to return to her work at Darlington Hall. And it is
for this reason that Stevens plans to undertake the expedition to fully convince
her that such a return would be fully welcome.
Indeed, Stevens has been troubled by his own performance of late. He considers
his recent work patchy - riddled with the smallest of errors that suggest that he is
overworked, and may soon make an even bigger error. At present, there are only
four staff members in the house - Mrs. Clements, the new housekeeper, and
Rosemary and Agnes, the two girls that help her. But he believes they are
woefully understaffed and that he has given himself far too much to do. The
return of Miss Kenton would save them and the house from inevitable
Stevens takes up the mundane details of planning the trip with extreme care. He
fusses about the cost of gas, hotels, snacks and meals; what to wear, since most of
his outfits are formal suits; and a course of itinerary, carefully divined from an
encyclopedic book called The Wonder of England. It is in reviewing the latter - a
seven-part photographic epic about the country - that Stevens sees great
possibilities in not only meeting Miss Kenton, but also exploring the England he
hasn't seen. He also has quite a bit of curiosity to see where Miss Kenton
ultimately moved in order to get married and live as a wife.
Stevens decides to bring the matter up again with Mr. Farraday. He worries that
when his employer brought up the idea earlier, it was just a momentary impulse,
but settles upon broaching the subject during afternoon tea. When he explains
the purpose of his trip, Stevens mentions the plan to visit Miss Kenton, but
suddenly loses his conviction, realizing he hadn't cleared with his employer his
plot to add to the staff once more nor made any advances to Miss Kenton to
ensure that she did desire to return to Darlington Hall. His awkwardness
produces a single response in Mr. Farraday: 'My, my Stevens. A lady-friend. And at
your age?' Stevens is aghast and embarrassed but secures the necessary
permission to go on his trip.
Stevens makes note of his employer's quick wit with words and his ability to
banter and make jokes. Stevens himself wishes he had such facility. He regularly
finds himself before Mr. Farraday, the butt of a joke, unable to come up with an
appropriate response. He is sure that bantering is just a sign of friendliness - and
there's never any harmful or mean-spirited ribbing involved. But it requires a
sense of casualness which he is not used to, nor has practiced.
Stevens himself, believes that only through practice can he appropriately be up to
standards with rejoinders to Farraday's bantering. He notes that he is quite sure
that Farraday is not satisfied with his responses, and even notes that his
employer makes even more stinging barbs these days in an effort to provoke a
response. Simply put, Stevens notes that he cannot think of witticisms quickly
enough. He vows to work on his bantering. And with that, he sets out on his trip
to meet Miss Kenton in West England.
Remains of the Day is a remarkable novel for its sheer force of point of view. This
is a story told entirely through the protagonist Stevens' eyes, and is thus one of
the most in-depth character studies that classic literature claims - and one the
reasons for its vaunted status. The prologue, then, besides establishing the basic
narrative devices that will drive the story forward, does more to introduce us to
the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the butler of Darlington Hall. Stevens is, to put
it mildly, quite detail-oriented, and certainly obsessive about his duties. But what
we first notice about him is a remarkable lack of shame or resentment about his
position. This is not the story of a butler who wants to ascend ranks or secretly
despises his master - or ever sees himself equal to his Lord. Rather, Stevens has
one goal and one goal only - to serve the wishes of Mr. Farraday and to do his job
as best he can.
But immediately, we begin to see cracks in the facade that suggest that Stevens
cares about nothing else but his job. For one thing, Mr. Farraday is quite adamant
that Stevens take a vacation from Darlington Hall, perhaps implying that one
might be necessary for Steven's mental health. Moreover, Stevens seems
preoccupied with a letter that's arrived from Miss Kenton - so much so that when
Mr. Farraday alludes to his potential crush on the former Darlington Hall
housekeeper, he's simply stating the obvious subtext of Stevens ruminations on
Miss Kenton. Stevens seems particularly regretful of a number of small errors
that he's made in the house, of late, but underneath it is the feeling that he's
incredibly lonely - that the absence of Miss Kenton has left him in a giant manor
with no one to talk to. The replacements - Mrs. Clements and the two assisting
girls - are simply his employees and he manages them and thinks of them as
nothing more. The idea that Stevens regrets his treatment of Miss Kenton, then,
offers the reader foreshadowing for what will most likely be the climax of the
novel - a meeting between the two of them to address the unfinished business of
the past.
As a reader, it's crucial to view Stevens' surface narrative as highly unreliable.
Everything he says is weighted with the utmost subtext. He may extol the The
Wonders of England as his inspiration for his trip to the west country, but then a
small blip reveals the truth - that he's curious where Miss Kenton has taken up
her married life. He might pontificate about his awkwardness when bantering
with his master, and then offer the quick commitment to becoming better at
witticisms - revealing a profound insecurity, and an even deeper fear of being
abandoned or unloved. Miss Kenton has left Darlington Hall to start a new life, to
become married, but Stevens, perhaps out of desperation, perhaps out of
desolation, resolves to bring her back and sets out with hope and fervency. The
tone, then, of this opening section is one feverish with hope, buoyed by a sense of
renewal and possibility for Stevens.
The prologue also has a melancholy undertone to it because we realize that
Stevens is quite advanced in his years - and perhaps has reached the twilight of
life (or at least the beginning of sunset). Somehow, despite his relentless pursuit
of perfection, his commitment to serving his master, his quest to become a great
butler and a great man... it's all not enough. There is an emptiness in him, a void
that he must fill - and one that takes him away from the house and on what may
likely be a futile journey. But in the end, it is for the cause of something he has
never had - love.
Besides the rigorous control over point of view, Ishiguro also employs a subtle use
of time jumps that suggest a deep 'stream of consciousness' feel to Stevens'
recollections. As the novel continues, pay close attention to how often Stevens
takes detours in his memory, to beef up an assertion or to question one of his
own conclusions. What Ishiguro seems to be after is the sense that this man has
come to live his entire life in his mind -- to have lost the desire to engage people,
to find true love -- and rather embraced the narratives of his own head. Only after
these narratives have failed to satisfy him does he realize that he is unfulfilled.
And so with that, the journey begins.
Day One (Evening) - Salisbury
Stevens sits in a guesthouse in Salisbury and looks back over the first day of his
trip. All in all, he says he is quite satisfied. He left Darlington Hall with an odd
feeling, since without him and Mr. Farraday there, it would stand empty for the
first time since perhaps the estate was built. He checks the house again and again
to make sure things are in order before he goes. Once he leaves, he finds himself
overtaken with excitement - and alarm - for having journeyed far beyond where
he ever had before.
He steps out to stretch his legs and meets a stranger who urges him to walk all
the way to the top of the hill, where Stevens will find a beautiful vista - "You won't
get a better view anywhere in the whole of England," says the stranger. Stevens
takes up the man on his challenge and walks to the top of the hill where he finds a
magnificent view of the countryside. He is buoyed by the sight and proceeds with
firm resolve to find Miss Kenton and bring her back to solve his current staffing
That afternoon, Stevens arrives at a Salisbury guest house, where he makes up
his room, and then ventures out into the streets. He marvels at the wide, airy
nature of the city, at the looming cathedral, but says everything he's seen pales in
comparison to the remarkable view of the countryside he had in the morning.
The view reminds him of why the country is called "Great" Britain, and Stevens
begins to consider what it is about a country or a person that makes them great.
In particular, he thinks, what is it that makes a "great butler"?
In the 1920s and 30s, there existed an organization known as the Hayes Society,
which held considerable influence over London and other Counties. The Hayes
Society only admitted butlers 'of the very first rank,' and had several criteria for
membership. These included that an applicant be attached to a distinguished
household, and that the applicant be possessed of a dignity in keeping with his
position. This word 'dignity' preoccupies Stevens - and he realizes that it is in fact
true that all the butlers he considers great did, in fact, possess true 'dignity.'
Stevens points to his father as one of the 'great' butlers precisely because he
maintained such a remarkable sense of dignity. He recalls one story his father told
over the years about a butler he had heard of in India. One afternoon, the butler
entered the dining room and noticed a tiger under the dining table. He then
proceeded to the drawing room, where his employer was having tea with a
number of visitors. He calmly attracted his master's attention, whispered to him
of the tiger's presence, asked for permission to shoot it, which he duly received.
He then shot the tiger, calmly disposed of the carcass, and when he returned,
informed the men that dinner would be served at the usual time with no
discernible traces of the recent occurrence.
Stevens recounts another story that Mr. Charles, an industrialist, tells him about
his father's service at Darlington Hall. One evening, two drunk guests of his Lord
asked Stevens to take them on a drive around the local villages. They persuaded
Mr. Charles to accompany them as well. The men were so unruly and loud and
vulgar, but still Stevens' father said nothing. Then the men began to insult
Stevens' employer - Mr. John Silver. Stevens' father stopped the car, got out,
opened their car door and looked at them with such authority that the two
drunken men 'seemed to cower back like small boys caught by the farmer in the
act of stealing apples.' Under his glare, finally the men apologized, and Stevens'
father resumed the journey.
Another story involved Stevens' father and a General who he deeply loathed.
Specifically, Stevens' father hated the general because the General's policies in
the Southern African War had led to the death of his second son - Stevens' older
brother. The General came to Stevens' fathers employer's house, and Mr. Silver
offered Stevens' father the option of not working those days. But Stevens' father
refused and waited on the General for several days, despite his terrible manners and did so well, in fact, that the General left him a substantial tip that Stevens'
father donated to charity in disgust.
'Dignity,' then, says Stevens has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to
abandon the professional being he inhabits. In other words, a butler must be a
tremendous actor - never to react to provocation and drop their facade. They can
inhabit their role, maintain it, and not be shaken out, no matter what the
If the first chapter of Remains of the Day set up the narrative frame for the novel
- namely Stevens' trip to West England, then this second chapter sets up the
figurative and thematic frames. Here, Stevens ruminates on what it is that makes
a great butler - what separates one from the masses that populate the history of
the profession. He settles upon the word 'dignity' as that which distinguishes the
cream of the crop and even comes to establish a definition. Stevens is extremely
ordered in his thinking. For even though Remains of the Day is a stream-ofconsciousness character study - a peek inside Stevens' head - he thinks in
paragraphs that often begin with a hypothetical question, and end with a
conclusion. The paradox of Stevens is that no matter how terse or concise he is
with his actual speaking, he is a loquacious thinker - prone to diversion,
exposition, and long stretches of contemplation.
The definition of 'dignity' that Stevens establishes seems at once honorable and
disturbing. Dignity, in his eyes, is the ability to inhabit the professionalism of the
butler and never drop the facade. In other words, to lose ones natural instincts and
become unflappable in the name of service is the highest aim of one who
undertakes the profession. It is no wonder, then, that Stevens is so uncomfortable
in moments of silence, solitude, purposelessness. He has, quite simply, abdicated
his own soul in order to be a better butler.
Most defining characters of classic literature have a crucial 'want' that defines
their life. Some, for instance, want to find their identiy, others to prove their
manhood, others to find love. But for Stevens, here we see that his defining quest
is to prove his worth as his father's son - to become a great butler in order to
honor his father. But Stevens doesn't seem to consider himself a great butler.
There is a sense of melancholy in his inability to completely relinquish feelings in
the same way that his father did - able to even stomach his son's de facto killer in
the name of serving his employer.
What Stevens, of course, wants deep down is love. It is perhaps obvious that he
didn't receive it from his father, has yet to receive it from a woman, and he has
now began to face that chasm of unfulfillment that comes once one reaches the
twilight of life. He had never left Darlington Hall before, and now sets out with the
purpose of bringing a woman back - for staffing needs, perhaps, but more to find
a way to have his professional and personal desires coalesce. For bringing back
Miss Kenton will not only enable Stevens to improve the household - and thus his
chances of greatness as a butler - but to also fulfill a profound emptiness that has
begun to impede his professional work. The irony of Stevens is that without Miss
Kenton at the house, he should be able to focus even more clearly on his work.
But without her there, he's become increasingly distracted and careless.
Mr. Farraday is a bit of a nebulous character, but we should not necessarily
attribute this to Mr. Farraday himself. It is Stevens, after all, who defines him - and
Stevens seems only to remark about the instances where he's frustrated by his
employer's sense of ease and banter. Because what Farraday has that makes
Stevens respect him so much is that delicious sense of ease within himself that
Stevens envies, perhaps fears. Where some masters are intimidating, Farraday is
quite the opposite - casual, loose - and this terrifies Stevens. So much so that he
resolves to practice being casual in order to be more at ease in front of his
employer - one of the remarkable ironies of Stevens' characters that will develop
even more as we proceed.
Day Two (Morning) - Salisbury
Stevens has a rough time sleeping and awakes in the dark. In these quiet
moments, he finds himself going over passages from Miss Kenton's letter. He says
that Miss Kenton should be called Mrs. Benn, since she has now been married for
twenty years. But because he knew her only during her maiden years, he
continues calling her Miss Kenton. Stevens now reveals that Miss Kenton's
marriage has come to an end. She has moved out of Mr. Benn's house and is living
with an acquaintance in a nearby village. Stevens says that it is tragic that her
marriage is ended, but he wonders whether coming back to Darlington Hall might
relieve her of her loneliness. Stevens has read her letter closely, and believes he
has found a running subtext of despair. He sees emptiness, unfulfillment in Miss
Kenton's tone, and the change in her makes him reminisce back to her days
working alongside him and her father at Darlington Hall.
Miss Kenton and Stevens' father both arrived at Darlington Hall in the Spring of
1922. Stevens says they came at the same time because an underbutler and
housekeeper had a secret affair and then left the house to marry. Stevens makes
it clear he finds such liaisons a threat to the order of the house, and is especially
disdainful of those who jump from house to house looking for romance with little
sense of responsibility to their profession. (But he does not include Miss Kenton
in this description for he always found her work of the highest quality.)
Stevens' father had come to the house of the death of his previous employer and
was suffering from arthritis. WIth Stevens's father in the house, Stevens and Miss
Kenton often found themselves at odds over him. The first battle comes when
Miss Kenton address his father as 'William,' prompting Stevens to ask her to call
him 'Mr. Stevens senior,' despite Miss Kenton's higher rank. Stevens implies that
his father is superior at his job, which Miss Kenton begins to take issue with
when Stevens' father makes a number of errors. First, he leaves a dust-pan in the
hall, in plain view of those who might visit the house. Then he leaves traces of
polish on the silver, and then manages to reverse two sculptures. The last error
leads to a blowup where Miss Kenton tells Stevens that his father has been
entrusted with far more than he can handle. Steven retorts that she is foolish.
Things come to a head, however, when Stevens' father suffers a terrible fall while
carrying a tray out to guests on the lawn. The doctor arrives and lets Lord
Darlington know that Stevens' father is overworked. Stevens speaks to his father
privately, and quickly we see that their relationship is stilted and dominated by
work. Stevens tells his father that his workload will be reduced, and his father is
at once embarrassed and quick to blame the fall on the crookedness of the lawn
steps. Later that evening, Miss Kenton and Stevens see Stevens' father on those
same steps, walking up and down them "as though he hoped to find some
precious jewel he had dropped there."
Stevens realizes he may have treated his father brusquely, and proceeds to tell a
story that he considers the 'turning point of his life,' one that might further
explicate his relationship with his father. The story involves a conference held at
Darlington Hall in March 1923, convened partly because of Lord Darlington's
friendship with Herr Bremann, an officer in the German army during World War
I. Herr Bremann returned to Darlington Hall in the years after the war, and
looked increasingly gaunt and disheveled each time. Seeing his friend deteriorate,
Lord Darlington had become preoccupied with how the treaty that ended World
War I had left Germany to fend for itself - and England had disgraced its own
values by neglecting a defeated foe so obviously.
Soon after, Herr Bremann shoots himself, which Lord Darlington harbors deep
guilt and resentment over. In his eyes, England was responsible for the officer's
death for not helping the Germans after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. As
a result, then, this convention at Darlington Hall will assemble Britons, Germans,
Belgians, French, Italians, and Swiss in all ranks - clergymen, military gentlemen,
writers and thinkers - in order to determine how to correct the Treaty of
Versailles to that Germany and its inhabitants were not punished so severely and
forced into economic chaos. Indeed, Lord Darlington believed that if the
economic spiral of Germany were not stopped, it could spread with alarming
rapidity to the world at large.
Stevens notes that the preparations for the conference are increasingly hectic
and stressful. He takes an enormous amount of responsibility on his shoulders,
believing that if the conference does not go perfectly - and any guests find their
stay uncomfortable - it would have terrible repercussions. Stevens notices that
Miss Kenton is particularly piqued. When he points out to her that the bed linens
upstairs have to be changed, she retorts that she not only has it under control, but
that if she were had as much time as he apparently does, she would go around the
house reminding him of tasks that he had 'perfectly well in hand.' Stevens offers
his own rejoinder attesting to Miss Kenton's lack of experience, which seems to
be the last straw. She insists that Stevens not speak to her directly ever again and
use a messenger or go-between instead. She leaves him and goes back to his
work. Stevens has no time to consider this incident for the guests have just begun
to arrive.
Time is always fluid in _Remains of the Day_, so often we lose track of whether we
are in the present or the past, and the status of the relationships. It is a novel of
stream-of-consciousness reminiscence, and it is only because Stevens' mind is so
ordered that we end up having a picaresque view of events - in other words, one
that is episodic and anecdotal. In this particular section, we see the convergence
of a few streams in the narrative. First off, we begin to understand the fraught,
frigid relationship between Stevens and his father. Second, we begin to see that
sexual tension appears to overwhelm the relationship between Stevens and Miss
Kenton. And finally, we're poised for a key event at the end of the sequence that
will likely bring all these matters to a head - namely the conference at Lord
Darlington Hall to suggest revisions to the Treaty of Versailles. The political
machinations of the conference provide context as well as parallelism to the more
domestic dramas between Stevens and the rest of the staff that unfold during the
To begin with Stevens and his father, it's quite clear that Stevens is truly awed by
his father's devotion to service and his father's 'dignity' in maintaining his
professionalism at all times. Thus when Stevens' father begins to lose his step a
bit - making errors that Stevens is not used to seeing from him - he reacts with
denial at first. Deep down, Stevens knows two things - that his father is a 'great'
butler, and that for him to give up his profession would most certainly lead to his
death. He finds that Miss Kenton will conspire on neither count - that she calls his
father 'William' because he is of junior rank, and she agrees that he should be
relieved of some of his duties. It is the first seed of tension between Stevens and
Miss Kenton.
Stevens, himself, is completely uncomfortable talking to his father. It is clearly
apparent that Stevens' father commitment to his duties has become his primary
relationship and overwhelmed any sense of responsibility to his son. His son is
merely a worker in the same house, it seems - and they maintain a relationship
that is burdened with formalism, decorum, and impersonal communication. It is
perhaps clear, then, that Stevens can only communicate his emotions in terms of
work. When he is frustrated, he lashes out at another's work habits; when he is
amorous, he compliments one's work - everything must be conveyed through
This tendency to sublimate emotions into work is what brings Stevens and Miss
Kenton's relationship to a head. By now, it is quite apparent that Stevens has
taken a liking to Miss Kenton. And indeed, when he wants to engage her, he says
simply that she should clean the upstairs. Miss Kenton, for her part, wants no part
of such work-related flirtation, and in fact, takes his comments quite literally.
When Stevens labels Miss Kenton 'inexperienced,' it seems to be done with the
utmost affection, but she is enraged by it. Something about Stevens' tendency to
operate in subtext consistently sets her off and ultimately leads to her severing
communication altogether. Remember, Stevens is most definitely the protagonist
of the novel, while there seems to be an absent antagonist. Every episode seems
to have its own - Miss Kenton at times, perhaps Lord Darlington - but overall, the
antagonist seems to be Stevens himself.
The conference that Lord Darlington organizes is one with an explicitly political
purpose - namely to revise the Treaty of Versailles. What we must remember in
all the political machinations that follow is that Stevens ultimately has no power
to affect the dealings of his master. It is a classic upstairs-downstairs narrative
where Stevens has full power to comment on the goings-on and make his
observation, but cannot actually interfere in them. The irony, however, is that
Stevens ultimately feels more responsibility for his employer's life, then for his
own. We get exposition, often as a result, as opposed to introspection. As a result,
then, he is not a classical hero - and is forced into a passivity unusual to
protagonists of character novels.
Day Two (Morning) - Salisbury (PART 2)
As the preparation for the convention continues, Lord Darlington calls Stevens in
to give him an unusual and confidential task. Sir David Cardinal, instrumental in
organizing the convention, has brought his son Mr. Reginald, who is twenty-three
and engaged to be married. Lord Darlington is the young man's godfather and
has been entrusted by Sir David with the responsibility of teaching his son 'the
facts of life' before his wedding day. Lord Darlington tells Stevens that he's terribly
busy and simply can't find the time to do it - and asks that Stevens does it instead.
Stevens obliges but fails on two occasions and finally gives up, since Mr. Lewis,
the American senator arrives two days early.
The major guests at the conference include Mr. Lewis and M. Dupont from France.
Before the Frenchman arrives, Lord Darlington tells Mr. Lewis that he's aghast by
the French attitude towards the Germans. It is unbecoming to hate an enemy once
they are defeated - and he is insistent that the British do not adopt this same
bullying mentality. The next morning two countesses around from Germany, as
well as an Italian, and soon enough the rest of the guests begin to arrive. Stevens
tries one last time to talk to Mr. Cardinal about the birds and the bees, but has to
abort the plan when he finds out that M. Dupont has arrived - and in a most foul
Mr Dupont is a tall, elegant gentleman who arrives upset because some sores on
his feet are growing septic. But ironically on the first day of the conference, it's
not M. Dupont that requires severe medical attention - but rather Stevens' father.
Stevens runs up to his room to find his father ashen, feverish, and Miss Kenton
duly informs him that she will take over monitoring him - and that Stevens should
return to work. That evening, Stevens overhears a conversation between Dupont
and Mr. Lewis where Mr. Lewis tells the Frenchman of his conversation with Lord
Darlington earlier - the one in which he called the French 'despicable' and
This seems to cause the next day's conference discussions to be heated and
intense. Stevens tries to keep track of what's happening, but he also must attend
to his father. Stevens finally speaks to his sick father, and his father says that he's
'proud' of him - he's been a 'good son' and he hopes he's been a 'good father,'
ending only with 'I suppose I haven't.' Stevens replies that the can talk in the
morning as they're extremely busy.
On the last night of the conference, Dupont gives a speech where he says that he's
been eminently impressed by Lord Darlington's efforts and the attempts to
ensure German quality of life after the Treaty of Versailles. He says he is
determined to lessen the scornful attitude of the French towards the Germans, and
here stops to mock Mr. Lewis, who he said secretly spoke behind everyone's
back. Mr. Lewis is humiliated, and the rest of the table goes on to toast Lord
Darlington. Lewis stands up to make his own speech, and declares that they are
all intensely naive and that Darlington is an amateur. Darlington closes by saying
simply that he believes in honesty and truth - and his amateurism should actually
be called 'honour.'
Miss Kenton comes immediately to tell Stevens that his father has become very
ill. Stevens runs upstairs, but then has to come back down to check on the guests.
Darlington asks him whether anything's wrong, but Stevens says its merely been
the strain of a hard day. Miss Kenton comes down and informs him that his father
has passed away. Miss Kenton asks if he will come up and see his father now, but
Stevens says he is quite busy and his father would have preferred that he 'carry
on.' Stevens takes care of Dupont, whose feet are giving him trouble, and then
finally attends to Dr. Meredith, who informs Stevens that his father died as the
result of a massive stroke. Stevens asks the doctor to attend to Mr. Dupont.
We return to the present day, then, where Stevens recalls all these events. He
looks back and says that that night he displayed the level of 'dignity' that would
make him a great butler. He remembers that day not for its sense of sadness, but
for the triumph of maintaining his professionalism even in the harshest of
In perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments of the novel, Stevens cannot
attend to his own father on his deathbed because of his piety to his professional
duties. Perhaps even more heartbreaking is that looking back at this confluence
of events, Stevens views it as a triumph, rather than a tragedy. He does not look
back with sadness on his father's death, rather pride that he was able to maintain
his dignity and professionalism in the face of such chaos and pain. This single
moment, it seems, makes him believe that he was worthy of being called a 'great'
butler. The paradox of this moment, of course, is that what makes Stevens a great
butler also makes him an unfulfilled human.
The idea of 'confidence' seems to permeate the novel at every level of the term confidence in terms of trust, confidence in terms of secrecy, even confidence in
terms of self-belief. In the case of Stevens, he is entrusted by Lord Darlington
with the most delicate and seemingly inappropriate matters - for instance,
informing Mr. Cardinal about sex. At the same time, though, Stevens does not
trust Lord Darlington enough to let him know the goings-on in his own life. Truly
he would see this as a disruption of his professionalism, but there is also the
implicit sense that Stevens is afraid of being seen as weak. The situation with the
young Mr. Cardinal is a larger metaphor for Stevens' own reluctance to find
comfort in his own sexuality.
In the earlier chapter, Miss Kenton noted that she no longer wished to speak to
Mr. Stevens directly and it would have to be done through a messenger from now
on. Ironically that messenger turns out to be Stevens' father. Indeed, it is Stevens'
father in his illness that brings them back together, as Miss Kenton vows to stay
by his side even though Stevens must press on with his work. In many way,s Miss
Kenton comes to symbolize Stevens' severed heart. She understands the tenor of
a man who would relinquish his own father in order to preserve the semblance of
his duties. Suddenly she does not take Stevens' slights so personally.
Stevens, even more than his father though, does actually have emotions that
overtake him. Where Stevens' father learned to quell his emotions entirely hence leading to Stevens' belief that he pales in comparison to his father's
greatness - Stevens occasionally must surrender. Indeed, when he's running
upstairs and downstairs, between jolly guests and his dying father, he can't help
but shed tears. But when confronted with this by Lord Darlington, Steven wipes
his tears as if they're sweat, and attests only to the hard work of a long day.
Perhaps one of the odder moments in the novel comes when Stevens is asked by
Lord Darlington to inform Mr. Cardinal about the 'facts of life.' Suddenly reading
these passages, we're terribly concerned as to whether Stevens himself has ever
experienced carnal love. The discomfort of having to explain biological processes
to a young man engaged to be married can only be more humiliating to one who
never managed to find his own love. Again, Stevens finds a way to be distracted by
his duties. But slowly we see that all the aspects of life he should have enjoyed family, love, marriage, children - have never been broached, merely swept away in
the name of work.
Day Two (Afternoon) - Mortimer's Pond, Dorset
Stevens returns to the definition of a 'great' butler as determined by the Hayes
Society - namely the butler must be a member of a 'distinguished' household.
Stevens says his generation has a much more idealistic view of this definition of
the word 'distinguished.' His generation believes that a distinguished man
furthers the progress of humanity and aspires to noble causes. In his generation,
other butlers are willing to leave not just over wages, but also over the moral
worth of one's employers.
Butlers of Stevens' father's generation tended to see the world in terms of a ladder
- and thus a distinguished household often represented the houses of royalty or
the houses of lords. Any butler in his father's generation, then, simply climbed the
ladder as high as possible - and the higher he went, the more professional
prestige he accumulated. The Hayes Society endorsed this view as well. But later,
the new generation viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a 'wheel' meaning that they cared about who they served, and they wanted to serve those
to whom civilization was entrusted.
Stevens is taking a drive through Dorset, and suddenly realizes that his employer's
Ford is emanating a weird smell. he parks the car, and finds a Victorian house a
ways away. At the house, he meets a man who puts water in the Ford's radiator,
which promptly gets it going again. Stevens asks him how many people are
employed at the house, but the man tells him that his employer, the Colonel, is
trying to get rid of the house. The man asks Stevens whether he worked for Lord
Darlington, but Stevens says no. They part with the man telling Stevens to visit a
local pond so he can meet his employer, the Colonel.
At Mortimer's Pond, Stevens begins to think about why he denied working for
Lord Darlington. He did this once before, when Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, an
American couple that moved to England, came to visit Darlington Hall. Stevens
realizes that he isn't necessarily ashamed of working for Mr. Darlington, but
there are just too many foolish things said about Lord Darlington for him to take
responsibility for correcting. He says Lord Darlington was a man of great moral
stature, no matter what people say, and he is proud and grateful to have been
given the privilege to work for him.
Stevens lodges at the Couch and Horses outside of Taunton, Somerset, a cottage by
the roadside. He ventures down to the bar, where one of the men tells him he
won't get much sleep because of the master and mistress' arguing. Stevens uses
the opportunity to make a joke back: 'A local variation on the cock crow, no doubt.'
But clearly they don't get it. Stevens is upset that his joke didn't work, especially
since he's been listening to a broadcast humor show on the ratio regularly and
studying the programme. Later, he considers all the reasons his joke didn't work.
Stevens sits and has tea in Taunton close to the Market Square. He muses about
the nearby village of Mursden, where a famous firm named Giffen and Co. used to
manufacture a silver polish that put the town on the map. He believes that silver
polish came to be one of the key shifts in his profession - the emphasis on silverpolishing as one of the key duties of a butler. He looks back on one butler named
Mr. Marshall, who achieved greatness because of his famous silver polishing
Stevens recalls that polishing silver at Darlington Hall often had a pleasing impact
on observers. He remembers Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw both taking
note of the beauty of his polishing work. Even Lord Halifax told Lord Darlington
that the silver in the house was a delight. Stevens continues his stream of
consciousness reminiscing and remembers Herr Ribbentrop, a man who people
believed was determined to deceive England about Hitler and Germany's true
intentions in 1936-1937. Stevens, however, believed Herr Ribbentrop was an
honorable gentleman, and Lord Darlington frequently stayed with Nazi
sympathizers because at the time, they were considered significant people in the
German administration and extremely hospitable.
Stevens says that his work as a butler often influenced the mood of important
political guests and led to them admiring his employer, Lord Darlington. He was
particularly proud of his silver polishing skills back then and found that even the
most demanding guests were impressed by it. But now his work has slipped. Only
recently, he saw Mr. Farraday scrutinizing a dirty fork -- which Stevens had to
promptly replace. Stevens again blames the mistake on the staff shortage and
looks forward to correcting the error once Miss Kenton arrives.
The last moments of the chapter bring what is a rather aimless section to a
dramatic close. For a good portion of this section, Stevens waxes rather oddly
upon the importance of silver polishing. The subtext of all this is how deeply he
believed in the significance of the details of his work. Indeed, in Stevens' mind, the
quality of his work had an undue influence on the attitude of his guests towards
his employer. If he did good work with the silver, then inevitably, even the most
exacting guests would compliment the silver to Lord Darlington, leading to
Stevens essentially changing the mood of the household. If a guest entered the
house in a foul mood, then he might leave much more content upon seeing the
care with which Darlington took care of his house.
But now, it seems, there's a crack in Stevens' facade. He no longer seems to have
the same attention to detail as he used to - and in fact, Lord Farraday has noticed
the lapse in his work. Stevens blames it on his staff shortage, but it's clear that
he's lost a little bit of his own motivation and self-belief. He's looking for
something bigger it seems than just clean silver. And indeed, what he's looking for
seems to be layered in with his search for Miss Kenton - she will at once provide
him the staff necessary to bring the silver back to its previous quality and to also
fulfill the emptiness that has begun to distract him and which is slowly creeping
over and dominating his life.
Stevens is an interesting character in that he is not completely of the old guard,
but rather a transitional generation. Indeed, most of this section concerns itself
with what his peers look for when choosing an employer. In his father's day,
Stevens believed that a person's worth as a butler was tied entirely to that of his
employer. In other words, one simply absorbed the rank and reputation of his
boss. But in Stevens' generation, the principles changed slightly - so that butlers
now cared deeply about the moral reputation of their employers rather than just
their actual rank in society. The butlers, then, have to be extremely conscious of
their employer's politics, which explains Stevens' deep knowledge about
Darlington's inner consciousness. Moreover, it explains the constant need for
Stevens to explain his employer's friendships and relationships.
Stevens puts such deep emphasis on practicing and training and work ethic that
we can't be surprised by t relentless effort he puts into becoming better at
bantering. In this particular instance, he listens to a radio program with an
emphasis on humor, in order to develop his comic witticisms. When he arrives at
the lodge in Somerset, he sees an opportunity to put his learnings to use, but his
joke falls flat. We can feel the disappointment. Deep down, we get the sense that
Stevens wants to be as normal as the commoners he meets - at ease in his own
skin. But he is so deeply ensconced in the idea of being a 'great' butler that he
cannot let go of his armor. He has lost touch with his own soul.
Deep down, Stevens seems deeply repressed about his own desires. In many
ways, he is attempting to construct a narrative of consciousness and
introspection in order to find the Holy Grail - happiness. For so many years, he
found distraction, fulfillment in his work, but we sense that the moment Miss
Kenton left, he began a slow decline, even though his desire for her was probably
subconscious. At the same time, there wasn't much Stevens could do - so tied to
propriety, he had to wait until Miss Kenton's marriage had ended. The moment it
does, he seizes upon her latest letter as evidence that she is waiting for him to
come and rescue her - and bring her back to his castle, like a prince in a fairy tale.
Day Three (Evening) - Moscombe Near Tavistock, Devon
Stevens feels he has to qualify some of his statements from earlier, and returns to
the idea of Lord Darlington's purported anti-Semitism. According to Stevens,
there was the rumor that people of Jewish faith were not allowed on the staff of
Darlington Hall. Stevens says he can refute this with authority. There was one
incident, however, when Mrs. Barnet, a member of a local 'blackshirts'
organization and friend of Lord Darlington, spent a good deal of time visiting one
summer. Soon after, Lord Darlington barred Jews from the staff of the Hall and
Stevens was forced to fire two maids.
Later that night, Stevens informs Miss Kenton that they will have to fire the two
Jewish maids. Stevens is himself clearly concerned by Lord Darlington's request
but he says they must fulfill Lord Darlington's orders, since he is their employer.
Miss Kenton, on the other hand, is completely aghast. She says that if Stevens
agrees that the girls are good workers, then he's wrong to let them be fired just
because they are Jewish. It is his responsibility, she says to take a stand. If the girls
are fired, says Miss Kenton, then she will quit as well.
Stevens fires the girls, but Miss Kenton doesn't leave. She tells Stevens repeatedly
that she has every intention of handing in her notice, but simply hasn't had the
time. Eventually, though, Miss Kenton stays. A year later, Darlington comes to
Stevens and asks him to trace the whereabouts of the maids - as he is terribly
sorry for firing them. Stevens goes to Miss Kenton and tells him of Lord
Darlington's aboutface on the maids, and Miss Kenton is surprised to see that
Stevens felt the same way she did. In her eyes, she thought he didn't care at all
about the girls - that he, in fact, agreed with Lord Darlington. She asks Stevens
why he always has to pretend, and he avoids the question.
After the firing of the maids, a new housekeeper arrives named Lisa. Stevens is
not a terrible fan of the girl, but Miss Kenton does a good job training her and
Stevens is forced to admit she's doing a good job. Miss Kenton departs from her
usual decorum and says she is surprised Stevens can admit that Lisa is
competent because he always had such a strong aversion to having pretty girls on
the staff of Darlington Hall. Stevens is embarrassed by such talk, but Miss Kenton
reiterates that perhaps Stevens is flesh and blood after all and can't trust himself
in the presence of pretty women. Eventually, however, Stevens is proved right in
his suspicions when Lisa runs off with the footman. Miss Kenton agrees that
Stevens was right to suspect her, and Stevens tries to say that Miss Kenton did
her best with her. They both come to the agreement that giving up one's
profession for romance is not only naive but also improper.
Stevens realizes that his relationship with miss Kenton changed quite
dramatically around 1935 or 1936 after they maintained a proper and
professional dynamic for so many years. Stevens thinks of an incident in the
pantry as perhaps the biggest turning point. Miss Kenton had a habit of coming
into the pantry with flowers to brighten it up, and one night she comes in while
Stevens is reading. She asks him what it is he is reading, but Stevens refuses to
tell her, saying it's private. miss Kenton says she suspects it's something 'racy,'
and manages to pry it out of his hands. It's a sentimental love story. He shows her
out of the pantry firmly. Stevens qualifies the incident heavily, saying he was
reading the book only to improve his command of the language, and though he
certainly enjoyed the romance, he thinks the nature of the book is irrelevant.
Instead, he was embarrassed that he was seen 'off duty' in the presence of others.
A butler must never be seen off-duty. He resolves to make sure he reestablishes
the professionalism of his relationship with Miss Kenton.
Miss Kenton had two days off every six weeks. Usually on her days off, she might
stay in Darlington Hall and just rest, but all of a sudden, Stevens notices that she is
taking full advantage of her time off - disappearing for the full two days. She finds
out that she has been visiting an 'acquaintance,' who used to be a butler with her
at Granchester Lodge. Miss Kenton tells Stevens he seems like a well-contented
man, for he is at the top of his profession, with every aspect of Darlington Hall
under his control. Stevens replies that he will not be fulfilled until he can do all he
can to fulfill Lord Darlington's wishes for the house. Another day, Stevens comes
to Miss Kenton for their cocoa chat, but Miss Kenton says she is very tired. Hurt,
Stevens says they should stop meeting for cocoa and despite Miss Kenton's
protests, ends the meetings entirely and says she can leave him written messages.
Stevens returns to the present day, where he has parked his Ford on a dark road
after breaking down. He walks down to the village where is hosted by Mr. and
Mrs. Taylor. Stevens has dinner with the Taylors' friends, and they are deeply
impressed by him as a gentlemen and believe that he is of a high rank. Stevens,
for his part, says it is 'dignity' which makes a gentlemen. They ask him if he has
met Churchill and Halifax, and Stevens says he has indeed, since he was involved
in international affairs before war. Dr. Carlisle, a friend of the Taylors, arrives, and
finds all the fuss over Stevens' celebrity connections a bit odd. Stevens says he felt
terribly embarrassed over all the guests' misimpression of him.
Stevens usually seems to ramble a bit in his reminiscences, aimlessly exploring
his memory before settling on a telling anecdote to end each section. In this
particular instance, he ends on the story of attending the Taylor dinner, where he
seems to have totally morphed into a man aspiring to gentlemanly status. Already
we can see the difference between Stevens and a man like his father. Where
Stevens' father would have never pretended to be of higher rank in order to curry
favor, Stevens can't resist. He excuses away the entire episode as a
misunderstanding, but deep down, he deeply wants the approval and rank of
others to fulfill the void he feels inside.
Miss Kenton alludes to this tendency of Stevens when she asks him why he always
has to pretend - why he can't simply relax and tell the truth. Stevens says he does
not know what she's talking about, but at the end, we see this literal instance of
pretending, and realize that Miss Kenton saw all along that he is shielded in a
thick coat of armor through which most people cannot penetrate. By now,
however, Stevens has clearly fallen in love with Miss Kenton. So deeply that he
cannot seem to bear her taking her full vacation days to visit another
acquaintance. Indeed, he seems passive aggressive in stating that his only need
for contentment comes in service - and he has no other desires. It's as if he wants
to make Miss Kenton feel guilty for her own human instincts.
Perhaps one of the less effective devices in the novel involves the constant returns
to Lord Darlington's political views. Stevens has to reveal how he became
enmeshed in his master's own politics, but we never seem to get a full grasp of
what Darlington is actually like. We do sense, however, that he is fallible, and as
he comes to admit this fallibility, Stevens begins to lose his complete filial devotion
to him, and discovers his own self-esteem. The incidents of the maids, meanwhile,
is less crucial for illuminating Darlington's politics and more of Stevens. Stevens is
willing to subordinate his personal views in order to maintain his 'dignity.' For
Miss Kenton, however, dignity comes in casting off the views of one's employer if
they do not agree with one's own. In the end, however, she is practical enough to
stay with Darlington even though she disagrees with his politics.
Stevens himself is extremely passive-agressive in his romantic strategies. The
most illuminating moment of the opening section comes, of course, when he is
caught reading a romantic novel. Immediately we see the veneer fall away and his
true sentimental instincts emerge - his true fragility. But he cannot admit them to
Miss Kenton and upon discovery of the novel, ushers her out with the resolve to
reinforce their domestic relationship. Later, instead of confessing his love to her
over their cocoa chats, he obfuscates his intentions, frustrates her, and ends up
cancelling their chats to punish her for not putting up with his steel facade. What
we begin to see, then, is Miss Kenton losing interest with Stevens as he fails in his
ability to engage her on a deeper level. The more he comes to realize his love for
her, the more he resists it.
Deep down, Stevens now seems at a crossroads. The reminiscing on his trip has
seemingly made him realize the freedom of being a man. He has the time to see
himself outside of his duties, outside of his comfort zone and we sense that he has
renewed in confidence and vitality. As he nears Miss Kenton's house, we begin to
sense his dramatic momentum - that he now has the opportunity to fully achieve
self-fulfillment by embracing his love for her and declaring it.
Day Four (Afternoon) - Little Compton, Cornwall - Day Six (Evening) - Weymouth
Stevens sits in the dining hall of the Rose Garden Hotel in Little Compton after
finishing lunch. He will meet Miss Kenton in forty minutes at her current
residence. He notes now that he never received a reply from Miss Kenton
confirming that she wanted to meet, but he says knowing her, a lack of letter
means she is more than happy to meet. Stevens returns to his night with the
Taylors in his memory and says that when Dr. Carlisle drove him to his car, he
asked Stevens simply if he was a 'manservant.' Stevens was relieved and said that
he was in fact the butler at Darlington Hall. Carlisle said he suspected as much
and here in a small town, people would likely view Stevens as some form of
Stevens returns to one memory in particular - an evening a few months after the
death of Miss Kenton's aunt, when the young Mr. Cardinal turns up at Darlington
Hall. Sir Reginald Cardinal's father, David Cardinal, had been killed in a riding
accident a few years earlier. The young Mr. Cardinal had been building a name for
himself in international affairs. The young Mr. Cardinal says he is in a jam at the
moment and wonders if Mr. Darlington could put him up for the night. Stevens
goes to tell Miss Kenton of Mr. Cardinal's arrival and is a bit spooked, because
earlier he had stood outside her door, contemplating whether to go in and comfort
her over the loss of her aunt. Miss Kenton had been extremely close to her relative
and Stevens knew he should assuage her over her loss - but yet didn't know how
to do it. Stevens goes in to find Miss Kenton quiet and contemplative. He tells her
that Mr. Cardinal has arrived - and she reminds him it is her day off. She then tells
Stevens that her aquaintance has asked her to marry him. Stevens can only say
that it is 'interesting,' and Miss Kenton says she is thinking it over. Tension hangs
in the air, as if she expects him to do something.
Miss Kenton returns from her day off and tells Stevens she has accepted her
acquaintance's marriage proposal. Stevens can't seem to formulate his thoughts,
and Miss Kenton is a bit surprised by his lack of response. She wonders why he
doesn't have more to say, but Stevens says there are events of 'global significance'
unfolding upstairs. Miss Kenton seems frustrated and says that she and her
fiancee pass their time with her recounting amusing anecdotes about Stevens'
fastidity. Stevens leaves, obviously hurt. Stevens attends to the guests upstairs and
they ask for a bottle of port. He runs downstairs to get it and finds Miss Kenton in
the doorway.
Miss Kenton apologizes for her comments about Stevens earlier. He pretends to
not recall what she said and says he's too busy for them to talk right now. When
he comes back up after fetching the port, however, he hears Miss Kenton crying
in her room. He stands outside her room for some time, debating what to do. But
then he continues on his way up to the drawing room to serve the port. He
remembers that subsequent hour so vividly -- torn between his duties, his
'dignity', and his deeper desires. He was so proud of his ability to serve the
highest ranking gentlemen and not let his feelings get in the way. And indeed,
even though Miss Kenton is crying in her room at that precise moment, Stevens
feels a sense triumph at having maintained his professionalism.
Stevens next writes from Weymouth, where he recalls his meeting with Miss
Kenton two days earlier in the tea lounge of the Rose Garden Hotel. He says Miss
Kenton arrived looking quite similar to the person he remembered from twenty
years earlier, only with a few more wrinkles. For the first twenty minutes or so,
they exchange pleasantries, small talk, about Stevens' journey thus far. Once the
awkwardness dissipates, they reminisce about people from the past, and slowly
Stevens begins to glean some facts about her present circumstances. For one
thing, Miss Kenton's marriage is not so far gone as she made it seem -- she
returned home to find Mr. Benn pleased to have her back. She says it's best to be
sensible about these things, as if she's resigned to reconciliation.
Miss Kenton goes on to talk more generally about her husband, who will retire
soon, and asks Stevens to visit their daughter in Dorset on his way back. Stevens
says it's unlikely he'll pass by Dorset, but Miss Kenton insists, saying that
Catherine's heard all about you. Stevens tries to tell Miss Kenton of the current
state of Darlington Hall, and explains how Lord Darlington became an invalid and
eventually lost his reputation. Stevens wonders aloud why Miss Kenton seemed so
dire in her letter, even mentioning that her life seemed empty. Miss Kenton seems
surprised that she wrote such a thing, and backs off from it - saying that her life
does not seem empty now, and they are even looking forward to grandchildren
Stevens finally asks her directly - in her letters, she made it seem like she was
unhappy, and he just wanted to make sure she wasn't. Miss Kenton says that she
is absolutely fine - her husband is not cruel or ill-tempered. She says that she
never loved her husband at first - and was surprised she was marrying him at all.
but she grew to love him. There are times, where she wonders what she did with
her life - whether she could have had a better one with Stevens. But she doesn't
look back any more, and thinks her life has been good enough, if not ideal. Stevens
tells Miss Kenton that it's time she enjoy her life now - and make her years happy
for herself and her husband. He says they may never meet again. The bus arrives,
and Miss Kenton leaves. Stevens sees that she is crying as she leaves.
Stevens sits on a pier bench, and is joined by a stranger who Stevens confesses
virtually his whole life to - even the fact that he's been making too many mistakes
as the butler of Darlington Hall. The stranger offers Stevens a handkerchief when
he sees he's been crying. Stevens realizes that perhaps he has wasted his life
because he never made his own mistakes - and lived simply as the vehicle of
another. He confesses that perhaps there is no dignity in not being able to say he
made his own mistakes. But he resolves not to look back and to continue to move
forward with the remains of his day. He vows first to return to Darlington Hall
and surprise Mr. Farraday with his new bantering skills.
The last section of Remains of the Day is at once the anticipated climax because
of Stevens' meeting with Miss Kenton and a bit of a false tease, since we do not
see it unfold in real time. Instead, the narrative jumps, and we hear about
Stevens' recollection of it two days later. One of the interesting things that's easy
to forget in Ishiguro's novel is that Stevens is recounting events that happened
twenty years ago. That gap in time is difficult to convey through the text since so
little of it unfolds in real time. Instead, we must make conjectures as to how Miss
Kenton might react to Stevens' suggestion that she return to Darlington Hall, even
after setting up her new life for more than two decades. We realize the answer to
this when we discover that she had many moments when she may have returned,
but now it is too late - she already had a number of doubting moments, when she
wondered about the cosmic path of her life, but Stevens has come when she has
already become complacent, and already let go of her need for a better life.
Stevens, for himself, seems to reach his breaking point here. He is so deeply in
love with Miss Kenton and has built up such fierce expectations and a desperation
for her love - but when the moment comes, he cannot confess it. In a moment of
perhaps supreme self-sacrifice - or perhaps cowardice - he caves, and says
simply that he wishes she remains happy with her husband and that she enjoy
the rest of her life. Just as Miss Kenton acknowledges thatt the time for regrets is
gone, Stevens does too, and they part way with no possibility of reconciling for it
is simply too late. Inertia has taken them too far.
Stevens does finally break, however, to a stranger, to whom he confesses that he
never did have his own life. He was so concerned with dignity, with being a great
butler to someone else, that he never followed his own dreams. As a servant,
Stevens was so terrified of making mistakes, so terrified of having his own
identity. In his eyes, it was his duty to renounce his own soul in order to be the
best employee possible. It's taken his whole life for him to realize what a mistake
it is. In other chapters, Stevens recounted stoies with similar themes but in the
end, always confessed that he felt triumph upon remembering that he preserved
his professionalism at all costs. But for the first time, he says here that it has
afforded him nothing. but it is too late. He will go on with the remains of his day the remains of his life - trying to hold on to his dignity.
Ishiguro's novel, first and foremost, is a portrait of a man broken by his own life
choices. Over and over, he looks back and sees the opportunities in his life he
should have taken but cannot admit defeat. If he can get Miss Kenton to come
back to Darlington Hall, if he can get her to wipe the slate clean, then he'll have
another chance. What Stevens wants then is a do-over - a chance to relive his own
life. He does this through his memory, but he comes to the realization that to find
fulfillment, he will have to actually take action in real life. But at the crucial
moment, he can't do it -- because it's too late. Miss Kenton has already steered
onto the course of least resistance. And now Stevens will have to also.
Ishiguro's novel achieves such masterclass status because of its intense subtext.
So rarely do novels manage to create such a fluid sense of consciousness and then
use memory to achieve an apotheosis or epiphany. For all its lack of a narrative,
The Remains of the Day has the power of a thriller precisely because we want
Stevens to find happiness. We want him to find peace once and for all. But in
perhaps the cruelest twist of all, when it comes time for him to take action and
strike out in search of fulfillment... it's too late.
Background on the Treaty of Versailles
One of the most important episodes in Ishiguro's novel involves the 1923
convention at Lord Darlington's house to potentially effect a renegotiation of the
Treaty of Versailles. Lord Darlington, in particular, is unhappy with the outcome
of the treaty, which he feels unfairly penalizes Germany. Here is some background
on the Treaty which ended World War I that will help you make sense of much of
the political discussion in the book.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, five years after the start of
the first great World War and after six months of negotiation at the Paris Peace
Conference. The biggest issue at stake in the negotiation of the treaty was how
much to penalize Germany for causing the war - a discussion which ultimately
ended with a full blame of the country for precipitating conflict and imposing on
them a harsh set of reparations and penalties which ultimately came to build
German resentment towards the Allies and pave the way towards the second
World War.
The terms of the treaty were quite severe for Germany. These included:
The terms of the Treaty, which Germany had no choice but to accept, were
announced on May 7, 1919. Germany lost:
-- more than 13% of its country's territory
-- its African colonies, which included Cameroon, Togo, and East Africa
-- Alsace-Lorraine, ceded to France
-- Upper Silesia, ceded to Poland
-- the right to Germany as a military zone
Additionally, German armed forces were limited to 100,000 troops, the
manufacturing of weapons and import and export of weapons were prohibited,
as was the manufacture of gas or the use of tanks. Military equipment was also
heavily limited - including naval ships, submarines, military aircraft and artillery.
Finally, and perhaps most humiliating, were the articles attached to the Treaty. In
these articles, Germany was forced to accept sole responsibility of war in the
"War Guilt Clause" and vow to somehow compensate the allies. The German
emperor, Wilhelm II, was declared a war criminal. And last but not least, the
Germans were forced to pay huge reparations to the Allied Countries.
Overall, the Treaty of Versailles had a devastating effect on the German people. Not
only did it cause a source of shame for them around the world, but it crippled
them economically. Moreover, the German public didn't support the treaty believing that they had neither fully caused the war nor lost it it ultimately. Even
within Germany, the signing of the treaty created deep factions between German
nationalists who believed the country must never give in to such draconian terms
and 'extraloyal' Germans, like Poles, and Jews who had another affiliation beyond
their country. Ultimately, these civil conflicts between groups hardlined into the
formation of the German nationalist Nazi Party that quickly escalated into the
start of the second World War.
The Theme of Dignity in The Remains of the Day
The novel, The Remains of the Day, contains a recurring theme of dignity. This
theme is stated and restated throughout the novel. Dignity, according to the
Oxford Dictionary, is "a composed and serious manner/style, the state of being
worthy of honor or respect". In the novel, dignity is exoterically found in the form
of proper gentlemen, as well as butlers who allow nothing to distract or faze them
from doing their duty.
What about the everyday definition in the modern world. This dignity today is
rarely encountered other than in the higher levels of old fashioned society, politics
and perhaps serious business matters. With all our upbringing, culture and
modernization, few have retained what was known as the dignity of even a half
century ago. No one has the time any more to nurture and develop their dignity to
a reasonable potential, as they find increasingly less and less reason to do so,
relying instead on pure wit, instinct and professional tact. You are confronted
with a difficult or abnormal situation, yet you can maintain the same level of
thinking and can attempt to deal with the situation. Or, you are forced to respond
to a matter, and there is the possibility of your letting it get out of hand, but you
control yourself and respond instead while focused and maintaining a civilised
manner. That is dignity.
As is evident throughout the novel, it is a quality inherent in all people. The
author’s intention and a below the surface view become clear: during his car
journey. Mr Stevens becomes acutely aware of the dignity present in the people
he meets, for example the family who takes him in when he runs out of gas. These
are hardly the upper crust folk, yet their demeanour warms him and places them
all on an even level. From there, communication tends to become easier. Thanks
to the dignity in these people, Mr Stevens has little trouble adapting to his
situation and manages to make the most out of it. Herein, I believe, lies the
author’s intention with regard to dignity. He is saying we should look further that
where we perceive dignity to lie; we should look closer, at the common folk; we
should look closer yet, find it within ourselves. He adds that dignity is a precious
value in life and, even from a butler’s perspective, can enable us to achieve that
"greatness" we are after. Yet another point the author is trying to put across is the
fact that without proper dignity, one may find oneself in daunting situations that
one could otherwise had avoided.
The American senator who was present at the major discussions at Darlington
Hall prior to the peace negotiations is a perfect example. He stated that all
present were dreamers and amateurs, incapable of handling the future of the
nation which "should be left to professionals". Lord Darlington replied that what
was seen as amateurism was, in fact, dignity. This encounter points out that,
lacking dignity, you misjudge others and misunderstand their actions and
ambitions. There is no doubt that dignity is a fine quality for anyone to possess.
Quite apart from the aforementioned, there are several further aspects which
dignity carries. One is honour. Dignity goes hand in hand with this other quality,
they are related and used in conjunction. Possessing dignity enables one to place
honour in one’s actions and words, both of which have large effects on the
individual. Another is respect. Standing on one’s dignity commands respect from
his/her peers. Respect is highly valued no matter where one is, and being able to
command it almost at will is a very valuable skill. With respect in hand, one can
venture to higher levels of success, because those around you are less likely to
interfere, more likely to assist and will not question: respect carries trust. Finally,
dignity itself, on account of its rarity, has become a worthy quality within itself.
Those who can claim proper dignity have much to be proud of and are seen as
great gentlemen of modern times.
In conclusion, the recurring theme of dignity presented in the novel presents an
excellent example of this fine quality. It combines inherited and assumed dignity
with developed dignity, along with both their uses and implications thereof.
A Close Reading on Pages 100 to 115 of The Remains of the day
"Examine pages 100 to 115 of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "The Remains of the day" in
detail. Show by a close reading of key scenes within this how the novelist's
language and form both reveals, and conceals, central issues of character,
emotion, politics and memory."
Pages100-115 of Ishiguro's novel describe the beginning of a journey to the west
country taken by a man called Stevens, (a model English butler). Stevens narrates
the novel and Ishiguro writes in such a way that the reader is able to examine
intersections of his memory, national history, politics of the era, and the way
language is used to express emotion or to conceal it.
Ishiguro has shaped Stevens solitary motor journey as an ironic narrative that
reveals more to the reader than it does to Stevens and therefore the reader should
be very cautious when reading Stevens accounts, as he is not a reliable narrator.
For example, Stevens believes that he is making his trip to visit miss Kenton for
"professional" reasons in order to offer her a job at Darlington hall. However if
we examine closely we can see through Stevens's emotionless concealing
language, that there are revealing signs that he is in fact in love with Miss Kenton.
Stevens spent his earlier butler career moving from household to household
trying to climb the social status ladder in order to achieve his ultimate goal...to
become "a great butler". He continuously refers to the criteria that the Hayes
society has put forward and sees his father as a role model. It is clear to the reader
by seeing how many times Stevens mentions his fathers greatness that he loves,
admires and respects his father. In his mind he sees his father as being 'above'
him, which could be an explanation as to why Stevens was so insistent that Miss
Kenton referred to his father "Mr. Stevens Senior" rather than "Albert".
However on the evening of 'Mr. Stevens seniors' death, any love or admiration
Stevens may have had is far from apparent. It is obvious that Stevens is
particularly proud of being a butler because it is a role that "serves humanity".
Yet, ironically, this role also demands a remoteness, a suppression of emotions
which is distinctly 'inhuman'. As a result of this, Stevens reflects a mechanistic
personality which has been programmed to think and react, regardless of his true
This is illustrated on the night of his father's death by his failure to serve his
father. It is in this scene that we observe that memory is a filter for Stevens.
When describing the evening he fixates on the glittering occasion downstairs to
distract him from his father's death .
Most people's natural inclination would be to go upstairs and see their father and
Ishiguro illustrates this point by allowing the cook to show more emotion. Clearly
Stevens is suppressing his true emotions, as they are too painful to acknowledge.
He has been brought up to put duty first and keep the traditional British ' stiff
upper lip'. This has influenced his memory to be selective and only focus on the
success of the evening and his important role within it. The reality of the terrible
loss of his father is repressed.
Stevens vividly recalls that the cook "reeked powerfully of fat and roast chicken"
he therefore "turned away". Stevens uses this as a tactic to avoid feelings of guilt
about her display of emotion and his lack of it. In doing this Stevens is using the
'smell' of the cook as an excuse to leave so that he does not have to acknowledge
his father's death or face up to his emotions. A common trait of Stevens' character
is that he uses excuses to qualify actions e.g. his new staff plan was a professional
reason to visit Miss Kenton.
It is in the deathbed scene where we see that Stevens only sees his father as a role
& does not know who he is past the surface role of a butler... even when he leaves
Darlington hall for the road trip. However we are given an idea that he is upset,
as he is asked four times if he is "alright", and told that he looks like he is crying.
He prefers to remain downstairs occupying a public role as a butler rather than a
private role as a son upstairs so that his "mask" will remain. Nevertheless, at this
point in the novel Stevens' mask appears to have slipped yet he tries to conceal
this. We are told in the first chapter that
"Continentals are incapable to be butlers because they are a breed incapable of
the emotional restraint which only the English race are capable of."
He uses this idea as an excuse to be emotionally hardened and manages to twist
the evening events around in his memory so that the evening was not a sad
occasion but a turning point in his career that he looks back on "with a large
sense of triumph". For him he left his father in order to become "a great butler"
and to gain "dignity", which is what (he says) his father would have wanted.
Possibly this is what his father would have wanted on the surface, but faced with
the reality of death and the repressed emotions of so many years perhaps he
wanted to 'let down the barriers' just for his dying moments. Stevens, however, is
too 'programmed' to sense this as in his mind detachment is linked with dignity
and greatness with nationalism. His aloofness is something in which he takes
Stevens lacks the strength of character to control his life and foolishly believes
that as an English butler he will change the course of history. His constructed
"mask" is based on the English notion of dignity to avoid political and social
responsibility. Behind the mask Stevens has enslaved himself to the English
system of professionalism. By hiding behind this, he escapes responsibility.
Professionalism keeps Stevens from reacting compassionately to his father's
illness and death. However Stevens father also hid behind the same mask of
professionalism and dignity, never showing emotion or love for his son. Stevens
believes that his father wanted him to behave this way.
Stevens's loyalty to his master and obsessiveness in being a "great butler" blinds
him from seeing Lord Darlington's political errors as he creeps towards the
appeasement of Germany. Mr. Lewis is an American diplomat and gives a speech
about Lord Darlington's views, speaking with emotion, hence using very blunt,
direct and colloquial language, which makes his speech clear, and revealing. E.g.
"hogwash" & "bunch". Lord Darlington's response to Lewis is very much like a
politicians response as he does not criticise Lewis and receives applause from
people whilst putting his view across.
Lewis' expression of language is in complete contrast to Lord Darlington and
Stevens use of language. Both speak far more formally and they both tend to
'fluff' out their speeches. Their wrapper is so extensive that sentences lose
meaning e.g. "embarking on a further point". The use of language is too
convoluted and scripted. These are the reasons why Stevens finds it so hard to
banter with Lewis, as bantering requires a spontaneous, light-hearted response,
which Stevens is incapable of. This brings about the question, 'Is there any depth
beneath the surface of English people/language'?
Stevens' loyalty to his master shows that his perception of events is distorted and
that his memory has been programmed to be selective so that his main focus and
priority in life is his role as a butler. His relationship to his master parallels the
colonizer's relationship to its colonized subjects. By hiding behind the mask of
dignity, he loses opportunities to experiences political, sentimental and human
interactions. Part of this mask is portrayed by his emotionless use of language
which conceals his inner feelings yet at the same time is extremely revealing to
the reader.
Characterization in The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day is a book that believes in defining its characters to
remarkable detail. Even minor characters are brought to life, using a variety of
methods; some subtle, others more overt. This essay will discuss the entire novel
- just the first eight pages. Many novels would still only be setting the scene at
this point but, with The Remains of the Day, many of the main characters have
already been described in a fair amount of detail.
Creating detailed and believable characters is usually a key factor in a book's
success. If a story contains rich, fleshed-out characters, readers will be able to
understand and empathise with them, so becoming more enveloped by the
narrative and, consequently, more enjoying the book. There are, of course,
exceptions; in some cases characters are left deliberately vague so as to increase
the atmosphere surrounding them, for example.
However, The Remains of the Day is a book which believes in defining its
characters to remarkable detail. Even minor characters are brought to life, using a
variety of methods; some subtle, others more overt. This essay title does not refer
to the whole novel, though - just the first eight pages. Many novels would still only
be setting the scene at this point but, with The Remains of the Day, many of the
main characters have already been described in a fair amount of detail.
There are, generally, two methods of characterization. One involves merely
stating character traits (along the lines of "the man was arrogant and obnoxious•
- note that this is an example and not a quote from the text), a method which
Ishiguro does not use in great abundance. He much prefers to reveal character
information in more subtle and oblique ways, often through their actions and
words. This allows readers to judge characters partly for themselves, without
having them explicitly prejudged by the writer.
The character of Stevens is unique amongst the others in the novel, as it is
written from a first-person perspective and he is the narrator. Ishiguro uses a
wide variety of techniques to develop Stevens' character during the first eight
The very fact that the novel has a first-person narrative is significant. This
usually allows readers to know and understand more about the narrator's
character, as the text is ?written' by him. In the case of Stevens, readers are
strangely alienated from him. This is probably because of his tendency to
withhold information about his personal life and feelings; these are the things
that make up the core of a human being. Whilst this could have made the novel
difficult to read, it instead allows us to understand Stevens' way of thinking.
This reluctance to divulge his inner feelings is made quite obvious on several
occasions during the first few pages. Ironically, we discover this tendency
because of his frantic attempts to disguise it. On page 4, he is discussing his
reasons for accepting Farraday's offer of a holiday and mentions the arrival of
Miss Kenton's letter. Whilst we would not ordinarily have taken a great deal of
notice of this inclusion, Stevens' comment when he mentions the letter's
existence - "and why should I hide it?• - instantly draws our attention to the
remark. In trying to appear nonchalant, Stevens does exactly what he was trying
to avoid. Subsequently, every time Miss Kenton is referred to, he swiftly follows
with talk about ?professional matters' (pages 5, 9 and 10, as well as many other
times throughout the novel), so attempting to change the subject.
It is clear from this that he has strong feelings for Miss Kenton, but is unable to
voice them publicly or, perhaps, even to himself. Aside from these parts, the rest
of this extract deals almost entirely with ?professional matters.' Readers can
deduce from this that Stevens has a fairly inactive life beyond work and he does
not feel comfortable talking about what little he does do in his private time.
Stevens also makes a number of na?ve assumptions, and appears somewhat
arrogant in places. The first instance is on page 4. He states "As you might expect,
I did not take Mr Farraday's suggestion at all seriously...• The words ?as you
might expect' indicate that he assumes we have similar values and opinions to his
own. On the next page he states "It is, of course, the responsibility of every butler
to devote his utmost care in the devising of a staff plan.• The ?of course' displays
possible na?vety, as he assumes all readers will be butlers, or have detailed
knowledge of a butler's job; if he wrote his diary with this intention, then it is a
perfectly harmless and acceptable comment, otherwise it indicates some
ignorance on his part. These sort of sweeping assumptions are made numerous
times - on page 7 he writes "Now naturally, like many of us, I have a reluctance to
change too much of the old ways.• He is assuming far too much here, as he does
elsewhere in the text.
The language Stevens uses also suggests certain things about him. He is extremely
verbose for example, often digressing frequently whilst discussing something. He
also pays great attention to what he writes, and attempts to cover every single
angle to an argument to stop people from being able to counter his views. This
punctilious nature becomes very annoying during the novel.
The tone of his writing is often condescending; not to the reader but to other
characters, particularly Farraday. He regularly quotes Farraday in a faintly
mocking way - Stevens evidently disapproves of Farraday's American habits and
lifestyle; this is more due to Stevens reservedness rather than any shocking
behaviour on the part of the American. Stevens' writing always appears to be
very deliberate, over-complex and formal; very unlike normal personal writing
(in fact, he writes his account as if it were an essay of some kind). One can
imagine he is like this in conversation, too, and this supports the theory that he
has difficulty expressing his personal feelings.
Interaction between different characters is also a good way of detailing a
personality in a story. Stevens' relationships are just as cold, formal and detached
as is his writing. He cannot associate himself with Farraday in any way; they have
diametrically opposing personalities, both of which stubbornly refuse to adapt to
the new situation. At this point in the novel we do not know much about Stevens'
relationships with other characters; however, we can sense that he has strong
feelings for Miss Kenton, feelings which are probably not also felt by Miss Kenton.
The relationship between Stevens and his readers is more interesting. As
mentioned above, his writing assumes a great many things about his readership what they do, what they think - and is also very formal and over-explanatory. This
inevitably creates a gulf between reader and writer (as in Stevens, not as in
Ishiguro) which makes it hard for readers to sympathise with him, although he is
the narrator.
There are also allegorical references in the text. Darlington Hall represents Great
Britain; Lord Darlington was old, traditional Britain, whilst Mr Farraday is the new,
changing face of the country. Stevens represents somebody who believes in the
old regime, the old traditions and values, who, therefore, will dislike changes to
the country - so, to continue the allegory logically, Stevens dislikes the changes
happening at Darlington Hall.
All these different techniques could appear rather too obvious, crammed as they
are into just the first eight pages. Ishiguro avoids this potential problem by
introducing a single event in which he is able to outline many of Stevens'
character traits. This event is the crisis that surrounds the faulty staff plan, a
minor incident that Stevens places a great deal of importance upon. Whilst this
event is useful in displaying some of his other habits, those described above, it
also highlights how Stevens often makes unusual decisions regarding his
From all this, it may seem that readers know all they need to know about Stevens
by page 10; this is definitely not the case. All the Prologue achieves is outlining
the most obvious parts of Stevens' character. It is only after reading the rest of
the novel that readers can fully appreciate all the subtle nuances of information
that, when put together, create Stevens' unique personality. And, as is often the
case with characters in good novels, the whole is very much more than the sum of
its parts.
Remains of the Day is a remarkable novel for its sheer force of point of view.
This is a story told entirely through the protagonist Stevens' eyes, and is thus
one of the most in-depth character studies that classic literature claims - and one
the reasons for its vaunted status. The prologue, then, besides establishing the
basic narrative devices that will drive the story forward, does more to introduce
us to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the butler of Darlington Hall. Stevens is,
to put it mildly, quite detail-oriented, and certainly obsessive about his duties.
But what we first notice about him is a remarkable lack of shame or resentment
about his position. This is not the story of a butler who wants to ascend ranks or
secretly despises his master - or ever sees himself equal to his Lord. Rather,
Stevens has one goal and one goal only - to serve the wishes of Mr. Farraday and
to do his job as best he can.
But immediately, we begin to see cracks in the facade that suggest that Stevens
cares about nothing else but his job. For one thing, Mr. Farraday is quite
adamant that Stevens take a vacation from Darlington Hall, perhaps implying
that one might be necessary for Steven's mental health. Moreover, Stevens
seems preoccupied with a letter that's arrived from Miss Kenton - so much so
that when Mr. Farraday alludes to his potential crush on the former Darlington
Hall housekeeper, he's simply stating the obvious subtext of Stevens
ruminations on Miss Kenton. Stevens seems particularly regretful of a number of
small errors that he's made in the house, of late, but underneath it is the feeling
that he's incredibly lonely - that the absence of Miss Kenton has left him in a
giant manor with no one to talk to. The replacements - Mrs. Clements and the
two assisting girls - are simply his employees and he manages them and thinks
of them as nothing more. The idea that Stevens regrets his treatment of Miss
Kenton, then, offers the reader foreshadowing for what will most likely be the
climax of the novel - a meeting between the two of them to address the
unfinished business of the past.
As a reader, it's crucial to view Stevens' surface narrative as highly unreliable.
Everything he says is weighted with the utmost subtext. He may extol the The
Wonders of England as his inspiration for his trip to the west country, but then a
small blip reveals the truth - that he's curious where Miss Kenton has taken up
her married life. He might pontificate about his awkwardness when bantering
with his master, and then offer the quick commitment to becoming better at
witticisms - revealing a profound insecurity, and an even deeper fear of being
abandoned or unloved. Miss Kenton has left Darlington Hall to start a new life, to
become married, but Stevens, perhaps out of desperation, perhaps out of
desolation, resolves to bring her back and sets out with hope and fervency. The
tone, then, of this opening section is one feverish with hope, buoyed by a sense
of renewal and possibility for Stevens.
The prologue also has a melancholy undertone to it because we realize that
Stevens is quite advanced in his years - and perhaps has reached the twilight of
life (or at least the beginning of sunset). Somehow, despite his relentless pursuit
of perfection, his commitment to serving his master, his quest to become a great
butler and a great man... it's all not enough. There is an emptiness in him, a void
that he must fill - and one that takes him away from the house and on what may
likely be a futile journey. But in the end, it is for the cause of something he has
never had - love.
Besides the rigorous control over point of view, Ishiguro also employs a subtle
use of time jumps that suggest a deep 'stream of consciousness' feel to Stevens'
recollections. As the novel continues, pay close attention to how often Stevens
takes detours in his memory, to beef up an assertion or to question one of his
own conclusions. What Ishiguro seems to be after is the sense that this man has
come to live his entire life in his mind -- to have lost the desire to engage people,
to find true love -- and rather embraced the narratives of his own head. Only
after these narratives have failed to satisfy him does he realize that he is
unfulfilled. And so with that, the journey begins.
As a part of his narration, Stevens attempts to communicate, or initiate a
dialogue with the reader, as exemplified in: “I think you will understand” (5),
“But you will no doubt agree”(9), “you will no doubt appreciate” (14), “Perhaps
you might be persuaded” (34), “For you must understand” (177). In doing so he
attempts to gain a better understanding from the reader, hoping that the reader
will share his view on the events he discusses. As Molly Westermann points out:
“Often, the second person is used in the formula: “you” will understand and
empathize with “my” perspective”. The success of these attempts of gaining the
reader’s empathy is, however, debatable