The Remains of the Day can be construed as a text with somewhat ambiguous contexts. Due to the author's diverse background surrounding his cultural identity and values the text is able to represent both Japanese and British cultures simultaneously. The Remains of the Day may be interpreted as a hybrid of either a primarily Japanese text or a primarily British text depending on how the work is interpreted. This entry will present these varying perspectives equally to allow you to creating your own perspective of the work.
In portraying The Remains of the Day as a primarily Japanese text, I will feature the use of the Japanese technique of writing and narrative, Ki Shō Ten Ketsu. Ki Shō Ten Ketsu uses various techniques broken down into four respective parts. First there is the introductory Ki, which presents an idea or subject in a passive and very subtle manner. The Remains of the Day is introduced with a prologue, stating when, “July 1959” (2) and where, “Darlington Hall” (2) the novel takes place. The narrative then begins, “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.” (3) This introductory sentence allows the reader to be drawn in by using information of which they have no previous knowledge.
Slowly the story begins to unfold and the reader discovers that Mr. Stevens is the speaker, and that he is an English butler working under an American gentleman named Mr. Farraday who recently purchased Darlington Hall. These minute details are what further develops the main events that occur throughout the novel, and these details could also be considered the novel’s Shō. Shō being the aspect of developing an idea or subject after the Ki within the technique Ki Shō Ten Ketsu.
Once the basic characters and ideas of the novel are established, the form of Ki Shō Ten Ketsu brings into play the use of the Ten, or turn. These turns present seemingly unrelated concepts that significantly connect the work as a whole. The use of Ten in The Remains of the Day may be seen by analyzing the amount of seemingly arbitrary memories that Mr. Stevens recalls erratically throughout his journey. For instance, soon after he depicts his experience of almost running over a chicken he turns to his various memories, stating “But I feel I should return just a moment to the matter of my father” (69). How the experience of almost running over a chicken leads to a reflection on his father is ambiguous, yet it nevertheless becomes an integral part of the storyline. Stevens himself evens admits to his somewhat accidental thought process, saying “But I see I am becoming preoccupied with these memories and this is perhaps a little foolish.” (67) However, he cannot avoid the nature of his stream of consciousness and thus the significant memories of his life continue to interrupt the present day narrative of his journey through the English countryside.
The final stage of the Japanese narrative is the Ketsu. The Ketsu ultimately binds together the two or more arguments or perspectives presented throughout the work. The subjects unite and do not contend for a prevailing point of view, they are simply presented. It is left up to the audience to decide on one perspective or another. This can be seen in The Remains of the Day at the conclusion of the novel when
Stevens resolves to, “adopt a more positive outlook and try to make best of what remains of [his] day.” (244) despite his unfortunate circumstances. For he realizes he missed his opportunity to share his life with Miss Kenton, “I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?” (243) Thus it is up to the reader to determine whether or not Stevens lead a happy or at least satisfactory life serving the late Lord Darlington, and ultimately it is the Ketsu of the novel.
Yet an argument can be made that Ki Shō Ten Ketsu does not exist within the framework of the novel. This position rests on the basis that Ishiguro, while Japanese in origin, actually spent all his school-aged years in England. This means that Ishiguro may have never come into contact with the writing style of Ki Shō Ten Ketsu, but was in contact with, and did learn the Western style of building towards a climatic event or climax. In my mind the Western style of writing can be broken down into five distinct parts: The setting of the scene or establishing the setting, use of symbolism or metaphors, building tension towards the climax, the climax and finally the conclusion as a result of the climax.
In The Remains of the Day the important elements that set the scene and introduce the setting are similar to those used in the Japanese ki. In fact the same sentence used on page three, “It seems increasingly likely that…”, is also one used to introduce the premise of the novel. However the difference is in the detail, since Western novels incorporate more background and visual settings. In the first chapter we come to understand how the idea of a journey comes to fruition, starting with the passage “Miss Kenton’s letter set off a certain chain of ideas” (5), and we find out how Stevens plans to address the “errors” he has made lately. This tells us that Miss Kenton is an important character and puts forth the idea that there may be more going on with her then he states. Is the journey about the errors or is it about Miss Kenton? This idea is important for the rest of the novel. On page six we get introduced to the fact that Darlington Hall has changed owners, highlighting the new owner’s different habits. Darlington, and the fact that the hall is under new ownership, are also important to the rest of the novel. Within the first chapter alone, we are shown what is important and who to watch out for.
Throughout the entire novel the use of symbolism and metaphors can be debated. This is an important point because, according to Dr.Ogden, symbolism does not exist within Japanese literature. Out of The Remains of the Day I could pull out many examples of this, so I will just highlight a few examples. One is the use of nature; it often highlights feelings going on within the character himself. On page twenty-four he talks about leaving the hall and how he could “sense the steep drop… though [he] could not see it”. This suggests his feelings of letting go of his comfort and being dropped into an entirely new place. On page twenty-eight he uses the English landscape to talk about what “greatness” is, and uses it to enter into the central argument of what makes a butler great. Later, he is lost and talks about the road being a “narrow lane, hemmed in” (117) and having no idea “What was around [him]”.This can symbolize Steven’s himself, often not being able to see what is so obvious for some of the other characters more in touch with their feelings. There is also use of metaphors on page seventy-eight where we see words like “mounting” and “penetrating” to describe a scene between Stevens and Miss Kenton. The scene itself is not sexual, but the words purposely create allusions to sex. Stevens himself also uses a “nature” metaphor to explain sex to another character.
The use of the metaphors and symbolism help to build the next element: tension building. In this novel we can easily see the tension build towards the climax through Stevens’ memories and his reaction to having them. He tells us that he is “becoming preoccupied with these memories” (67) and that it is “a little foolish”. “I am becoming unduly introspective, and in a rather morose sort of way” appears on page one hundred seventy nine, followed by “I am unable to prevent my mind from continuing to wander” (211-12 ). Each time his memories arise, he states that they are not under his control. Also, the subject matter of the memories becomes more emotional as he himself revisits the same memories and thoughts and tries to muddle through his own confusion. For example “greatness” is brought up more then once, becoming more and more personal in connection to his own service and whether he was a great butler. He mentions seeing things in new ways because of the memories, admitting that he has “never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way” (117), and saying that it leaves him “unsettled”. The emotional context builds until he can admit that his “heart was breaking” (239) after understanding Miss Kenton will not return with him.
His heart breaking is what sets up the climax of the novel. This book’s climax is more subtle than some dramatic Western novels, but when you understand Stevens’ controlled character, it becomes easy to see how out of the norm and dramatic this little climax is for him. He cries in front of a stranger while sitting in public on a bench and talking about Lord Darlington and his life, stating “ I’ve given what I had to give. I gave it all to Lord Darlington” (243). This is Stevens coming to terms with what his life is about, whether he wasted it, and what is important to him. It is a huge moment within the novel, and clearly a climax.
Like most novels written in Western style, everything gets tied up in a neat little bow. Stevens makes his decision to stay a butler, seems happy with it and focuses on the happy people around him and their banter, coming back again to the idea that it is something he needs to work on. The book ends with him settled on the bench, happily planning how to work on his banter and be an even better butler. His past resolved and confronted, he can now move on.
The Remains of the Day can be interpreted both through Japanese writing style and Western writing style. We have presented arguments for both, and both are equally strong in their ability to find evidence within the text to support the ideas. This brings up the question of truth. Are both true? Can both be true? Because Ishiguro is a Japanese person raised in England, is this novel Japanese with some Western elements in it or the opposite? The same can be said for civilization exclusivity— how much can one thing affect another and are some sensibilities so innate that they will come out in a person without the person’s knowledge? Could Ishiguro think he is writing from a European perspective but end up writing with a Japanese? These are all questions that have no definite answer, and one must come up with what they feel is the most likely solution.
Rachel and Sara