Tris Gibbons

Close Reading of Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro Pages 176-179
“I made my exit, and it was not until after I had done so that it occurred to me… such small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable” In this passage Ishiguro shows Stevens’ inability to communicate the feelings he evidently has and the differences between his plans and reality. This extract is a significant episode of Stevens’ life surrounded, before and after, by his personal thoughts. Ishiguro has done this to show Stevens methodically planning a conversation, it not turning out how he expected and then the consequences of it. Stevens had “given particular thought to the question of what I might best do or say to ease her burden a little” and must have planned what he would say. However he fails to offer his condolences and simply asks “how might you be this afternoon,” a statement so vastly out of place we must question his ability to communicate his internal emotion. This is the outward extent of his sympathy for Miss Kenton and although Stevens recognises his failure to convey a simple message as a mistake but with the power of hindsight chastises himself for thinking that “one had available a never ending number of days…in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton”. The importance of Ishiguro’s switching from a general tone of “one’s relationship” to a specific relationship shows us Stevens’ reluctance to admit his feelings for Miss Kenton. Ishiguro uses Stevens’ unreliable narration to convey Stevens’ feelings, where his words will not. When Stevens describes Miss Kenton crying in the next room he notes it as being “not impossible.” Ishiguro could have easily said “it was possible” but carefully changes the words in order to convey Stevens’ excitement of emotion being so close to him. As if proximity to feeling helps Stevens empathise with it. Stevens describes that the thought of Miss Kenton crying “provoked a strange feeling to rise within me” which can be read in different ways. It may be his nervousness at returning to the room to offer his condolences or a feeling of empathy which he cannot indentify. Stevens’ excuse as to why he will not return to talk to Miss Kenton shows us how nervous he really is. He says “I paused out in the corridor wondering if I should go back…but then it occurred to me that I might easily intrude upon her private grief”, as if that is the real reason why he will not tell her is sorry for her loss. Throughout this passage we get a glimpse of Stevens’ true feelings by Ishiguro’s use a physical tick. An example of this is “‘I had been meaning to ask you if you were experiencing any particular problems with the new recruits’ I gave a small laugh”, here his laugh shows us that he is nervous and doesn’t wish to speak about professional matters but can’t seem to change the subject to ask how she is feeling. This discussion of professional things when Miss Kenton is in such a vulnerable state alienates her. She cannot see that he means to talk about personal issues by the use of the phrase “I dare say even the best of us can often profit by a little professional discussion at such times”. One would expect a woman, who later admits to wishing to have married Mr Stevens, to understand him better than this. Elsewhere in the novel Ishiguro uses this laugh in obviously awkward situations similar to Stevens talking to his father and saying “I laughed a little and said: ‘I’m so glad you’re feeling better now’”. Stevens raises the point that “that little alcove outside the breakfast room has not been dusted for some time” but from the context we could assume that either it is unimportant whether or not it has been dusted, and it is Stevens’ desperation for a response from Miss Kenton that drives him to say this, or it could be a metaphor for Stevens’ feelings; the breakfast room representing the well used, every day professional side to his personality while the seemingly unimportant, dusty alcove represents his personal side and that it is dusty suggests it has not been used to any effect for some time. Meera Tamaya proposes that it is the expectation of a master that have had this impact on Stevens’ capacity to show emotion, she compares him to Shakespeare’s Caliban and says, “Stevens [is] indeed Prospero's dream of Calibandivested of sexuality… [and able to] use his master’s language… to respond precisely and briefly to his commands.” Ishiguro uses his characters’ contrast of speech to illustrate the failings on either side. When Miss Kenton says, “Indeed, Mr Stevens,” we are unused to hearing her speak in such a dismissive and formal tone. Similar to Stevens’ usual noncommittal tone, where elsewhere in the book Stevens may have either said nothing or said something similar to “Indeed, Miss Kenton” he says more engaging things like, “For my part, Miss Kenton, whenever new recruits arrive, I like to make doubly sure all is well”. Ishiguro does this to show there are failings on both side of the relationship and the communication problems that are evident throughout the book are the main factors that make Stevens take this journey in the first place – to see what his failings and mistakes have cost him. In the last paragraph of the passage Ishiguro gives us undeniable proof that this is a crucial moment in the relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton, when Stevens says “in any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize these in retrospect”. This is an example of when the author talks to the reader directly through the narrator, it is in contrast to the rest of the novel where Stevens rarely speaks openly about his emotion. We can see that this is an episode of his life that Stevens regrets and is one of the scenes from which I think the book derives its title. The book is a voyage of self discovery, and the question Ishiguro asks us as a reader is: whether at the end of our day, we will like what we discover.

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