Discussion Post: The Remains of the Day
It’s The Remains of the Day discussion time! Personally, I found this book to be one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve ever encountered, so I hope you all liked reading it, too. Next week, we’ll be moving on to France and Colette’s Cheri, but until then, let us savor Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece.
Wondrous things are doing in terms of framing, narration, and characterization in this book, but what do the styles employed by Ishiguro tell us about his protagonist, Stevens? What is Ishiguro trying to show us about Stevens by making him an unreliable narrator?
I think Ishiguro uses these styles excellently to underline Stevens’ personality and his loyalties. He is so blinded by the dignity of his office and his loyalty to Lord Darlington that he can’t see his master for what he really is, even years later. Having Stevens’ slowly reveal the true Lord Darlington, both unintentionally and through repeated defensive flashbacks, really tells us more about Stevens’ life-view than anything else. His unreliability and mixed up memories just make him more real and give readers a better understanding of both Stevens and the life of a truly ‘great’ servant.
There is a lot of debate (both internal and occasionally vocalized) about “banter” and “dignity” throughout the book. What does Stevens’ ultimate decision about the two mean?
When Stevens ultimately decides to cow-tow to banter and become better at it for the sake of his new American master, it forever cuts the line with his former existence as butler to Lord Darlington. In the final pages, he sadly notes how he gave all he could to Darlington, heart and soul, and all that is left to give the American are remnants. Foregoing his naturally dignified persona in favor of a more bantering one is the final step.
He is the ultimate servant and will thus do anything to please his current master—in this case, it means being a bit more jokey. But it also means his glory days are behind him and all that is left ahead are ‘the remains of the day’ and banter. ‘Dignity’ is no more.
And what of Miss Kenton? Despite her huge importance to the story, she is primarily relayed merely in dialogue form and remains somewhat shadowy. Why does Ishiguro do this?
I think this is Ishiguro once again using style to make a point about Stevens. Never in the text does he let himself go or reveal anything about his feelings, other than ones of pride over a job well done. (In relaying his own father’s passing, Stevens is proud that he gave a good party for Lord Darlington on the same evening and did not let something silly like his father’s death upstairs get in the way of his duties.)
To have given more information about Miss Kenton beyond dialogue, such as what she might have been feeling or what Stevens himself felt at her words, would probably have been perceived by Stevens as out of line. Whenever he does venture to express himself, he always remarks “and I don’t think it will be out of place to say” or something to that effect. He does not open up easily and the fact that he talks about the love of his life in such shadowy ways emphasizes that quality about him.
Favorite Part: It’s a close tie between Stevens’ description of why the English countryside is so much more beautiful than any other natural sight and Ishiguro’s general use of unreliable narration. He’s just a master at it!
Least Favorite Part: I would say the ending, which was just so tragic, but it was also beautiful, moving, and necessary for the book. I didn’t enjoy it, but the book would not have been as evocative without it.
Share your thoughts below! Remember, all participants in the LT Classics Challenge will be entered to win a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic!