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Ishiguro's Remains of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back

Ishiguro's Remains of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back

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Published by ace0101
By Meera Tamaya. A scholar paper on the book 'Remains of the Day.'

A few years ago, at the height of the race riots in England, there was a widely publicized picture of an Indian woman leading a protest march, carrying a placard which read, "We are here because you were there."

By Meera Tamaya. A scholar paper on the book 'Remains of the Day.'

A few years ago, at the height of the race riots in England, there was a widely publicized picture of an Indian woman leading a protest march, carrying a placard which read, "We are here because you were there."

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Published by: ace0101 on Mar 21, 2010
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07/29/2013

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Ishiguro'sRemainsof theDay:TheEmpireStrikes Back
MeeraTamaya
Afewyears ago,attheheightofthe race riotsinEngland,therewas awidely publicized pictureofan Indian womanleadingaprotestmarch,carryingaplacardwhichread, "We are herebecauseyouwerethere." Theliteraryanaloguetothisphenomenonofthe British colonialsinscominghometo roost is the number ofwriters bornoutsideEngland'sshores,fromthe West Indies to IndiatoJapan,nowdomiciledinEngland,whowritewithunblinkingclarityabout theempireand the finalspasmsof itsdelirium tremens.The bestknown ofthesewriters are V. S.Naipauland SalmanRushdie,andnowwe have KazuoIshiguro,borninJapan,raised and educatedinEngland,who hasbecome one ofEngland'sleading youngernovelists.'Ishiguroisuniqueamongpost-colonialwritersbecause unlikeRushdie,forexample,whowrites at suchunwieldy lengthandwithmuchobtrusivepolemicsabout theconsequencesofhistory,Ishigurouses thatconsummatelyeconomicaland Britishliteraryform-thenovel ofmanners-to deconstruct Britishsocietyand itsimperialhistory.Ellipticallyalludedto,neverdirectlymentioned,historical eventsare thepowerfulabsenceswhichshapethe characters and narratives ofallthreeofIshiguro'snovels.Thebombingof Hiroshima andNagasaki,neverreferredto,echoesinthe intricaciesof thefragmentedlivesinA
PaleViewofHillsand AnArtistoftheFloatingWorld.Inhisrecent and
most acclaimednovel,TheRemainsoftheDay,itisthedismantlingofBritain'scolonialempire,mentionedonlyas thedate on whichthenarrativebegins,whichprovidesthedetermininghistorical contextof thecharacters' attitudes andaspirations.ThedateisJuly1956,when Presi-dentGamalAbdel Nasser nationalized the SuezCanal,thusheraldingtheend of Britain'slong reignasthe world'sforemostcolonialpower.Not socoincidentally,on thatparticular day,thenarrator/protagonistofthenovel, Stevens,thequintessentialEnglishbutler,setsout onajourneyacrossEnglandand,intheprocess,recoversthetragictruthofhispast,atruthinextricablyboundupwith thehistoryofhiscountry.EvenasEnglandhasto accommodate itself to theriseofAmericaas animperialpower,Stevens,afterhavingserved LordDarlingtonfor35years,hastoadjusthimself to an Americanmaster,Mr.Farraday,whohasboughtDarlingtonHall becausehe wanted"agenuinegrandoldEnglishhouse" and"agenuineoldfashionedEnglishbutler"(124)togowith it. AsStevens reminiscesduringhiscrosscountrytrip,welearnmorethanStevensiswillingtoreveal(eithertohimself ortothereader)aboutthetragedyof hismisguideddevotiontoLordDarlington.WhilecriticshavepraisedIshiguro'smasterful control oftoneand narrativestrategieswhich make thisoblique,and therefore allthemoreshocking,discoverypossible, theyhave also noted that Stevens'self-abnegationinthe serviceof his masterreverberateswithlargerimplicationsabout Britishpolitics,
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cultureandsociety.2It is thisaspectof the novel I wish to examine moreclosely,focussinginparticularonthewaysinwhich thedynamicbetweentheupperand lowerclasses,exemplified byLordDarlingtonand hisbutler,duplicatesverypreciselyEngland's relationshipto its colonies.Itismycontentionthat Stevens'privatetragedyisprecipitatedbywhatAlbert Memmiinhis seminalstudyTheColonizer and theColonizedtermsthe cruel"hoax"bywhich the colonizerormaster ensuresthattheservantexists"onlyas a function of theneedsofthecolonizer,i.e.,betransformed intoapurecolonized"(86).Thebestknownparadigmfor thisreciprocitybetweenmaster/servant,colonizer/colonizedis thebond/bondagebetweenProsperoandCalibaninTheTempest.AsMannoni,Fanon andothershave convinc-ingly argued, Shakespeare vividlydramatizes thespecific stepsbywhichProspero,atypicalcolonizer,proceedsto establishmasteryoveraforeignterritory.3Likemostcolonizers,Prospero managestoachieveinanaliencountrywhat hehasfailed toachieveinhisown: control. He has losthisownduchyto aschemingbrotherbecause,absorbedinthestudyofmagic,he hasneglected"worldlyends."Englandhas alongtradition ofsendingits social misfits abroad to seektheirfuture.Customarily, youngersons,illegitimatesons and others who couldnot succeedintheir ownHobbesiansociety forgeda newidentityelsewhere.Atthe extreme endofthisspectrum,convicts fromover-crowdedprisonswerealsoshippedabroad: Australia forexample,became a haven forBritishconvicts.Havingfailedinhisducalresponsibilities, Prosperoiscast adrift on a boatbyavillainousbrother,butmanagesto land on aremote island whereheishospitablyreceivedbyCaliban,afriendlynative.Soon,however,theroles are reversed: theguestestablisheshegemonyover theisland andturns thehostinto aservant.Caliban detailsthestages bywhich thisreversal occurs.As he tellsProspero:Whenthoucam'stfirst,Thoustrok'stme and made muchofme;wouldstgivemeWaterwithberriesn't;andteachme howTo name thebiggerlight,and how theless,That burnby dayandnight.And then Iloved theeAndshowedthee all thequalitieso'th'isle.The freshsprings,brinepits,barrenplaceandfertile.Cursed beIthatdid so!Allthe charmsOfSycorax-toads,beetles, bats,lightonyou!ForI am allthesubjectsthatyouhave,Which firstwasmine ownking;and hereyou stymeIn this hardrock,whilesyoudokeepfrommeTheresto' th'island. (i.ii.332-344)ThescenarioCalibanrecountssographicallyhas beenplayedoutwithinfinitevariationsbythecolonialenterprise,whetherit ispolitical,economic orreligious,or allthree,asisoften thecase.Itiscommonpracticeto woo thenativeswith acombinationofpersuasivetalk andgifts.Thereis also adisplayof Western abstractscience,astronomy,for
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example,whichsuitably impressesthenatives,whointheirturnofferthemuch moreusefulknowledge,indispensableforphysicalsurvival:"Thefreshsprings,brinepits,barrenplaceand fertile." Theseeminglyhelplessvisitors soon takeover,commandeeringthenaturalresources fortheirown use as well asforprofit.Cotton fromEgypt,forexample,wastransportedand fedtoBritishmills,andtheresultingfinishedproduct,Englishchintz,soldto thenativesatextortionateprices. Prospero'slinksto themothercountryare brokenoff, however,soheturns the islandanditsnatives,Ariel andCaliban,into asourceofprofitforhimself,sothattheysubstitutefor whathe has lost.Onthe island he can continuehisinterruptedstudiesinmagicwhilethe natives ministerto hisphysicalcomfortmuch ashisservantsdidinMilan.Thisprocessofdrawingsustenancefromthehostandweakeninghimcanmostaccuratelybe describedasparasitical.AccordingtotheOED,aparasiteis,"Ananimal orplantwhichlivesinoruponanotherorganism(its host)and draws its nutrientsdirectlyfrom it."Colonialism,a form ofhumanparasitism,hasbasicallytwomajor aspects:the colonizerdrawsnotonlyphysicalnourishment,but also stimulation for theimaginationattheexpenseof thenatives. Forexample,theBritish,likeProspero,createdmini-Englandswherevertheyestablished themselvesandturned thenatives into bureaucratsand servants who oiled theenginesofquotidianlife.Theyalso used theconqueredterritoriesas foodfortheirimaginations.FromKiplingtoPaulScot,theso-called "dark"con-tinentsfrom Indiato Africa served asmetaphorson whichtheycouldprojecttheirowndeepest,darkest fantasies.EnslavingCalibanisnecessaryso thatProsperocanpursuehisinterruptedavocation,magicand thearts,whichnotonlygivehimpleasurebut enablehimto extendandstrengthenhishegemonyover theisland. Hismagicenableshimtoterrorizetheinhabitants,immobilizethenewcastaways,and awe themwith theatricaldisplays.Thekeytoestablishingsuchmasteryis,ofcourse,teachingthenativesthe colonizers'language. Prosperoinstructs Calibanin theuseofhis owntongue.As is wellknown,ThomasBabingtonMacauleyfollowedthe sameprincipleswhen he recommendedanEnglisheducationforIndians.4 Herecognizedthat the consolidation oftheempirenecessitatedthat thebureaucrats,thearmy,thepolice,etc.,neededto learnjustenoughEnglishtoobeythe dictatesof the Britishgovernment.Anauthoritative andimaginativeuse of thelanguagewasnotpartof thebargain.However,Caliban understands theprecisenature ofProspero'sdesignsand trieshisbesttosubvert them:"Youtaughtmelanguage,andmy profiton't/Is,I know how to curse"(1.11. 363-364).Caliban resistsdomestication,recognizingit for whatit is:enslavementand servitude.UnlikeCaliban therecalcitrantservant,Stevens,thebutler,istheapotheosisoftheperfectmanservantwho obliteratesall traces ofhis ownpersonality,allinstinctive drivesanddesires,all individual dreamsintheserviceof his master. The dreamservantis none otherthantheEnglishbutler,thehuman robotwith the "correct"accent,the"correct"manners.Stevensexpresses,without ahint of self-awarenessorirony,thequintessentialEnglishnessof butlers:
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