The Novel “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro Research Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jun 9th, 2020

One of the reasons why the novel The Remains of the Day (by Kazuo Ishiguro) is being commonly referred to, as such, that represents a high literary value, is that the themes and motifs, contained in it, do resonate with the discourse of colonialism/post-colonialism, which continues to exert much influence on the socio-political realities in today’s Britain. This is why, despite having been written in 1956, this novel remains discursively relevant.

After all, the contemporary geopolitical realities in the world are being defined by the desperate attempts of Western countries to maintain their quasi-colonial grip of the planet – something that can be illustrated, in regards to the ongoing confrontation between Russia and America/Britain. Yet, the West’s chances to come a winner out of the mentioned confrontation are rather slim – the reading of Ishiguro’s novel confirms the validity of this idea. The reason for this is that, as it can be inferred from The Remains of the Day, as time goes on, more and more Britons grow increasingly estranged from the virtue of ‘dignity’ – at least in the sense of how the novel’s main character Mr. Stevens used to perceive it. In my paper, I will expound on this particular idea at length, while interpreting how the novel’s themes and motifs reflect the historical legacy of Britain.

It now became a commonplace practice among many critics to refer to the character of Mr. Stevens (butler), as being nothing short of the embodiment of ‘Englishness’. The reason for this is that in people’s popular imagination, Britain has always been associated with the so-called ‘Faustian’ existential values, which in turn derive out of one’s ability to exercise a rational control over his or her emotionally charged urges, while subjectifying itself within the surrounding natural/social environment.

As Hell noted: “Faustians experience the desire to transgress the limits of space and time” (302). This explains why the psychological type of a ‘Faustian’ (as opposed to an ‘Apollonian’) implies that the concerned person is necessarily unemotional – something that makes it possible for him to be able to ‘process’ highly abstract categories in his mind, and to consequently contribute to the cultural progress, as we know it. In this respect, the character or Mr. Stevens can be indeed deemed a ‘quintessential Englishman’ – it is not only that throughout the novel’s entirety, he acts in the outwardly cold/unemotional manner, but he also appears to be fully aware of what was the actual reason for him to be willing to behave in such a way, in the first place.

According Mr. Stevens: “(Strongly emotional individuals) are like a man who will, at the slightest provocation, tear off his suit and his shirt and run about screaming. In a word, ‘dignity’ is beyond such persons. We English have an important advantage over foreigners in this respect” (Ishiguro 26).

This, of course, implies that, as Mr. Stevens used to perceive it, there was nothing incidental about the sheer ease, with which Britain used to acquire colonies in different parts of the world, during the Victorian era – in the character’s mind, the very notion of ‘Englishness’ was deemed synonymous with the notion of ‘superiority’. Apparently, one of the reasons why Mr. Stevens used to apply a great effort into developing his ‘art of bantering’ (concerned with the process of a butler exchanging witty remarks with his employer), is that while ‘bantering’, he would experience the sensation of coming in close touch with his actual sense of self-identity. This explains the following remark, on the character’s part: “I must say this business of bantering is not a duty I feel I can ever discharge with enthusiasm” (Ishiguro 12).

Obviously enough, the character in question believed that, his ability to sound witty and unemotional, regardless of what happened to be the external circumstances, used to expose him as an individual capable of addressing life-challenges in the thoroughly rational (manly) manner – something that even today continues to be one of the main psychological traits of a ‘true Englishman’. Therefore, there is nothing incidental about the fact that it is specifically the virtue of self-restraint/control, which Mr. Stevens tended to perceive being reflective of what Britain is all about. As he noted, while observing the countryside’s landscape: “The English landscape at its finest… possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, inevitably fail to possess… I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart” (Ishiguro 19).

This partially explains the character’s strong commitment towards his employer, Lord Darlington – just as it was the case with Mr. Stevens himself, the concerned British aristocrat never ceased adjusting his behavior to a number of the purely abstract principles – hence, the individual’s genuine desire to help Germany to recover in the aftermath of the WW1. He felt in this way not because Britain could benefit from the empowerment of Germany, but because he thought that helping this country would be a moral thing to do.

In the novel, there is a famous scene, where Lord Darlington addresses Mr. Lewis’s remark that Britain should be run by the (American) ‘professionals’: “I have a good idea of what you (Mr. Lewis) mean by ‘professionalism’. It appears to mean getting one’s way by cheating and manipulating. It means ordering one’s priorities according to greed and advantage rather than the desire to see goodness and justice prevail in the world” (Ishiguro 71). This, of course, exposes Lord Darlington as an extreme idealist.

Moreover, this highlights the significance of another important motif, explored in the novel – the fact that, as it appears from The Remains of the Day, being an honorable/idealistic politician (such as Lord Darlington), automatically makes one prone to deception. Therefore, it did make a certain sense for Mr. Stevens to end up experiencing the sensation of disappointment with his former employer. At the same time, however, there are strongly defined nostalgic undertones to just about every novel’s reference to the ‘good old times’, which in turn suggests that, just as it was the case with his main character, Ishiguro was predisposed to idealize Victorian Britain.

As Trimm pointed out: “Through this deployment of the country house as iconic site of a well-heeled past, Remains reclaims it from a gray postwar literary afterlife as the setting of detective novels” (184). Even though such author’s tendency appears rather unfounded, there is nevertheless a good rationale behind it. After all, it was namely through the time when Britain used to be ruled by the ‘old-school’ aristocrats (idealistic, but easily deceivable), such as Lord Darlington, which in turn used to be served by the butlers, such as Mr. Stevens, that the country remained at the peak of its power (Lang 152). One of the reasons for this is that, at this time, the country’s system of governing has been essentially meritocratic.

Since the end of the WW2, however, it began to turn increasingly ochlocratic, even though it continued to be disguised as ‘democracy’– the direct consequence of the rise of the consumerist society in Britain. That is, ever since this time, the essence of the socio-political dynamics in Britain started to become increasingly affected by the opinions of the country’s ordinary citizens, preoccupied with trying to satisfy their consumerist instincts. Yet, as Mr. Stevens aptly observed: “In a country such as ours, people may indeed have a certain duty to think about great affairs and form their opinions. But life being what it is, how can ordinary people truly be expected to have ‘strong opinions’ on all manner of things?” (Ishiguro 132). As the consequence, Britain realized that, as a nation, it no longer had what it takes to dominate the world. The validity of this suggestion can be easily illustrated, in regards to the fact that the outcome of the WW2 can hardly be considered favorable to the UK – the country had lost just about all of its colonies, including India.

As of today, the West, in general, and Britain, in particular, continue to become increasingly alienated from the earlier mentioned ‘Faustian’ values. This is the reason why most of the country’s citizens can be best described as merely consumers, quite incapable of taking abstract subject matters close to their hearts – contrary to what it used to be the case with the characters of Mr. Stevens and Lord Darlington. It is primarily due to the above-mentioned that, despite its quasi-colonial aspirations (reflected by the existence of the Commonwealth), today’s Britain had effectively ceased being an empire. We can say that, allegorically speaking, this country had lost its ‘soul’. This appears to be the main message, conveyed by The Remains of the Day – the novel clearly insinuates that the decline of Britain’s geopolitical power was of the essentially psychological essence.

In light of this suggestion, the fact that Britain contributes rather substantially towards fueling the anti-Russian sentiment in the West, does not make any ‘idealistic’ sense, whatsoever – quite contrary to what used to be the discursive quality of the country’s geopolitical stances in the past. The country’s governmental officials proclaim that their position, in this respect, reflects their concern about the fate of ‘democracy’ in Russia, but this is far from being the actual case. Rather, it implies that, in full accordance with the mentioned suggestion by Mr. Lewis, it is specifically the ‘professional managers’ that receive their orders from across the pond, who are now ruling Britain. As a result, Britain’s reputation, as a sovereign nation, continues to be undermined.

I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in regards to the discussed subject matter, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is indeed possible to refer to many works of literature, written in the past, as such, that contain clues about the essence of the current developments in the arena of international politics. As this paper illustrated, there can be only a few doubts that The Remains of the Day does in fact belong to this type of literary masterpieces.

Works Cited

Hell, Julia. “Katechon: Carl Schmitt’s Imperial Theology and the Ruins of the Future.” The Germanic Review 84.4 (2009): 283-326.Print.

Ishiguro, Kazuo 1956. The Remains of the Day. Web.

Lang, James M. “Public Memory, Private History: Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Remains of the Day.” Clio 29.2 (2000): 143-65. Print.

Trimm, Ryan. “Telling Positions: Country, Countryside, and Narration in the Remains of the Day.” Papers on Language and Literature 45.2 (2009): 180-211. Print.




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