Postmodern literature has its many spokesmen. Many would agree that Kazuo Ishiguro is not the most typical representative of this somewhat anarchistic literary and social movement, but he is certainly one of its most subtle and valuable artists. He uses the principles of post modernistic writing in a very meaningful way, and only after a thorough analysis can one fully appreciate all carefully constructed and presented elements trough which he successfully delivers his story. Remains of the day, as a novel, is a unique example of how a story of a personal fate of one man can reflect on such large, historical and social scale.
Above all other motifs, the one of history, especially personal, individual history is the idea that dominates all novels Ishiguro wrote, Remains of the day in particular. In Linda Hutcheon’s words “the departure, rather than reworking of mimetic novelist tradition” is a definition that helps understanding the mechanism, the strategy Ishiguro uses to communicate this story to the reader. Focus on biography, personal history represents a break with the traditional approach to history and historicity. Dealing with past (private or public) and confronting it, is an important subject that reoccurs within the discourse of British postmodern prose. Concerning Ishiguro’s work itself, and Remains of the day as an example of his manner of narrating, this subject of history is precisely the thing that dominates the discourse and captures reader’s attention (the plot in classical sense is quite static). Stevens, alike all of Ishiguro’s narrators, is not at all objective and trustworthy. His memory plays tricks on him (motif especially present in his earlier two novels with Japanese protagonists), his language distorts to reveal the actual truth that is buried under layers of self-deception. The language is seen as an important weapon, and as much as it is used by Ishiguro’s narrators, as the means of suppression of the actual state of affairs, it is also the very thing that unmasks them. The Suez Canal crisis and Nazi propaganda in pre-WWII Britain, as a historical background, are present in the novel, but they are tackled with in a rather indirect way, barely even mentioned. It is a scene set for the “real history” Ishiguro deals with, the individual one – a retrospective of Stevens’ life.
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...he signified.” The reality has become “a greatest fiction of all.”
This curious moment in history where modern shifts into postmodern, when colonial, imperialistic Europe enters the cold war era, with its delicate balance of power, is presented through an individual destiny of a Butler (an occupation as obsolete as Stevens’ principles). Remains of the day is a story about a death of one system of belief, of one way of thinking. Awareness of all these factors gives the novel a number of new implications and possible points of view, and yet it never deprives it of its essential, humane perspective. That is probably why Remains of the day stays, to this date, Ishiguro’s most read and studied novel. In Ishiguro’s own words:
“I think it’s always dangerous to have a writer in a novel. That leads you into all kinds of areas, unless you’re specifically interested in talking about the nature of fiction. But I try to avoid that very postmodern element in my books. I always try to disguise those elements of my writing that I feel perhaps are experimental. I’m only interested in literary experiment insofar as it serves a purpose of exploring certain themes with an emotional dimension.”
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