In an interview about the novel The Remains of the Day, author Kazuo Ishiguro says he likes the idea of starting off with somebody who appears quite unsympathetic and then actually seeing the human behind all those things that make him so unattractive. Ishiguro said he thinks something has been gained if we move in the direction from not liking somebody to actually understand them. Did Ishiguro, by creating the character of Stevens, really achieve this task he set for himself?
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By the end of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day, we certainly do see the character Stevens as fully human.
At the end of the story, we hear Miss Kenton, now Mrs. Benn, confess to Stevens that, even though her husband is a good man she has grown to love, she has trouble in her marriage because every once in a while, she starts thinking about what her life would have been like had she married Stevens instead. When she accepted her husband's proposal many years ago, she had thought of it as just a means of tricking Stevens into proposing himself. But when he again refuses to rise to the occasion, she finds herself married to Benn and needing to get used to him. Soon, getting used to him led to feelings of love, regardless of still being in love with Stevens. As a result of not getting to live her life with Stevens, she feels she has wasted her life.
Similarly, Stevens shows us his very human side by confessing that, "at that moment, [his] heart was breaking." And, just like Miss Kenton, he too feels he has wasted his life. Yet, the same qualities of his character and the same personal beliefs that prevented him from expressing feelings of love to Miss Kenton when they still worked together continue to prevent him from expressing the same feelings of love and regret in this same moment that Miss Kenton just expressed. He continues in pride and dignity to encourage her to remain steadfast in her marriage and to not let thoughts of him dissuade her from her marriage.
Despite the fact that Stevens is still unable to express emotion as he should, the reader is convinced of his human essence due to his confession to the reader that his heart is breaking. Since the reader knows he is truly human, the reader can empathize with Stevens and feel his heart ache along with him.
In the sense that the reader is given a final moment to hear Stevenson confess his human feelings and to empathize with him, we can certainly agree that Ishiguro created a character in Stevens that allows us to value the character the more we understand him.
However, we might disagree that Stevens moves from being unlikable to being likable the more the story reveals him to be human. One might argue that Stevens has always been likable. From the start of the story, the reader understands that Stevens has not allowed himself to express his emotions because he feels it is his role as a butler to always display a sense of dignity, and dignity excludes human emotions. While the reader does not agree with his beliefs or choices, we clearly understand his behavior. Therefore, it can be argued that Stevens is as likable at the end of the story as he was all along, and our heart breaks for him because we see that he is still unable to shake his belief that his role excludes expressing emotions. All in all, Ishiguro created a very heartbreaking story that remains heartbreaking through to the bitter end.
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