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The Theme of Dignity in The Remains of the Day
The novel, The Remains of the Day, contains a recurring theme of dignity. This theme is stated and restated throughout the novel. Dignity, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is "a composed and serious manner/style, the state of being worthy of honor or respect". In the novel, dignity is exoterically found in the form of proper gentlemen, as well as butlers who allow nothing to distract or faze them from doing their duty.
What about the everyday definition in the modern world. This dignity today is rarely encountered other than in the higher levels of old fashioned society, politics and perhaps serious business matters. With all our upbringing, culture and modernization, few have retained what was known as the dignity of even a half century ago. No one has the time any more to nurture and develop their dignity to a reasonable potential, as they find increasingly less and less reason to do so, relying instead on pure wit, instinct and professional tact. What I think is meant when one talks about dignity is the following. Take an imaginary case. You are confronted with a difficult or abnormal situation, yet you can maintain the same level of thinking and can attempt to deal with the situation. Or, you are forced to respond to a matter, and there is the possibility of your letting it get out of hand, but you control yourself and respond instead while focused and maintaining a civilised manner. That is dignity.
As is evident throughout the novel, it is a quality inherent in all people. The author’s intention and a below the surface view become clear: during his car journey. Mr Stevens becomes acutely aware of the dignity present in the people he meets, for example the family who takes him in when he runs out of gas. These are hardly the upper crust folk, yet their demeanour warms him and places them all on an even level. From there, communication tends to become easier. Thanks to the dignity in these people, Mr Stevens has little trouble adapting to his situation and manages to make the most out of it. Herein, I believe, lies the author’s intention with regard to dignity. He is saying we should look further that where we perceive dignity to lie; we should look closer, at the common folk; we should look closer yet, find it within ourselves.
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The American senator who was present at the major discussions at Darlington Hall prior to the peace negotiations is a perfect example. He stated that all present were dreamers and amateurs, incapable of handling the future of the nation which "should be left to professionals". Lord Darlington replied that what was seen as amateurism was, in fact, dignity. This encounter points out that, lacking dignity, you misjudge others and misunderstand their actions and ambitions. There is no doubt that dignity is a fine quality for anyone to possess. Quite apart from the aforementioned, there are several further aspects which dignity carries. One is honour. Dignity goes hand in hand with this other quality, they are related and used in conjunction. Possessing dignity enables one to place honour in one’s actions and words, both of which have large effects on the individual. Another is respect. Standing on one’s dignity commands respect from his/her peers. Respect is highly valued no matter where one is, and being able to command it almost at will is a very valuable skill. With respect in hand, one can venture to higher levels of success, because those around you are less likely to interfere, more likely to assist and will not question: respect carries trust. Finally, dignity itself, on account of its rarity, has become a worthy quality within itself. Those who can claim proper dignity have much to be proud of and are seen as great gentlemen of modern times.
In conclusion, the recurring theme of dignity presented in the novel presents an excellent example of this fine quality. It combines inherited and assumed dignity with developed dignity, along with both their uses and implications thereof.