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The novel, "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro is a novel of self reflection. The main character of the novel, Mr. Stevens, is at the end of his life and at the end of his career. He has the rare opportunity to go on a trip to visit a former colleague, the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The trip leaves him with plenty of time to think and reminisce. Mr. Stevens led the life of a successful butler in a distinguished household. His memories show him that the life that he thought was so fulfilling turned out to be a bitter disappointment. At the completion of his journey, Mr. Stevens is left wondering about his entire life and what he would like to do with the rest of it. At the end of his trip, before returning to his home, Mr. Stevens decides that his friend's advice made sense and that there was no point in being remorseful about one's past." Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of the remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives had not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and me, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point of in 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 me 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 is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment". Mr. Stevens was under the impression that a successful and contented life could be achieved by being a great and dignified butler. It was to this goal that he devoted his entire time, energy, and spirit. His life was his job. By being the perfect manservant, Mr. Stevens thought that he was making his own contribution to the world. If the people he served were satisfied and then they continued on to do something of importance, Mr. Stevens had been a part of that and therefore could be seen as responsible for some of the greater things to occur in this world. As he later thinks to himself a great butler can only be, surely, one who can point to his years of service and say that he has applied his talents to serving a great gentleman – and through the latter, to serving humanity. In his reflections, Mr. Stevens tries to convince himself of the stupendous ramifications of his actions and the actions of the gentlemen he served. He reminisces about the well polished silver in his house. ...”the state of the silver had made a small, but significant contribution towards the easing of relations between Lord____ and Herr____ that evening. Something so trivial, he was sure would affect the rest of the world. The satisfaction of being able to say with some reason that one’s efforts, in however a modest way, comprise a contribution to the course of history. “
As he strolls down Memory Lane, Stevens often finds himself remembering things that were not as dignified as he would have liked them to be. He has to convince himself that the events that occurred in his past were indeed as great as he would have liked to remember them as being. He often avoids mentioning that he worked for Lord Darlington because of certain rumours going around concerning the political actions of his former employer. He wants to hide away anything remotely bad and pretend that they never happened. At times in the novel, Stevens shows off his position to others in order to make himself important. He lives vicariously through the lives of his gentlemen employers. He tells people he meets that he has a hand in England s international affairs. ” I never held any high office, mind you. Any influence I exerted was in a strictly unofficial capacity.” In order to justify his non-participation in worldly affairs, he claims to be involved through the actions of the men he served. Stevens gives his life over to his vocation. He misses out on so much of life - all for the sake of being a great butler. When his father is on his deathbed, he is unable to tend to him because he has his obligations in running the house. He denies himself the pleasure of taking a stroll around the pond for fear of dirtying his clothing and bringing embarrassment upon the name of his house. He will not even grant himself the right to love. At the end of his trip, when he sees his acquaintance and co-worker, Miss Kenton, after many years, she tells him that she often imagines the life that she could have had with him. Stevens never let himself off duty and denied himself a life of happiness because of it. On completion of his trip, Mr. Stevens' life is a shambles. He realizes that the life he led was not at all satisfactory. He remembered once stating his lifetime goal, " My vocation will not be fulfilled until I have done all that I can to see his lordship through the great tasks that he has set himself. The day his lordship’s work is complete...content in the knowledge that he has done all anyone could ever reasonably ask of him ...only on that day will I be able to call myself a well-contented man." But after much reflection, he sees that the life of his employer was not as great as he would have liked. “It is hardly my fault if 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.” The truth is that these revelations cause Mr. Stevens to realize what a waste his life has been and how much more he could have done with it. “Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man....And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes.....He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those who served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself - what dignity is there in that?” His entire life was spent becoming the dignified and great butler he thought he should be, but in the end he realized that he himself had no identity. His name was as good as the name of the house he came from. He returns to his house, with all these discoveries
behind him, only to continue in the very same way. Not because he does not want to change, but because he does not know how. Stevens’s pride in his impeccable service to Lord Darlington and "the most powerful gentlemen of Europe" did not permit him to see that the work these gentlemen were doing in the 1930s would one day come to be called appeasement. Ishiguro could have treated his blind deference and trust with satiric contempt, but instead he empathetically makes the aging Stevens the narrator of the novel, and his every sentence evokes the strangled personality of a man trained to think that service is his highest calling. We see his halting realization of his wasted chances, the aridity of living through his superiors, the inability to even to voice a grievance, and the shrunken choices left in what remains of his day.
Timemeline of Events in The Remains of the Day
1851 Steven's father born. 1899 (Approx.) All within a short length of time: Stevens' brother killed in South African War; Father has incident about car; Father must be butler to general. (40) 1914 Darlington in Great War (WWI), along with Herr Bremann 1920 (towards the end of the year) Darlington makes the first of a number of "disturbing" trips to Berlin. 1920's (at the start of the twenties) Giffen's Wax disappears, and leads to excessive silver polishing. Hayes Society exerts considerable influence throughout London and the Home Counties. 1920-40 (throughout the twenties and thirties) a strand of opinion ("misguided idealism") suggested that a butler should be forever reappraising his employer's motives and views. 1921(Approx.) Darlington voices dislike of treaty to Sir Richard Fox. Not long after, Herr Bremann shoots himself (73). Powerful and famous gentlemen visit Darlington, and he "sets upon his course." "By the turn of 1922, his lordship was working with a clear goal in mind" (75). 1922 (spring) Miss Kenton arrives at Darlington Hall; Father comes one week later. 1923 (two weeks prior to conference attendees' arrivals) Father falls, tripping on stone steps in yard (63). Two foreign ministers and Sir David Cardinal, of the "home team," arrive early to "prepare the ground." Guests arrive: Lewis, M. Dupont, and son on (71). (last week of March) -- The Conference begins. -- That same day, Father becomes ill. Culminating dinner, with "toasts" by Dupont, Lewis, Darlington. At night, Father has stroke and dies 104-6). 1930s Jane Symons writes "The Wonders of England" travel guides. 1932 ('32 or '33) The Hayes Society, which exerted considerable influence during the twenties, is forced to close. Sir David Cardinal, Darlington's closest friend, tragically killed in riding accident (35). Receives second-hand lounge suit as gift from Sir Edmund Blair.
(summer) Mrs. Barnet becomes a regular presence at Darlington Hall. Two housemaids are dismissed because of their Judaism (146-49). Pretty Lisa joins the staff (156). 1933(Approx.) Darlington severs all links with the "blackshirts". More than one year after Jewish housemaids' dismissal, Darlington decides the dismissal was wrong (151). 1935 (Approx.) Questioning session by Spencer and Darlington. Thrice denies ability to "assist in the matter." Darlington apologizes the next morning. (1935 or 1936) Relationship with Miss Kenton changes: romance novel encounter (167). She takes days off. Her aunt dies. (a few months after Miss Kenton's aunt has died) Miss Kenton accepts marriage proposal. -- The Conference -- With Ribbentop, possibly Prime Minister of England, other high ranking officials. Young Mr Cardinal warns Stevens that Darlington is out of his depth, an amateur, and being used (221). 1936 Miss Kenton departs for Cornwall and marriage (11). (1936-1937) Herr Ribbetop at height of glamour in England (136). 1938 [Chamberlain cedes Czech territory to Hitler at Munich.] 1939 World War II begins. 1940 (during World War II) Young Mr. Cardinal killed in Belgium. 1946? (after the war) Unsuccessful libel action brought by Darlington. 1949 The doctor comes to Moscombe as a committed socialist (220). 1953 Darlington dies. After transactions, Farraday spends four months in U.S. concluding matters. 1955 (1955 or 1956) Miss Kenton's marriage apparently breaks down. She leaves Mr. Benn, for the third time. 1956 (a few months before prologue) Denies working for Darlington to Mrs. Wakefield, the friend of Farraday (122-23). (July) Prologue begins. Prologue Farraday to spend five weeks between August and September visiting U.S. Day One (evening) Salisbury: View of greatness as lack of obvious drama. Avoids hen in road. Stays in comfortable guest house. Day Two (morning) Salisbury: Rises early; waits for landlady to cook breakfast. Day Two (afternoon) Mortimer's Pond, Dorset: Denies working for Darlington to chauffeur/mechanic (120). Visits pond. Lodges in Somerset, with "loud" landlord and wife. Day Three (morning) Taunton, Somerset: Explores market town; has tea. Day Three (evening) Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon: Staying with Taylors because Ford has run out of petrol (164). Dinner with villagers, who believe he's a gentleman. Admits Darlington's life and work were, at best, a sad waste. Day Four (afternoon) Little Compton, Cornwall: Doctor drives him with gas, exposes butlerhood. At homely Rose Garden hotel: Has tea with Mrs. Benn/Ms. Kenton. Waits with her for bus: questions her love for her husband; she tells of dreaming of oncepossible life with Stevens (239). Day Five (afternoon) Arrives in Weymouth. Day Six (evening) Weymouth: On the pier: In the enjoyable evening, when the lights come on.
Memory and History
By nature diaries are very personal and subjective, they are full of confessions and emotions, but Mr Stevens is a very reserved man: his diary is mostly composed of memories, considerations on the condition of butlers and comments on his trip. Or at least this is how it looks. However, Ishiguro deliberately understates this surface aspect of the novel. If Mr Stevens decided to write a diary, it’s because he has something to say. He has something to say even if he doesn’t want to admit it. The Remains of the Day is the story of a man who can’t get over his painful past. He has to suffer in order to come to terms with it. His past is his memories, his past is the war. Stevens worries over his past. There is a strong sense that something was not quite right. Stevens is a character who lives in the past and who modifies the stories he tells himself in order to make the past more liveable. The first step to an understanding of Stevens’s vision of the past should therefore be an analysis of how he modifies his past. Then we would be able to delve into his past and study the links between Stevens’s life of service and history. Brian W. Shaffer wrote, “Ishiguro's novels centre on individuals who repress knowledge about their pasts in order to protect themselves from painful experiences and painful wishes that they cannot face or even admit”. In the case of the Remains of the Day it seems quite clear that narrator Stevens “corrects” his past. This correction is progressively unveiled by the narration itself, either through Stevens’s final confessions, through the narration’s intrinsic contradictions or through the reader’s general knowledge of history. Stevens represses his knowledge about the painful past through denial, euphemism and omission. The reason Stevens took his trip was to pay Miss Kenton a visit, because staff were badly needed at Darlington Hall. There are, of course, no romantic motives for this trip, or at least that is what narrator Stevens keeps saying until he finally admits that his feelings for Miss Kenton are not solely professional: “these words of Miss Kenton … 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.” These words unveil Stevens’s repression of his feelings. Throughout the novel he uses his position as Butler to justify himself. He claims that the motivation for his trip is primarily professional, then when he inquires about Miss Kenton’s sentimental situation he uses the excuse of the staffing problems… and eventually when she tells him that she sometimes dreamt of a better life that they could have lived together he says that he feels a certain degree of sorrow… but this confession of Miss Kenton is such an emotional
shock for him that he drops his mask for one second and admits (“why should I not admit it ?”) that he was feeling much more than just sorrow at the moment (“my heart was breaking”). This moment of sincerity proves that truth and repression are intertwined within Stevens’s narration. He is honest and objective about the things that he can face and denies the things that he doesn’t want to face. Another thing that Stevens obviously doesn’t want to face is the fact that he has worked for Lord Darlington. Throughout the novel he keeps praising him and defending Darlington. However, every time that someone asks him if he has known him, he says he hasn’t. For instance when the batman asked Stevens: “You mean you actually used to work for that Lord Darlington?” he answered: “Oh no, I am employed by Mr John Farraday, the American gentleman who bought the house from the Darlington family”. Stevens would later explain (to the reader) that “a meaningless whim had suddenly overtaken me at the moment”. But this meaningless whim did not only overtake Stevens once. He lied in the same way to Mrs Wakefield (this time using British traditions to justify himself). His explanation for his denial is that he wishes to avoid hearing “nonsense concerning his lordship”: “I have chosen to tell white lies in both instances as the simplest means of avoiding unpleasantness” Denial is clearly a way of escaping the unpleasant. Another way of escaping the unpleasant is to make it pleasant. The Remains of the Day -“Stevens’s diary”- is full of flashbacks, in fact two-thirds of the book are Stevens’s memories. Memories which sometimes date from the 1930s or 1920s. Therefore, they are subject to mix-up in Stevens’s mind. Stevens's memory is a little blurred by age. This blurred memory could also be interpreted as another expression of Stevens’s mental repression. He could be said to use memory to euphemize his past. It seems that narrator Stevens looks at the past through “corrective lenses”. These corrective lenses change his view of the past when he looks back into the bad times and help him avoid seeing what he doesn’t want to see. For instance, when his father died, Stevens goes up to his father’s room only when he has finished his service, accompanied by Miss Kenton. Nowhere in the passage does Stevens describe his father. When he enters the room, he sees Dr Meredith (“Dr Meredith was taking notes”). He also sees Mrs Mortimer (he even notices that she’s wearing her apron and that she has grease marks over the face.) but he doesn’t say a word about his father. It seems that he doesn’t look directly at him. The only sense that he tries to put in contact with him is the smell (“I had expected the room to smell of death”). But he cannot establish any contact because the room is in fact “dominated by the smell of roasting”. In this passage, Stevens describes every detail (he takes the time to remark that Mrs Mortimer’s greasy face makes her look like “a participant in a minstrel show”). Stevens’s memories and therefore his narration are in fact unreliable. All his memories are work memories. He hides his sensibilities behind his profession. He is a butler, and good butlers “wear professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit”. Stevens never stops work, even for the death of his father. This means that Stevens can only present the events to the reader from a professional point of view. The “cocoa meetings” with Miss Kenton, as well as their date in Weymouth are purely professional. When Stevens rereads for the umpteenth time Miss Kenton’s letter it’s only to check that “there is nothing stated specifically […] to indicate unambiguously her desire to return
to her former position”. . Stevens hides his feelings under his butler’s suit and always resorts to the excuse of being busy when confronted with personal matters. Many historical figures are evoked in the book (Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Lord Halifax, Herr Ribbentrop). Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador with whom Stevens’ employer, Lord Darlington, is so friendly, later became Hitler’s foreign minister. He was one of the most virulent anti-Semites in the German government. When Darlington facilitates meetings between Ribbentrop and Lord Halifax, he is unwittingly promoting the Nazi cause in England. Halifax himself is best known as the foreign secretary who implemented Neville Chamberlain’s misguided policy of German appeasement. Von Ribbentrop was virulently anti-English, but he managed to disguise this fact while he was ambassador. His greatest accomplishment in England was to negotiate the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which authorized German naval rearmament. Later he negotiated the Hitler Stalin pact – the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of Aug. 23, 1939, which cleared the way for Hitler's attack on Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, thus beginning World War II. It seems that Stevens places these politicians on the same level as other, largely unknown figures. Stevens contemplates the nature of greatness and mentions some of the “Great butlers of recent times”). Talking about these butlers Stevens says that “when one encounters them, one simply knows one is in the presence of greatness”. The parallel between great butler and Great Britain is quickly underlined by Stevens. In his eyes, a butler’s function is to assist his employer with dignity. This dignity implies that one will “not be shaken out by external events, however surprising”. This dignity is what makes a great butler and this “dignity” is also what makes Britain great: “it is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness and feels no need to shout it”. As a narrator Stevens shows the parallels between a great butler’s nature and Great Britain’s nature. However, Stevens is an unreliable narrator and the novel shows us a further parallel; the parallel of Stevens’s condition and Great Britain’s condition. Darlington Hall used to have a staff of 28, then 17 and it now has a staff of four. Britain used to be an Empire then lost the Americas, then India… and progressively most of its colonies… Great Britain has now just a staff of four: England, Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Darlington Hall has now been bought by Mr Farraday, an American gentleman. Just as England has been largely rebuilt thanks to the Marshall plan and joined the American side in the Cold War and other international conflicts. Now it’s an American who controls Stevens’s world, as Americans control England. Mr Farraday and his American manners take Stevens aback at first (he is not used to such bantering) but he finally becomes enthusiastic about them. However, Stevens is not simply a reflection of his country at that time. As he sees it he made a contribution to history through his work. In the eyes of Stevens, a butler has to devote himself completely to his employer. “A butler’s duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation.” But if he does his job well, he will contribute to the good mood of his employer, which will contribute to his good work. In this way a butler can have a small indirect influence on the course of events. An example of such an influence can be found in Stevens’s polishing of the silver. An unofficial meeting between Lord Halifax and Herr Ribbentrop had been organised at Darlington Hall. But when Lord Halifax arrived he was very wary and nervous, so since Herr Ribbentrop was not expected for a further hour or so, Lord Darlington took his guest for
a tour of Darlington Hall. Lord Halifax was expressing his doubts about the meeting and Lord Darlington was vainly trying to reassure him, when suddenly Lord Halifax exclaimed: “My goodness Darlington, the silver in this house is a delight”. It was the beautifully polished silver which “put him into a different frame of mind altogether”. It was Stevens’s work with the silver which contributed to the easing of the relations between Lord Halifax and Herr Ribbentrop; an easing of relations which would have political consequences. Stevens indirectly played a little part in history. Unfortunately, he helped to create a better understanding between Lord Halifax and the Nazis. He helped the Nazis without even knowing it. This also happened when he was asked by Mr Spencer to give his opinion on some political questions: Lord Darlington and some friends were chatting in the drawing room and when he came in with the drinks, Lord Darlington asked him to come for a moment and Mr Spencer asked him questions about politics. Stevens was not able to answer any of them “I’m afraid I am unable to be of assistance on this matter”, was his standard reply. He simply politely apologised after every question. But what he didn’t know was that his inability to answer would be used by Mr Spencer to justify his position against universal suffrage and convince Sir Leonard to support him. Stevens indirectly contributed to history through his work but he suffers from the fact that he has never controlled his work, that he has never chosen his path. Indeed this is the whole drama of his life; he dedicated his life to becoming a great butler. He wanted to become a great butler because it was the only way that he (a butler’s son) could influence the course of events positively. He trusted Lord Darlington but now that it’s over he has realised that he has never chosen his path in life: “All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I’ve made my own mistakes. Really one has to ask oneself- what dignity is there in that?” Stevens blindly trusted his employer and never rethought Lord Darlington’s views even when the issue at stake didn’t require any deep political knowledge (e.g., the dismissal of the two Jewish maids). Therefore when he is confronted with Mr Harry Smith who tells him that he has “strong opinions” and that the people in his village do so too, he is faced with people who are like him (they belong -more or less- to the same social category) but who have a political conscience and who want to participate in public life. This encounter begets bitterness in Stevens’s heart, bitterness which can be felt in the way he comments on Harry Smith’s views: “unrealistic”, “I rather doubt if they are even desirable”, it “cannot, surely, be wise”… “It is in any case absurd that anyone should presume to define a person’s ‘dignity’ in these terms” Bitterness is what the butler whom Stevens met on the pier tried to make disappear : “Don’t keep looking back all the time […] we’ve all got to put our feet up at some point […] you’ve got to enjoy yourself, the evening is the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work, now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.” On the last day of his trip, Stevens admits that “it is too late to turn back the clock”. He has stopped lying to himself. He will stop living in the past, in the hope of Miss Kenton’s prospective return. He will stop living in the myth of the “darling days” of Darlington Hall: “I should try to adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day”. In parallel, Great Britain will enter a new era; the people have accepted the fact that the former Empire is now an Island again. Stevens will eventually accept Mr Farraday just like Britain will accept the Americanisation. Stevens will open
up to the world. He will leave his butler’s coldness for some human warmth: “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.” The climax of the novel comes during the great, informal conference at the Darlington estate. Stevens identifies himself so strongly with his position that he continues to serve the guests while his father lies dying in a tiny servant’s bedroom in the attic. He is unaware of his own tears until one of the guests suggests that he might be crying, which Stevens glibly attributes to overwork. He later describes the conference as the great event in his life. Stevens is a peculiarly British character, but his narrow-minded, obsessive devotion to his work has parallels in the U.S.
Ishiguro calls upon the art of story-telling to convey a political statement in this work. He unfolds reality by means of fiction, using Stevens as an unreliable narrator. This enables the reader to form their own judgements about the actions of Stevens and the characters around him. Ishiguro offers a thinly-veiled critique of British political practices of the twentieth century and in particular, of the colonial attitude. Ishiguro weaves his story within the restraints of daily occurrences.
Dignity and Shame
While Stevens makes a lot of his thoughts on dignity the issue of shame remains implicit. This has much to do with Ishiguro’s style. The real issues he wants us to think about remain implicit. The opposite of dignity is, after all, shame. In using Stevens as an unreliable narrator, Ishiguro enables the reader to focus on the concept and consequences of shame. We see it the behaviour of Lord Darlington and his guests and in the way Stevens refuses to condemn their actions. When the Jewish maids are dismissed, it is only Miss Kenton who points out the shameful nature of the act. Ishiguro's work approaches the theme of shame by not discussing it. Apart from Miss Kenton’s contribution, the issue of shame remains unspoken. The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstances tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he is entirely alone. It is as I say a matter of 'dignity'. Stevens grapples throughout the novel for a definition of dignity. He cites various examples but can never seem to put his finger on it. He cannot quite grasp the notion of dignity. Ishiguro allows Stevens to adopt a very proper tone in order to portray a seemingly stable front. Beneath Stevens' restraint, however, emerges an idea that
suggests Stevens has been successful in his pursuit of a definition for dignity. Dignity is a fear of shame. Stevens' rhetoric describes the context within which Ishiguro writes. Stevens exercises enormous restraint and impersonality in his speech. He does not adapt well to bantering. Stevens' language characterizes the society which places such emphasis on professionalism and duty. Ishiguro further comments that the effects of such a society squeeze the individuality out of the individual. For instance, Stevens denies any personal feelings for Miss Kenton. In fact, he justifies his visit as a professional necessity: "that is to say, I could drive to the West Country and call on Miss Kenton in passing, thus exploring at first hand the substance of her wish to return to employment here at Darlington Hall." In order to preserve his dignity it is also noticeable that Stevens tries to dilute his personal feelings. For instance, he often uses phrases such as "That is to say, it was, on the whole," to preface what is truly important, "extremely pleasing to see her again". The British virtue of dignity, of "not removing one's clothing in public," embeds itself so deeply into Stevens that he portrays a kind of grotesqueness. This grotesqueness, Ishiguro implies, results from colonialism. The servitude which colonialism breeds leads to the denial of self.
Stevens as the Unreliable Narrator
The unreliable narrator is a technique of fiction which can only work if the reader accepts it. The unreliable narrator can be a child, someone with limited knowledge or limited mental capacity. It could also be a narrator who wishes to keep things back from the reader. The result is that the reader must look beyond the narration for clues that let us know what is really going on." The clues in the narration are, of course, deliberately planted by the author, not the narrator, and the clues contradict what the unreliable narrator tries to pass off as fact. There are numerous examples of the unreliable narrator technique in The Remains of the Day. Lord Darlington tells Stevens to dismiss the two Jewish maids. Over their cosy evening cocoa, Stevens tells Kenton: "I did so in as concise and businesslike a way as possible." Kenton says she is outraged by his cool demeanour over the dismissal and threatens to leave but does not. Later, Stevens teases her about threatening to leave even though readers know from her silences that she is miserable. He does not admit to such knowledge. “’It's rather funny to remember now, but you know, only this time a year ago, you were still insisting you were going to resign. It rather amused me to think of it.’ I gave a laugh, but behind me Miss Kenton remained silent.” Miss Kenton admits to cowardice and having nowhere to go. Only then does Stevens tell her about Darlington's change and that "it was all a terrible misunderstanding....I just thought you'd like to know Miss Kenton, since you were as upset as I was." Miss Kenton responds by being upset that Stevens did not divulge his honest feelings to her at the time of the firing. As readers we can see what Stevens avoids: Kenton initially felt he coldly approved the firing and that he laughed at her suffering. He didn't confide his feelings to her which placed limits on what might have been a relationship.
Miss Kenton hires a maid, Lisa, in spite of Stevens’s objections that she is unsuitable. Months later over evening cocoa Stevens says he is pleased Kenton has had "some modest success regarding the girl thus far." Miss Kenton then teases Stevens about his guilty smile whenever Lisa is mentioned: "Ah, but I've noticed it, Mr. Stevens. You do not like pretty girls to be on the staff. Might it be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself?" Stevens protests that it is all nonsense and that he objected to Lisa's employment only because she was unsuitable for the job when she first arrived. Lisa eventually runs off with the second footman for love and Miss Kenton brings Lisa's farewell note to Stevens to read. He notices that she is upset and keeps looking down at her hands. "In fact -- and this strikes me as curious -- I cannot really recall seeing her more bereft than on that morning." Here Stevens does not see that Miss Kenton is upset because she is in love with him and through all the years nothing has come of it. Instead it is Lisa who has found love. Miss Kenton, like the reader, has been disillusioned by Stevens. We can read in the text how she felt a coward for not quitting when the Jewish maids were fired. However, she did at least voice her outrage. Stevens let her down by doing neither and he did not share his feelings with her over the dismissal. Again, we can read in the text how Miss Kenton tried to tease Stevens into admitting he was flesh and blood and had physical urges. Stevens rebuffed such attempts and remained totally the controlled, on-duty, bloodless butler. Later, Stevens receives Miss Kenton's letter and he ponders on it: "…..just why it was our relationship underwent such a change....after many years in which we had steadily achieved a fine professional understanding. In fact, by the end, we had even abandoned our routine of meeting over a cup of cocoa at the end of each day. But as to what really caused such changes, just what particular chain of events was really responsible, I have never quite been able to decide." Here is Stevens the unreliable narrator. Immediately having said he can't decide what caused the change, he then lists, with some irony on the writer’s part, the very events that caused the change. The reader sees it in the text but he does not. We see later in the text that he avoided telling himself the truth because it was he alone who stopped the evening meetings. When Miss Kenton catches Stevens reading in the butler's pantry, he retreats and she teases. She eventually discovers that he's reading a romance novel. "Good gracious, Mr. Stevens, it isn't anything so scandalous at all. Simply a sentimental love story." At this point Stevens firmly shows her out. Recalling the event, Stevens tries to justify to the reader and almost certainly to himself the idea that romance novels are a good means of studying the English language and that it is part of his duty as a butler to do so. However, Miss Kenton has caught him out reading second-hand experiences love. Stevens eventually admits, after much digression, "I did at times gain a sort of incidental enjoyment from these stories....of ladies and gentlemen who fall in love and express their feelings for each other, often in the most elegant phrases." Here the text clearly shows us that Stevens cannot express his feelings and he substitutes reading about romance for an actual romance. His reading of romance novels shows readers that he has romantic desires which he cannot allow himself to admit. Miss Kenton has recognized this fact and therefore Stevens shuts her out (from the pantry and from himself). Stevens again retreats into butlerdom.
Miss Kenton eventually embarks upon a relationship with another butler. She assumes that Stevens is content with his life: “Here you are, after all at the top of your profession, every aspect of your domain well under control. I really cannot imagine what more you might wish for in life.” Here it is evident enough to the reader that Miss Kenton is giving Stevens a chance to declare some sort of feeling for her. Stevens, the unreliable narrator, however, fails to recognise the plea.
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