ISHIGURO'S THE REMAINS OF THE DAY
Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day is an intimate portrayal of an utterly English butler through his methodical ruminations on the subjects of greatness and dignity. Stevens, the aging butler of Darlington Hall, performs his job with selflessness and a ruthless suppression of emotion. He is unsentimental, stiffly walking through job and life like an automaton. He presents himself, perhaps unknowingly, as glacially reserved, humorless (when the new owner of Darlington Hall takes over, Stevens finds himself having to practice banter in order to please his American employer), and snobbish. Out of an unquestioning respect for his "betters" and a misplaced need to repress all emotion, Stevens has managed to rid himself of all sense of identity, creating a blank facade that fools even himself. He is, indeed, as Galen Strawson calls him, "an innocent masterpiece of self-repression" (535). Stevens's lack of identity is further emphasized by the fact that he is known only as "Stevens"; with no apparent first name, he becomes "unselfed," possessing no self outside of his manservant role. Critics have made much of the butler's namelessness, citing it as evidence of his suppression and lack of humanity. David Gurewich, for example, points out that for Stevens to have a first name "would be improper, and at odds with ... tradition" (77). He is essentially, many contend, worthy of only the surname, lacking the personal identity, as well as any affable qualities, that a given name--the Christian name, the familiar name--might lend. However, a close reading of the novel discovers that Stevens, indeed, has a first name--a name of which he is obviously proud and one that is especially appropriate to his character. Early in the novel Stevens's father joins Darlington House; in his seventies, he is too feeble and old to head a household, but he is nonetheless determined to serve someone in some capacity. At one point Stevens becomes miffed...
Cited: Gurewich, David. "Upstairs, Downstairs." The New Criterion 8.4 (1989): 77-80.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. 1989. New York: Vintage, 1990.
Strawson, Galen. "Tragically Disciplined and Dignified." Times Literacy Supplement 19 May 1989: 535.
By JACK SLAY, JR., LaGrange College
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