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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day is a novel centred around remorse set against a backdrop of impending war. Although that may sound gloomy, Ishiguro's third novel set the literary world alight in 1989. A romantic novel with little of the romance that we recognise in Hollywood movies. Here we will look at the novel The Remains of the Day, exploring its themes and plot and some important quotes.

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The Remains of the Day

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Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day is a novel centred around remorse set against a backdrop of impending war. Although that may sound gloomy, Ishiguro's third novel set the literary world alight in 1989. A romantic novel with little of the romance that we recognise in Hollywood movies. Here we will look at the novel The Remains of the Day, exploring its themes and plot and some important quotes.

The Remains of the Day, Book Cover, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The main themes in The Remains of the Day are remorse and nobility.

The Remains of the Day: book


Overview: The Remains of the Day
Author of The Remains of the DayKazuo Ishiguro
Published1989
GenreHistorical fiction, romance novel
Brief summary of The Remains of the Day
  • The novel follows the life of an English butler, Stevens, as he reflects on his past and his career serving at Darlington Hall. The novel is set in the years leading up to World War II and is told from Stevens' point of view.
List of main charactersStevens, Miss Kenton, Lord Darlington, Mr Farraday, and Mr Cardinal
ThemesClass, loyalty, remorse, the cost of sacrifice, and nobility
SettingDarlington Hall near Oxford, England. The narrative is set in 1956 but the narrator reminisces on events in the 1920s-30s.
AnalysisThrough Stevens' introspection, the novel raises questions about what it means to lead a fulfilling life and whether one can truly find meaning and purpose in work alone.

The Remains of the Day (1989) is the third novel written by British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro, it was published in 1989. The book marked something of a departure for Ishiguro as it was the first of his novels not to be set in the Japan of his childhood. The story is told in the first-person narrative from the perspective of a butler named Stevens. The book is largely Stevens looking back on his 34 years of service at Darlington Hall.

The novel is set in 1956, a year after the death of Stevens' previous employer Lord Darlington. The story is told in a series of flashbacks from Stevens, who could be seen as an unreliable narrator. During a six-day holiday, Stevens reflects on his life in service. Slowly, the reader learns more about both Lord Darlington and Steven's character and his reserved affection for housekeeper Miss Kenton.

The unreliable narrator is a technique used by writers to have a storyteller, usually in the first person, who cannot be trusted. This could be through the storyteller being misinformed or deliberately withholding information.

The novel uses techniques familiar to Ishiguro readers, from the first-person narrative to the unreliable narration. Stevens' character and his stifling repression make his narration untrustworthy. Ishiguro often explores the delicate nature of memory and the novel is no different. Kazuo Ishiguro's novel was immensely popular upon release and is still highly regarded today. The Remains of the Day won the Booker prize for fiction in 1989. The book was adapted into a film in 1993 which was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

The Remains of the Day: Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British Japanese author born on 8th November 1954 in Nagasaki, Japan. In 1960, aged 6, Ishiguro and his family immigrated to Great Britain. His father had taken a post at the national institute for oceanography and the family moved to Guildford, Surrey. Ishiguro would not return to Japan for almost thirty years. His displacement gave Ishiguro a different perspective from his fellow British authors.

Ishiguro attended local schools and originally took an interest in music. Before going to university he spent three months in the United States in an attempt to seek fame as a singer-songwriter. Ishiguro found little success in America and soon returned to the United Kingdom to attend university in Kent. After graduating, Ishiguro continued to study in a creative writing course at the University of East Anglia.

His course in creative writing proved useful with Ishiguro's thesis becoming his first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982). Like his second novel, An Artist in the Floating (1986), the stories are set in the Japan of Ishiguro's youth. After his first two novels, Ishiguro decided to cease writing about a Japan he no longer knew. The next novel was to be set in England, that novel turned out to be The Remains of the Day. The book firmly established Ishiguro in the literary scene, winning accolades from critics and readers alike.

Kazuo Ishiguro's fourth novel The Unconsoled (1995) was less well-received but he continued to experiment with genre in fiction, sometimes writing science fiction like Never Let Me Go (2005) and detective fiction as in When We Were Orphans (2000). All of Ishiguro's novels are told in the first-person narrative with the exception of The Buried Giant (2015). In 2017 Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and he continues to write today.

The Remains of the Day: summary

Stevens, long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, has decided to take a six-day road trip on the insistence of his new employer, Mr Farraday. The purpose of his trip is to visit former housekeeper Miss Kenton, who left Darlington Hall twenty years prior. Stevens received a letter from Miss Kenton that suggests she is unhappy. Stevens is hoping to reinstate Miss Kenton as housekeeper.

The Remains of the Day, The driveway up to a stately home, StudySmarterFig. 2 A stately home in England, similar to Darlington Hall which is the novel's setting.

The story is then told through a series of flashbacks to Stevens' time as butler to the departed Lord Darlington. It is slowly revealed that during the pre-war years Lord Darlington spent a large amount of his time entertaining either Nazi sympathisers or even Nazis themselves.

Lord Darlington would go as far as brokering talks between the Nazis and their British counterparts and insisting on the dismissal of two Jewish members of staff. Despite these questionable actions, Stevens is devoted to Lord Darlington, believing him misguided rather than malevolent.

The heart of the story is in the relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton. Stevens recounts stories of their disputes at work but it soon becomes apparent that he has feelings for her.

The novel's climax comes when Stevens reunites with Miss Kenton. As the pair talk, Miss Kenton reveals that she regrets not marrying Stevens instead of her current husband. This is heartbreaking for Stevens given his romantic feelings toward her. Stevens, however, with his repressed sense of gentlemanly conduct, cannot bring himself to say anything.

The Remains of the Day: characters

A brief look at some of the main characters in the novel The Remains of the Day.

Stevens

Stevens is the novel's protagonist and the long-serving head butler at Darlington Hall, he is also the story's narrator. Stevens has a strong belief in the value of dignity and is fiercely loyal to Lord Darlington. These qualities that Stevens prizes have also given him cause for regret. He has regretted not questioning his master's actions and not allowing himself to act on his feelings for Miss Kenton.

Miss Kenton

Miss Kenton is the housekeeper at Darlington Hall and Stevens' romantic interest. She is highly efficient and intelligent, and she often counters Stevens' priggish dignity with her strong-willed emotion. The two often confront each other with regard to matters in the household even if these only mask their affection for each other. Although Miss Kenton eventually marries Mr Benn, it is Stevens who she wishes to be with.

Lord Darlington

In the story's present time, Lord Darlington is the deceased former owner of Darlington Hall. Darlington represents the old-fashioned nobility. Through Stevens' eyes, Lord Darlington is presented as a well-meaning if a misguided man. His obliging nature towards either Nazis or Nazi sympathisers means that in the story's present-day he is negatively thought of. This gives Stevens an immense feeling of regret as his loyalty prevented him from truly serving his employer.

Other characters in the novel include:

CharactersRole
Mr FarradayThe American owner of Darlington Hall in 1956
Mr CardinalA fellow butler and colleague of Stevens at Darlington Hall
Sir David and Lady CarolineFriends of Lord Darlington and frequent guests at Darlington Hall
Mr and Mrs TaylorThe current housekeepers at Darlington Hall in 1956

The Remains of the Day: themes

The character and ideals of Stevens drive the themes of The Remains of the Day: remorse and nobility. Here we will look at how Kazuo Ishiguro incorporates those themes into his novel.

Remorse

Remorse could be considered the central theme of Ishiguro's novel. The premise of an old man looking back on his lengthy career and life lends itself to the theme. Stevens is remorseful about his relationships with both Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington. Miss Kenton herself expresses remorse over her choice of husband.

But it is Stevens' remorse that is the central feature of the novel. He regrets allowing his professionalism to prevent him from intervening with Lord Darlington as he unwisely meddles with the politics leading to World War II.

Stevens is unconditionally supportive of his master. It is not so much Stevens' actions that make him remorseful but rather his inaction. This is particularly felt in his relationship with Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton is the only character who Stevens achieves intimacy with, yet he cannot bring himself to let her know his true feelings.

Nobility

Nobility can have a dual meaning; it can mean being part of the gentry or aristocracy, but it can also describe the act of being noble. Both definitions are appropriate thematically. Stevens's role as butler to Lord Darlington is an example of old-fashioned nobility. The fact that Darlington is a lord and has the country's best intentions at heart is particularly archaic. Stevens takes his job incredibly seriously and places more importance on his work than his personal life.

Stevens places great esteem in being noble and having dignity and feels it is these qualities that make a good butler. He refuses to allow his personal feelings to get in the way of his professionalism. When Lord Darlington increasingly invites questionable characters to the hall, Stevens does not let his personal feelings or beliefs interfere.

His resistance to allowing his personality into his professional life affects his personal well-being. As a result, Stevens rarely allows himself to be intimate with others.

The Remains of the Day: quotes

Here we will take a look at some quotes from the novel and explore how they support the novel's themes.

The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost. -Stevens, Day Three: Evening.

Stevens here tells his staff what he feels makes a great butler and his own professional ideal. This devotion to his professionalism would later cause Stevens remorse, particularly in his relationships with Lord Darlington and Miss Kenton.

The days when you could act out of your noble instincts are over. Except of course, you here in Europe don’t yet seem to know it. -Mr Lewis, Day Two: Morning

Mr Lewis, an American delegate, is telling an audience of English, French and German dignitaries that the days of old politics of nobility are over. He is anxious because Lord Darlington and his French counterpart are sympathetic to the Germans, and feels these actions could lead to war.

All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. -Stevens, Day Six: Evening

In this quote, Stevens begins to express his remorse for not interfering with Lord Darlington's politics. For many of his years in service, Stevens trusted Lord Darlington almost blindly. Despite the protestations of others around him, he held firm his belief that Lord Darlington was morally unquestionable.

The Remains of the Day - Key takeaways

  • The Remains of the Day (1989) is the third novel written by British Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • The Remains of the Day won the Booker prize for fiction in 1989.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro is a British Japanese author born on 8th November 1954 in Nagasaki, Japan.
  • The character and ideals of Stevens drive the themes of The Remains of the Day: remorse and nobility.
  • The heart of the story is in the relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Remains_of_the_Day_by_Kazuo_Ishiguro.jpg) by Libreravi (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Libreravi) is licensed by CC BY- SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day (1989) is the third novel written by British Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro.

The character and ideals of Stevens drive the themes of The Remains of the Day (1989): remorse and nobility.

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel was immensely popular upon release and is still highly regarded today. The Remains of the Day won the Booker prize for fiction in 1989.

The Remains of the Day (1989) is not based on a true story despite including real-world events. The novel is, therefore, historical fiction.

The Remains of the Day (1989) is set in the year 1956.

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