The Past vs. the Present World in the Novel the Remains of the Day

Topics: The Remains of the Day, Lord, Gentry Pages: 7 (2628 words) Published: January 26, 2011
The Past vs. the Present World in the Novel
The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day is a novel that manages to incorporate two memory streams – the present, which takes place in 1956, and the past, which is set in 1920s and 1930s. The narrator Stevens, an elderly English butler, embarks on a trip during which he reflects on his past and what he considers the golden days of England. He also gradually discovers that the ideals he has clung to throughout his life no longer hold. The tone of his narration is coloured by nostalgia for the old English ways and the whole world that shattered with the death of his previous master, Lord Darlington. With the end of British imperial power and its leading role in world affairs, wealth and privileges have slipped away from its aristocracy. The old, rigid class structure of this highly regulated world is beginning to crumble, confronted by new values. America, the main promoter of these values, democracy being the predominant one, has emerged as the new superpower. Darlington Hall, a longtime residence of a distinguished English family, now has a new owner – Mr. Farraday, a wealthy American. After all, “they’re the only ones who can afford it now” ( Ishiguro 1989: 242 ). Mr. Farraday represents the ‘newly rich’ – those who were, in the days of Lord Darlington, looked down upon by the old aristocratic families. In those days, the grand house welcomed many a distinguished person: noblemen, military gentlemen, politicians, writers and thinkers, who would gather to discuss “the great world issues.” On such occasions, Stevens and his team of servants would always make sure the guests received only the highest possible quality of service. The old butler is overcome with wistfulness as he remembers those years, when his staff sometimes numbered twenty-eight, aware that they will never come back: “I will have to point out how different things are now – that the days of working with a grand staff at one’s beck and call will probably never return within our lifetime” ( p. 48 ). The present circumstances are such that the numbers of servants in distinguished households have declined drastically; Mr. Farraday has decided to keep only four. Stevens’s profession, as many others, is dying out; many of his colleagues have found themselves without full-time employment. With disappointment, he also notes that the standard of service is no longer as high as it once was. The knowledge and skills Stevens possesses are, like his occupation, not nearly as important as they used to be. In the age of technological advances invading every sphere of life, no one is interested in a close examination of the quality of silver, or in the firms which produce silver polish. Stevens does not realise that such details, which he pays utmost attention to and considers essential to his profession, belong to a completely different era. Even though he wants to be a devoted servant to his new master, we cannot escape the feeling that his true loyalty is to the era of Lord Darlington. The current employer, Mr. Farraday, is a carefree man, not accustomed to the rigidity of the English ways and therefore eager to establish a warmer relationship with his employees. He enjoys a light-hearted, friendly conversation, “bantering,” as Stevens refers to it. He finds nothing unusual in making humorous remarks and even teasing his employee about women: “My, my, Stevens. A lady-friend. And at your age… I’d never have figured you for such a lady’s man, Stevens… Keeps the spirit young, I guess. But then I really don’t know it’s right for me to be helping you with such dubious assignations” ( p. 14 ). This type of remark came as a shock to Stevens, because his earlier employer would never have dreamt of uttering anything so improper. Mr Farraday, of course, has no ill intentions, but Stevens is still perplexed that an employer should address his employee in such...
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