To what extent is the narrator of "Remains of the Day" the embodiment of a particular member of a historically specific society?

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Stevens represents the specific character of "the butler", a historically specific individual who has become almost an archetype in literature.  Consider the popular murder-mystery pronouncement:  "The butler did it!"  When audiences picture the character of the butler, the image has been stereotyped:  a quiet, reserved, and respectful man, happy to do his duty and keep his master's secrets.

Stevens certainly fits this stereotype perfectly.  He always agrees with Lord Darlington, even when Darlington contradicts himself.  Stevens fades into the background, not standing up for himself, not putting forth his own ideas, trying always to maintain the status quo and keep the household running.  Stevens is so dutiful that, although he has permission to go away for a few days, he feels uncomfortable and even guilty at leaving the house.

The position of the butler, and indeed of all the service positions, are a hold-over from 19th century England.  It was during this century that these positions became a caste unto themselves.  If you obtained such a position, you were unlikely to move beyond it.  They were a lifestyle, as opposed to a job, and the positions were often handed down throughout families.  Stevens demonstrates this idea of it being a "lifestyle" in the retelling of his life:  he has given up all opportunities for intimacy and happiness in order to serve the position.

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The Remains of the Day

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