At various points as Stevens travel to meet the former Miss Kenton, he recalls incidents that occurred during the many years he was employed at Darlington Hall. Stevens had continued to maintain a strong faith in the separation between the classes, which included the belief that upper-class people—especially the nobility—had a better understanding of world affairs than servants. In several cases, however, Stevens found that his basic humanity was at odds with the behavior of Lord Darlington and other elites. The occasion when Darlington ordered Stevens to fire two young Jewish housemaids solely because of anti-Semitism created a bitter memory for the butler, who had obediently complied.
As German policies and activities seem to be moving toward war, Darlington Hall becomes the site of more meetings attended by prominent military and diplomatic figures of several nations. Stevens tries to keep up with the international news and does not support Nazism, but he remains conscious of what he considers his “professional realm.” Having been brought up in service, as his father before him had been a butler, Stevens is committed to avoiding political discussions—or any controversial subject—with the master.
On one occasion in 1935, this conviction is put to the test. During dinner, Darlington’s guests try to engage Stevens in a discussion about democratic processes, but he feels it would be out of place to offer his true opinion. This guest, Mr. Spencer, interprets Stevens’s stated inability “to be of assistance” as proof that he, and by extension all servants, lack the intelligence to comprehend complex subjects. Although Lord Darlington apologizes on his guest’s behalf the next day, he actually worsens the situation by offering his endorsement of fascism. Stevens feels unable to express his disagreement. When England actually enters the war and Darlington is disgraced, Stevens remains in his employ.