Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

The first of Ishiguro's novels to center on English characters, The Remains of the Day has many similarities to his earlier works concerned with Japanese characters. Like them, Stevens the butler is loyal to a fault, unquestioning of those in higher social circles than he, and less concerned with the moral and philosophical than the pragmatic. His service to Lord Darlington over a period of many years has made him an unthinking accessory to the now-disgraced appeasement policies of his employer prior to World War II.

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The Remains of the Day also asks what life should center on. In Japanese (and often, American) society, a person becomes what he or she does and never has this been truer than in the case of Stevens, who literally is a butler twenty-four hours of the day. His personal feelings and needs have been subservient to his desire for butlerly "dignity," and only at the close of the book does he realize that he has devoted his life to a pursuit which has been ultimately meaningless.

Steven's search for dignity allows him to relegate every other facet of life, all those things that for many of us make it most worth living — personal relationships, leisure time, family — to a secondary position. Since he thinks of a great butler as someone who never breaks character and is never caught without his dignity intact, he does not allow himself to acknowledge his grief when his father passes away or his affection for Miss Kenton (or Mrs. Benn, as she is now called, although in all his reminiscences he uses the name she bore when he knew her), the former housekeeper he is going to visit as the novel begins.

Although the novel is set in an English manor house and in the countryside through which Stevens passes on his journey to see Miss Kenton, Ishiguro's themes of duty and obedience remain important. Stevens will not question the wishes of his employers and rationalizes that service to the great is all to which most people may aspire. At the close of the novel, he has realized, through the course of relating his story, that Lord Darlington was misguided, but unlike Stevens, at least he could say that he made his own mistakes. Stevens trusted Darlington and never questioned that he was doing something worthwhile by serving him with unthinking obedience. "Really," he concludes, "What dignity is there in that?"


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 913

Duty and dedication are at the heart of this novel. Stevens has lived his life in pursuit of perfect dutifulness. He has willingly made every personal sacrifice along the way, and when he realizes what he has given up in life, it is too late. He cannot reconnect with his family members because they are all dead, he cannot choose a different vocation, and he cannot marry and enjoy romantic love. As he made these sacrifices, he did so gladly, because he felt that the best way to be of service in the world was to serve a great gentleman. By convincing himself that Lord Darlington was such a man, Stevens deceived himself into believing he was living honorably. Sadly, he allowed himself to be so blinded by duty that he ignored his own judgment and needs.

Stevens’s father provides a role model for his son’s extreme devotion to duty. Stevens recalls a story about his father in which a general was coming to visit his employer. This general was responsible for the needless death of the elder Stevens’s other son, who was under the general’s command at the time. The elder Stevens understandably feels deep loathing for this man, yet when he is called on to act as his valet, he does so with emotionless dedication. The elder Stevens’s employer had offered to allow his butler to leave the house for the duration of the general’s stay, yet he...

(The entire section contains 1316 words.)

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