Monday, November 24, 2008

Summary of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is the story of an English butler named Mr. Stevens set in the mid 1950s. It is a first-person narrative of an excursion Mr. Stevens takes not only through the English countryside, but also through the memories of his life as a butler.

The novel is divided into several parts, which each depicts a day or two of Stevens' six-day trip to Little Compton, Cornwall. A prologue at the novel's opening also introduces the reader to the nature of Stevens' work as well as his current employer, Mr. Farraday. Mr. Farraday is a young American gentleman who recently purchased Darlington Hall after the death of the Hall's previous master, Lord Darlington. The majority of Stevens professional life has been spent in service to the recently deceased Lord. In fact, the change in his employer proves to be a somewhat awkward transition for Stevens, since the manner in which Mr. Farraday addresses him has an uncomfortably colloquial, bantering tone, to which Stevens is completely unaccustomed.

The majority of the events and experiences Stevens recollects are often grandiose dinner parties with a wide array of distinguished guests. Representatives of Britain's heads of state and other countries including such politically charged regions as France, Germany, and the United States of America were often present. Stevens organized such occasions as head butler with the strong desire to achieve 'greatness' through stoicism, tranquility, and pride. He proves such professionalism on one occasion by working to propitiate Lord Darlington's guests instead of remaining by his father's dying side. By ignoring his own matters for the good of the guests' comfort Stevens shows great composure. Subsequently he forgets how to express his humanity and compassion in order to satisfy both the guests and his own sense of pride. Stevens often attributes composure with greater importance than emotions throughout the novel.

At first the details to why Stevens wishes to undergo his trip are somewhat ambiguous, except for his reference to a letter he received from a woman named Miss Kenton. The reader is later informed that Miss Kenton is an ex-employee of Darlington Hall. In order to pursue married life to a man, Mr. Benn, she left Darlington Hall many years ago. Mr. Stevens has not been able to fully come to terms with these circumstances, for throughout the novel he continues to refer to Mrs. Benn by her maiden name, Miss Kenton, instead of her married name. Stevens recollects Miss Kenton often with significant repressed romantic emotions. Unfortunately in order to maintain his almost excessive professionalism, Stevens remains unaware of the true nature of his sentiments towards Miss Kenton and subsequently loses her to another man. After Stevens meets with Miss Kenton at the end of his journey, they share a moment where Miss Kenton reveals her true emotions towards Stevens. She states how she believes her life would have turned out very different and perhaps better had she married Stevens instead of her current husband. This confession leaves Stevens in shock, for he becomes fully aware of the significance of his feelings for Miss Kenton and that he missed his chance for a different life a very long time ago.

This novel is truly the exploration of the personal journey Stevens takes in order to fully understand the people that impact him as well as his lot in life. When he accepts that he missed the opportunity to share his life with Miss Kenton the purpose of the novel is fulfilled. Due to Stevens obsession of achieving greatness through his work he is left with only one task. This task is to carry on and essentially make the best of the remains of his days.



skram said...

Thanks for the summary, Rachel. It really helps to focus our discussion by remembering the plot points that are relevant to our explortion of the civilization exclusivity question.


P.S. Check out my comment on the Japanese Tea Cermony: Canadian Casual Style!, Part Two, for a discussion on wabi-sabi as it related to Remains of the Day.

skram said...

The fact that this book reads as so exclusively English and is yet part of our study on Japan, illustrates a fascinating part of the idea of civilization exclusivity. While culture can appear familiar or foreign on the surface, it is at the level of fundamentals where the greatest differences or similarities are found. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Rachel!