Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day gives an eloquent treatment of the issue of how a stoic English butler's unemotional reaction to the emotional world around him is damaging and painful, and how he resolves to make the best of the "remains of the day";the remainder of his life. Ishiguro explores some of the differences between the old English Victorian culture;that of the stiff upper lip, no show of emotion, and repression of personal opinion; and the no-holds-barred American culture of free expression of opinion and emotion. The American culture's spread into England is hastened with the two world wars, and it ends Stevens' old way of work, if not the job itself. Although Remains of the Day concentrates on a particular culture, and an obsolescent one at that, Ishiguro makes many insightful observations on human behavior in general. I will explore a few of these observations here, and attempt to show that Ishiguro's work possesses meaning far beyond an examination of one emotionally-repressed servant.
Ishiguro illustrates Stevens, and all of the old English butlers, as characters who basically amount to machines, unable to think for themselves. They see loyalty to the master as the only thing that matters in the world. Every time Stevens ends his lines with “sir,'; he is repressing his true identity. Ishiguro makes the reader wonder how on earth a person could get to be like this, for the sole reward of having the best silver in the house or the best-starched suits.
The old service culture of butlers in England was destined to change dramatically after the two world wars; by the time Stevens decides to change his lifestyle the old ways are already gone forever.
Stevens even relates the subdued nature of English scenery to the proper way of dignified behavior, in his observation that the English countryside is more dignified than the showy American landscape, in its “lack of obvious drama or spectacle'; (28).
Obviously, most regular people in England did not act like the butlers. The behavior of the old butlers represents stereotypes which persist today in our conception of the people of England. After all, “butlers only…exist in England'; (43). Indeed, Farraday judges the worth of Stevens, and Darlington Hall, according to stereotypical ideals of genuine Englishness. In a moment of panic, Farraday dem...
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...ing purely like a machine, and at least Stevens had good intentions behind his repetitive “Yes,
On his motoring trip, Stevens meets a man named Harry Smith, who argues his own definition of “dignity';: “there’s no dignity in being a slave…no matter if you’re rich or poor, you’re born free and
you’re born so that you can express your opinion freely…that’s what dignity’s really about'; (186). Stevens, naturally, merely said, “Of course, you’re quite correct.'; Even in this frank atmosphere he
could not spill his thoughts candidly.
Stevens is a very affecting character whose battles with his emotions are far from unique, either to himself or to his culture. Most people, even Americans, sometimes find it difficult to say honestly what they feel, even when it is in their own best interests to do so. Occasionally they cannot even recognize what they feel, let alone put it into words. They are, then, like Stevens: perhaps full of feelings, but not recognizing quite what they are, or how to reveal them if they ever do seize their identity. Remains of the Day is a novel that anyone concerned about the difficulty of communicating openly and honestly should find rewarding.
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- Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day gives an eloquent treatment of the issue of how a stoic English butler's unemotional reaction to the emotional world around him is damaging and painful, and how he resolves to make the best of the "remains of the day";the remainder of his life. Ishiguro explores some of the differences between the old English Victorian culture;that of the stiff upper lip, no show of emotion, and repression of personal opinion; and the no-holds-barred American culture of free expression of opinion and emotion.... [tags: Kazuo Ishiguro Remains of the Day Essays]
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