Ishiguro’s ‘The Remains of the Day’ A short review by Asher Jael

rotd1

“What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its
sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”

Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day is a story about the warring ideals within one man’s life. A man who struggles between his ideal of dignity and the peer pressure to engage in banter. A man who struggles between his unrealised love and his professional integrity as a butler; a job which he deems to have no space for talking of one’s own feelings. Above all, this is a story of a man who struggles within the paradox of being both a dignified human and working as a servant.

The point of vue narrative follows the butler, Stevens, as he embarks on a road trip in the
summer of 1956 across the West of England. He is encouraged to take this journey by Mr. Farraway the new American owner of Darlington Hall.  It is soon revealed Stevens intends to meet an ex-employee, Miss Kenton. His infatuation with this Miss Kenton is assumable for the reader and has recently been stirred after Stevens received a letter from her. He continues to revisit this letter throughout the book. From which he deciphers that Miss Kenton’s new marriage has taken a downturn and that she wishes to return to work with Stevens at Darlington Hall. As readers we do not know the validity of his assumptions regarding Miss Kenton’s intentions.

This brief vacation after so many years of duty, sends Stevens spiralling into these dazzling memoirs of his life as a butler. His diary reflects on the themes of dignity, banter, fascism and his mysterious relationship Miss Kenton. As his memoirs gently meander down memory lane, they are perfectly accompanied by the scenes of Mr. Stevens driving idyllically down the country lanes of
England.

Throughout this collection of diary entries, we peer into his most personal revelations. Discovering, with pity, they are not far removed from his public conversation. Does this man have any depth to him? It seems to us he never takes off his butler mask and is constantly in the role of servitude even
behind the most closed of doors. We are left wishing for his social restraint to break, for poor Stevens to realise his true feelings and share them with us. This lack of depth tothe  personality of Stevens, is ingeniously portrayed by the author Ishiguro. An extremely deep character, with a seemingly shallow personality.

Stevens is worthy of our love, our pity, yet also our despise. He tightropes between his warring ideals, and we gradually fall for with his gentle and tranquil speech. The authenticity of his voice leaves the reader being able to hear his perfectly pronouncing and grammatical prose even after putting the book down. We learn to love his voice and yet it is all too much. It turns into a flimsy naivety that we cannot help but be irritated by.

“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or
could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough
that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count
for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much
in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever
the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”

His sense of loyalty to the previous owner, the Lord of Darlington Hall, at first seems modest and fine. Until we learn Lord Darlington was part of the Far Right, with close ties to the German Nazi party and Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement. To Stevens these are but details not necessary for a butler to concern themselves with. His job was simply to serve Lord Darlington. In fact, it even upsets Stevens that Lord Darlington was mobbed by the newspapers after the war, which led to the Lord’s depression. Stevens reflects, that through his butler duties he has indirectly contributed to the bigger world of politics, of which he needs not to understand. However, as a reader (and a liberal socialist one) his ignorance and contribution to fascism cannot be forgiven.

Listening to his personal thoughts regarding his relationship with Miss Kenton, we are kept guessing to whether his assumptions about her are true and whether his feelings are at all reciprocated. He doesn’t openly reveal his affection for her until the end, although we can all read between his lines. For instance, his refusal to reveal her marriage name, Mrs Benn, until he greets her directly in the prose in the final chapter. It is through this development of our understanding of his infatuation, that we come to know Stevens intimately and develop an empathy with this man trapped behind his ideals of being both a perfect butler and human being realising the weight of his heart. Perhaps it is all too late and too much for poor Stevens to change his ways.

Stevens has perfected the memory of each conversation between himself and Miss Kenton, and her letters since she left Darlington Hall. Yet he consistently neglects to ever mention how she made him feel, even in the privacy of his own diary. He instead remains this militantly quintessential butler; stoic and professional at every turn. We are left to guess and hope, whatever emotions of his are trapped behind his butler act, whether they can ever arise.

The ending and climax of the book is set on a pier in Weymouth, England. It is here that Stevens finally admits how heartbroken his recent meeting with Miss Kenton has left him.

“I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to
fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate,
their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within
me. Indeed- why should I not admit it? – at that moment, my heart was
breaking.”

After much time pondering this conversation, he comes around to find himself sat on a bench next to another man looking out across the sea. It is with this stranger, who happens to be a retired butler from a much smaller home, that Stevens finally breakdown and reveals many of his feelings. He questions whether he has had any dignity whilst following and serving Lord Darlington. At least, Stevens claims, Lord Darlington could admit to his own mistakes, whilst he just blindly served Darlington irrespective of the morality in doing so.

                             “I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself –
                                                                   what dignity is there in that?”


The stranger tries his best to keep up with Stevens’ revelations, and modestly offers some supportive words. It is through this advice that Stevens realises that he must use the remains of his life to become more comfortable with banter, take more time to put his feet up and make friends with people he works with. He realises that he can no longer look back at what he has and hasn’t done in life and must take the remains of his metaphoric day and live them to the fullest.

“After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming
ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”

“Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in – particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.”

And it is with that, The Remains of the Day concludes. Most humorously, it is not an entire revelation in which Stevens quits his job and goes back to Miss Kenton to confront her with how much time he has spent loving her in silence. No, it’s not quite that dramatic. Yet it is a small victory nonetheless, and a huge and step for our beloved Stevens, one step closer to realising his heart at the end of what has been a beautiful story of self-revelation written by Ishiguro.