The character of Stevens, a butler in the home of an English nobleman, Lord Darlington, embodies the concepts of service and dignity. Service is a calling for Stevens, who follows in his father’s footsteps. He believes that each member of the household staff plays a crucial role in supporting the...
The character of Stevens, a butler in the home of an English nobleman, Lord Darlington, embodies the concepts of service and dignity. Service is a calling for Stevens, who follows in his father’s footsteps. He believes that each member of the household staff plays a crucial role in supporting the greatness of that establishment, including the gentleman at its helm; he even maintains that this type of service is a way of “serving humanity.”
Far from questioning the English class system, Stevens carries out all the duties of his position with consummate dignity. A butler should maintain a “façade… [that should not] drop off to reveal the actor underneath.” Stevens carries this value so far into his personal life that it blocks him from forming strong human connections. The reader also sees how much this concept matters in his value system when his aging father can no longer perform his duties as before and Stevens feels the humiliation the older man suffers through the loss of dignity. Yet he cannot set aside his own duties even to mourn his father’s passing.
Celebrity applies to the ways that Stevens was awed by the supposed greatness of his employer. Because he could not or would not doubt the wisdom of Darlington’s opinions or decisions, Stevens believed that the guests at the home were all illustrious personages. As the European powers were moving toward the Second World War, Darlington frequently invited high-ranking Germans and pro-German Britons to his home. Stevens was oblivious to the looming menace of Nazism and the early British policy of appeasement—which proved disastrous—that these men represented.
The changing times are represented in Stevens’s new employer, the American Farraday, who could not be more different from Lord Darlington. Farraday’s relaxed, genial style of management is challenging, even threatening, to the reserved Stevens. He considers the interactive style as “bantering” and, even though engaging in such superficially friendly exchanges goes against his belief in dignity, Stevens gamely attempts to learn it as part of his duties.