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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro

Day Three–Evening / Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon

Day Two–Afternoon / Mortimer's Pond, Dorset & Day Three–Morning / Taunton, Somerset

Day Four–Afternoon / Little Compton, Cornwall

Summary

Uncharacteristically, Stevens does not open this section of the novel in the present; he instead immediately tells about the one overt instance of anti- Semitism at Darlington Hall. He says that Lord Darlington came under the influence of Mrs. Carolyn Barnet, a member of the blackshirts organization, the British Union of Fascists. Stevens states that it was during these few weeks in the early 1920s, when Lord Darlington saw Mrs. Barnet frequently, that he decided to fire two Jewish maids.

Stevens tells Miss Kenton of Lord Darlington's decision to fire the maids that night over cocoa, during one of the customary end-of-day meetings he and she have instituted to discuss the day's events (meetings Stevens claims were merely professional in nature). Although Stevens is personally opposed to the decision to dismiss the Jewish maids because they have been excellent workers, he does feel it is his place to question Lord Darlington's decision, even in the privacy of his discussion with Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton cannot believe Stevens's indifferent attitude. She says it is wrong to dismiss the maids solely because they are Jewish, and she claims that she also will quit if the two are fired.

A year later, Miss Kenton is ashamed to admit that it was mere fright that kept her from quitting her post at Darlington Hall: she had nowhere else to go. After this admission, Stevens tells Miss Kenton that Lord Darlington has recently repented about firing the maids, and has asked Stevens to try and trace them. Stevens tells Miss Kenton that he thought she would like to know of this development because the firing had distressed her as much as it had distressed him. Miss Kenton is astounded and upset that Stevens never told her the firings had bothered him at all. She says to him: "Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" Stevens is unable to answer.

A housemaid named Lisa is hired to fill the staff shortage that results from the firing of the two Jewish maids. Stevens does not think Lisa will do a good job, as her references are dubious, but Miss Kenton is determined to prove him wrong. Lisa's behavior, though unpromising at first, improves greatly after several weeks, and Stevens admits that Miss Kenton has had "modest success" in reforming the new employee. Miss Kenton notes the "guilty smile" on Stevens's face as he says this, and tells him that she has noticed he always seems averse to having pretty women such as Lisa on the staff at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton suggests that perhaps Stevens does not want attractive women on the staff because he feels he cannot trust himself. Stevens, of course, denies Miss Kenton's teasing accusation.

After a period of eight or nine months, Lisa runs off with the footman. Miss Kenton is very distraught, and says that Stevens is proved right in the end after all. Stevens disagrees, however, and says that Miss Kenton did a fine job training Lisa, and that such elopement is not uncommon among staff. The two agree that Lisa made a foolish decision in giving up her professional promise for a mere romance.

Stevens thinks about why his relationship with Miss Kenton underwent such a change around 1935 or 1936. He muses over various events that may have represented turning points. One such episode was a night when Miss Kenton came into Stevens's pantry without knocking and, noticing him reading, asked him what book it was. Stevens clutched the book to his chest and asked that Miss Kenton respect his privacy. She persevered, however, suggested that perhaps it was something "rather racy," and finally approached him and pried it out of his fingers very slowly. Miss Kenton exclaimed that the book was not anything but a sentimental love story. Stevens shows her out of his room.

Stevens claims that he was reading the book to "maintain and develop his command of the English language." He admits that he also enjoyed the romantic aspects, but only for the aesthetics of the language and phrasing. He also emphasizes that he needed to be strict with Miss Kenton to drive home the point that he did not wish to be disturbed when he was off duty in his private study. Stevens feels that Miss Kenton's behavior was inappropriate, and he resolved to re- establish their relationship as merely professional.

Miss Kenton had suddenly begun taking full advantage of all her contracted vacation time shortly before the event in the study. One night over cocoa she explains to Stevens that she is "renewing her acquaintance" with a man who used to be a butler at Granchester Lodge, her previous place of employment. She comments that Stevens must be perfectly contented with his life, as he is so excellent at his profession. Stevens claims that until Lord Darlington has accomplished all that he can, only then will he consider himself contented.

A week or so later, when they meet over cocoa, Miss Kenton is absentminded. Stevens tells her that she seems increasingly distracted lately, and she replies in a sudden outburst that she is very, very tired. Stevens is taken aback, and suggests they abandon their evening meetings if she is so tired. She protests, but he insists, and the meetings over cocoa stop.

A few weeks later Miss Kenton receives news that her aunt, her only living relative, has passed away. She tells Stevens the news, then asks for a few moments alone and goes into her room. Stevens realizes that he has neglected to offer Miss Kenton his condolences; though he wishes to amend his error, he senses that on the other side of the door she is crying, and that if he enters he will interrupt her private grief. When Miss Kenton comes out of her room in the afternoon, Stevens only asks if everything is in order. He talks around the issue of condolences, pointing out a few mistakes that the new maids have made. Miss Kenton wearily says she will check over the maids' work, and, tiring of Stevens's relentlessly professional conversation excuses herself from the room.

Stevens speculates that if he had acted differently on any of these occasions, things may have turned out better for him. He says, "there was certainly nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small events would render whole dreams forever irredeemable."

Stevens's car runs out of gas near nightfall, and he is forced to stay with a local couple named Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Many neighbors and friends of the Taylors come over to meet Stevens over dinner, and these townsfolk declare that Stevens is a true gentleman. They ask Stevens what he thinks makes someone a gentleman, and he responds that he thinks the quality to which they refer might be termed "dignity." The Taylors' friends say that the doctor in their town, Dr. Carlisle, is also a gentlemen, and they hope that Stevens can meet him.

The guests ask Stevens relentless questions about his involvement with politics, and he says he was more involved before the war, in the arena of international affairs. Stevens tells of some of the famous people he has met, such as Winston Churchill and Lord Halifax, and the guests are very impressed. When Dr. Carlisle arrives at the Taylors' home, the other guests tell him of all the famous people that Stevens has claimed to know, and Dr. Carlisle looks at Stevens in a funny way. After a few more moments Stevens excuses himself to retire for the evening, and Dr. Carlisle offers to give him a ride to his car in the morning.

Stevens says he suffered "much discomfort" because of the dinner guests' mistaken impression of him. One guest, Harry Smith, had disagreed with Stevens's idea of dignity, claiming that dignity is evident when a common man acknowledges his responsibility to vote and to have strong opinions about political affairs. Stevens dismisses Mr. Smith's views, saying that his statements are too idealistic because there is a limit to what "ordinary people can learn and know."

To support this assertion, Stevens recalls an instance when a Mr. Spencer, a friend of Lord Darlington, asked Stevens his opinion on three different complex political situations, about none of which Stevens had the knowledge necessary to comment intelligently. Spencer was using Stevens to make a point—that democracy does not work because it allows ignorant people like Stevens to participate in important decisions. Though Lord Darlington apologizes to Stevens for the embarrassment, he agrees with Spencer's view, saying, "democracy is something for a bygone era." Stevens claims that while such ideas currently seem unattractive, there is a great deal of truth in them, and that it is quite absurd to expect any butler to be able to answer such questions.

Stevens concludes by saying that only misguided butlers would constantly question the motives and beliefs of their employers, and that butlers who attempt to form their own strong opinions lack loyalty. He does not advocate misplacing this loyalty, but feels that there must come a time in one's life when one ceases to search, and is content to commit their services to one employer. It is by this reasoning that Stevens claims it is not his fault if Lord Darlington's life and work seem, in retrospect, "a sad waste," and is why he himself does not feel any shame or regret to have served Lord Darlington.

Analysis

This section of the novel clearly demonstrates that Stevens's loyalty to Lord Darlington is absolute and blind. Unfortunately, it seems that nothing can shake Stevens's persistence in trusting Lord Darlington. Stevens fails to understand that firing people based on religion suggests a serious moral deficit on Lord Darlington's behalf. Miss Kenton, however, immediately understands the gravity of the situation, and is so opposed to it that she threatens to leave. Unlike Stevens, Miss Kenton does not substitute Lord Darlington's judgment for her own, and she always feels it a sign of personal weakness that she did not follow her own principles and quit her post Darlington Hall. She is also hurt that Stevens did not share his own sentiments with her.

Miss Kenton feels doubly defeated when Lisa runs off to get married. Stevens, however, attempts to cheer Miss Kenton up by telling her she did a good job training Lisa nonetheless. Though Miss Kenton says that Lisa is "bound to be let down" by her marriage, she does not seem convinced, and maybe even a little wistful. This moment is a little ironic because though she does not really believe the words as she speaks them, she is, in the end, "let down" by her own marriage. This moment, to some degree, eerily foreshadows Miss Kenton's later marital unhappiness.

The moment in Stevens's study when Miss Kenton pries the book out of his hands is the most sensual or erotic moment in The Remains of the Day. It is clear by Stevens's words that there is a strong physical attraction between the two of them. Nothing comes of it, however, and Stevens explains to us that he was only reading the romance novel to further his command of English—he cannot admit that perhaps love is something he longs for in his own life.

When the two meet over cocoa, Miss Kenton can well imagine what more Stevens might "wish for in life": a wife and family. It is clear by the way she says these words that she would like a family, and that she is tired of waiting for Stevens to figure this out. This frustration is the cause of Miss Kenton's outburst when Stevens persists in talking about work duties and she tells him she is tired. She is weary not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one as well. She is tired of waiting for Stevens to realize that he loves her, because she already knows that she loves him, and she is frustrated by his incessant formality. Stevens does not understand any of this, however, and says only that if the meetings tire Miss Kenton, perhaps they should discontinue the meetings altogether.

Stevens again acts stupidly when Miss Kenton's aunt dies. He is so socially rigid that he is unable offer her any words of condolence or consolation. The only things Stevens can ever speak to Miss Kenton about are affairs of the household—that is the only way he knows how to interact. It is not surprising that Miss Kenton starts taking more time off; she is merely trying to meet other people. These memories are sad moments for Stevens because he now appears to realize that they were turning points in his relationship with Miss Kenton, and that if he had acted differently, perhaps Miss Kenton may not have left to marry someone else.

On the whole, Stevens's regret resounds very strongly in this section of the novel, especially regarding Miss Kenton. When Stevens tells us that her marrying someone else made "whole dreams forever irredeemable," there can be little doubt that the dreams to which he refers involve Miss Kenton. This is the only time in the novel, aside from the very end, when Stevens admits to having dreams of his own independent from the wishes and desires of Lord Darlington.

Stevens also displays a greater degree of regret over his choice of Lord Darlington as his employer—a sentiment that gradually emerges out of Stevens's recounting of the episode with the townspeople who visit the Taylors' house for dinner. When the guests mistake Stevens for some sort of dignitary or political figure, he allows their misperception to continue; indeed, it is probably the one time in Stevens's life when he has been treated with great respect.

Harry Smith's views about democracy stand in sharp contrast to the elitist views of Lord Darlington and his cohorts, as Stevens's recollection of Mr. Spencer so viciously demonstrates. Mr. Smith claims that dignity is not just for gentlemen, and Stevens agrees, merely out of politeness. This response seems to ease Mr. Smith, who elaborates that dignity is defined as the right to be a free citizen, and to vote for whom you want in your government. Mr. Smith's modern viewpoint seems ridiculous to Stevens, who still believes that certain people are more entitled to vote than others. Stevens is entirely influenced by the times in which he was brought up: in his view, a butler's place is to serve, not to answer—or even consider, for that matter—political or economic questions. In Stevens's eyes, a butler does what he can to further humanity from within his restricted role—that is the most one can hope for. His viewpoint is very imperialist. When the British colonized other nations, they frequently felt they were superior to the indigenous people who lived in these nations. Stevens comes from a time when such "ranking" of people is commonplace and accepted.

In light of Stevens's acceptance of such a restricted role, it is all the more vital for him to feel he has chosen to serve a gentleman of impeccable judgment, so that Stevens himself can essentially live his life through the words and deeds of that gentleman. Stevens has chosen Lord Darlington, and though he must admit that in retrospect Lord Darlington's actions do not look wise, they did seem worthy of complete loyalty at the time. However, at this point it is clear that Stevens thinks that he probably trusted the wrong man. Indeed, the fact that he uses the words "a sad waste" to describe Lord Darlington's life indicates that he himself thinks that this to be true.

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