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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro

Important Quotations Explained

Historical Background

Key Facts

"Embarrassing as these moments were for me, I would not wish to imply that I in any way blame Mr. Farraday, who is in no sense an unkind person; he was, I am sure, merely enjoying the sort of bantering which in the United States, no doubt, is a sign of a good, friendly understanding between employer and employee, indulged in as a kind of affectionate sport. Indeed, to put things into a proper perspective, I should point out that just such bantering on my new employer's part has characterized much of our relationship over these months- though I must confess, I remain rather unsure as to how I should respond."

This passage is an excerpt from the Prologue. Because the meticulous, formal Stevens is not used to humor of any kind, he finds it extremely unsettling when his new employer, Mr. Farraday makes jokes, as he does not know how to reply in kind. Stevens is far too formal, and far too afraid of offending his employer, to hazard a reply that he has not carefully thought out. At several other points in the novel, while Stevens is on his road trip, he again voices his concerns about bantering, and describes several failed attempts at making funny remarks. This bafflement over the concept of casual banter characterizes Stevens's overall devotion to professionalism at the exclusion of personal or informal concerns.

"The English landscape at its finest—such as I saw this morning—possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term 'greatness.' … And yet what precisely is this greatness? … I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it."

This quotation is taken from the section titled: "Day One—Evening / Salisbury." When Stevens says that the "greatness" of the landscape stems from its restraint and its lack of demonstrativeness, he is also saying something about himself. He is constantly restrained, hiding his emotions in much the same way that the English landscape does not disclose anything dramatically or loudly. This narrow view on Stevens's part is one that eventually crumbles by the end of the story, when he realizes that his façade of calm has circumscribed his entire existence with indifference.

"'He was my enemy.' he was saying, 'but he always behaved like a gentleman. We treated each other decently over six months of shelling each other. He was a gentleman doing his job and I bore him no malice. I said to him: "Look here, we're enemies now and I'll fight you with all I've got. But when this wretched business is over, we shan't have to be enemies any more and we'll have a drink together." Wretched thing is, this treaty is making a liar out of me. I mean to say, I told him we wouldn't be enemies once it was all over. But how can I look him in the face and tell him that's turned out to be true?'"

This passage, from one of Stevens's reminiscences about the past, is presented in the "Day Two—Morning / Salisbury" section. Lord Darlington speaks these words to Stevens in the early 1920s, just after the end of World War I. Darlington is speaking of Herr Bremann, his German friend who was a soldier in World War I. Herr Bremann shoots himself shortly after the evening on which Lord Darlington speaks those words to Stevens. This quotation reveals the nobility of character at the heart of Lord Darlington, and highlights one reason why he is especially vulnerable toward Nazi propaganda: because he feels England has been unfair to Germany in the aftermath of World War I, he continues to give Germany the benefit of the doubt, even when it becomes clear to most others that the Nazi agenda is not one that can be condoned.

"How can one possibly be held to blame in any sense because, say, the passage of time has shown that Lord Darlington's efforts were misguided, even foolish? Throughout the years I served him, it was he and he alone who weighed up evidence and judged it best to proceed in the way he did, while I simply confined myself, quite properly, to affairs within my own professional realm. And as far as I am concerned, I carried out my duties to the best of my abilities, indeed to a standard which many may consider 'first-rate.' It is hardly my fault is 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."

This passage, taken from the very end of the "Day Three—Evening / Moscombe, Near Tavistock, Devon" section, demonstrates Stevens's inner doubts about whether or not he has acted nobly, or with dignity, by unquestioningly accepting all of Lord Darlington's decisions. Stevens is trying to justify his actions not only to us, but to himself. If he were to admit that he was not actually serving someone with exemplary moral stature, he would have to admit that he made a mistake in whom he chose to trust and serve for so long and with such diligence. Though Stevens fears he has been mistaken, for solace, he clings to the fact that he did his work well. The entire narrative, in a sense, is a re-examination of his life, and at the end of the story, he admits to feeling both shame and regret.

"But that doesn't mean to say, of course, there aren't occasions now and then- extremely desolate occasions—when you think to yourself: 'What a terrible mistake I've made with my life.' And you get to thinking about a different life, a better life you might have had. For instance, I get to thinking about a life I may have had with you, Mr. Stevens. And I suppose that's when I get angry about some trivial little thing and leave. But each time I do, I realize before long—my rightful place is with my husband. After all, there's no turning back the clock now. One can't be forever dwelling on what might have been."

These words, spoken by Miss Kenton, are taken from the "Day Six—Evening / Weymouth" section of the novel. Miss Kenton, like Stevens, is not content with the decisions she has made in life. She reveals that she did not really come to love her husband until many years after she married him. After she makes the above declaration, Stevens says that his "heart is breaking." It is a tragic moment in the novel, for Stevens fails to tell Miss Kenton that he also had—and continues to have—deep feelings for her. The fact that neither his, nor her regret is ever relieved makes the ending of The Remains of the Day haunting, poignant, and tragic.

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