The Remains of the Day | Study Guide

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Remains of the Day | Chapter 5 : Day Three, Evening: Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon | Summary

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Summary

Stevens returns to an instance of anti-Semitism at Darlington Hall that cannot be ignored. For much of the summer of 1932, Mrs. Carolyn Barnet was a frequent visitor to the hall and "came to wield an unusual influence over his lordship." She was a member of Sir Oswald Mosley's "blackshirts" fascist organization and, as such, an anti-Semite. It is during this time that Lord Darlington concludes, "in the interests of the guests" staying there, the two Jewish maids must be laid off.

The maids—Ruth and Sarah—are part of Miss Kenton's housekeeping staff, so Stevens uses a nightly end-of-day talk over cocoa with her to explain he must fire them. Though he personally opposes the idea, his sense of duty will not allow him to argue against his lordship's decision. Miss Kenton, however, threatens to resign her post if her girls are dismissed. They have served the house excellently, and she believes their dismissal because they are Jewish "will be wrong, a sin as any sin ever was one." Stevens is unable to respond as he might wish, even in private conversation. His duty is to fulfill Lord Darlington's directive without question or sentiment. He insists the girls be sent to him the following morning.

For some time thereafter, Miss Kenton treats Stevens coldly, at times rudely, yet never submits her notice. One afternoon about a year later, Stevens finds her alone in the summerhouse and brings up the subject of her resignation. With deep shame Miss Kenton admits she was afraid to actually quit. She has no family and no certainty of another job. "I just saw myself going out there," she explains, "and finding nobody who knew or cared about me." She is dumbfounded when Stevens says he was as upset as she by the dismissal of the maids. She demands to know why he said nothing. She asks, "Do you realize, Mr. Stevens, how much it would have meant to me if you had thought to share your feelings last year? ... Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" Unable to answer, Stevens laughs uncomfortably, finishes his work, and leaves.

To replace the fired maids, a housemaid named Lisa is hired. She is young and very pretty, and Stevens is skeptical about her ability to meet the standards of the household. However, Miss Kenton sees something worthwhile in the girl. Under her guidance, Lisa steadily improves, and Stevens at last admits the housekeeper has had "modest success" with her. Miss Kenton notes that he offers this with a guilty smile—one that always seems to appear when she mentions Lisa. Teasingly, she suggests this may be a clue to his aversion for hiring pretty girls—that "our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself." Stevens allows the playful exchange, but firmly denies there is any truth in it.

Eight or nine months later, Lisa vanishes, along with the second footman. She leaves a note for Stevens explaining the two are in love and are going to be married. In a note to Miss Kenton, she writes of the depth of their love. Miss Kenton is distraught and tells Stevens he was right about the girl all along. Stevens tries to comfort her, saying she had done wonders with Lisa; the situation could not be helped. Still, Miss Kenton states repeatedly how foolish the girl has been; that she is bound to be let down.

In his account Stevens comes back to the present, explaining he is now in the attic of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor's cottage. It is a private residence, and he was fortunate to find it. In his attempt to find a roadside inn in which to spend the night, he carelessly ran out of gas along a desolate road. On his way to a village about a half-hour walk across the fields, he met Mr. Taylor, who explained the only inn is closed for roof repairs. He then offered Stevens a room and a bed for the night.

Stevens muses that after the ensuing events of the evening, it is a relief to retire to his room and return to his memories of Darlington Hall. The meeting with Miss Kenton is on his mind, and he ponders why their relationship changed around 1935 or 1936. Over the years they had "achieved a fine professional understanding." However, by the time she left the hall, even their ritual cup of evening cocoa had been abandoned. He muses that a turning point may have occurred on the evening Miss Kenton came into the butler's pantry without knocking and found him reading a book.

She asks what book it is, and Stevens clutches it to his chest and refuses to say. Her interest is peaked, and she mischievously approaches and pries the book out of his hands. To her surprise it is simply, as she notes, "a sentimental love story." Ever dignified, Stevens refuses to discuss the matter further and ushers her out of the room.

Stevens asserts the book and others like it in the library are well written. Reading them is "an extremely efficient way to maintain and develop one's command of the English language." Whatever romantic aspects they may have, while somewhat enjoyable, is unimportant. He further explains Miss Kenton had no right to march into his pantry, as he was off duty and entitled to his privacy. As a butler of quality, he must not be seen in anything less than his full and proper role. Stevens resolves to re-establish their professional relationship on a more appropriate basis.

His thoughts turn to the fact that, about a month earlier, Miss Kenton had begun taking full advantage of her allowed time off—a sudden change in her past pattern. When he begins to suspect she is meeting a suitor, he finds the idea disturbing—from a purely professional standpoint, of course. One evening, over cocoa in Miss Kenton's parlor, Stevens learns Miss Kenton has been renewing her acquaintance with the former butler of Granchester Lodge, where they both once worked. The man has since left service. As the conversation progresses, Miss Kenton pointedly observes that Stevens, being at the top of his profession, must have all he wishes for in life. Following an awkward silence, Stevens confirms that, yes, he is a well-contented man.

Not long after, Stevens puts an end to the meetings over cocoa. Miss Kenton is distracted as he attempts to discuss an upcoming event. He chides her and is met with a sudden outburst in which Miss Kenton states she is very, very tired, can he not appreciate that? He takes offense and states that no further meetings will be necessary, as they seem to have become a burden. As the weeks pass, he refuses all Miss Kenton's suggestions to resume the sessions.

Defining this event as a "small decision of mine," Stevens wonders if perhaps it and the episode in the pantry were turning points that changed what might have been. He recalls another turning point occurred on the day Miss Kenton received news her aunt—her only living relative—had died. Stevens leaves her to her grief without offering condolences. Wishing to make amends for this, he can only think to approach it from a professional standpoint. Encountering Miss Kenton later in the dining room, he asks if everything is in order and is there anything she wishes to discuss. Then he points out a few mistakes her new maids have made. Wearily assuring him she will check the maids' work, Miss Kenton excuses herself and leaves the room.

Even as he mulls over these turning points in his relationship with Miss Kenton, Stevens defends his behavior. Hindsight has shown the moments to be important, but "at the time, this was not the impression one had ... There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable."

Returning to the present, Stevens relates the events of his evening in the home of the Taylors. Several neighbors drop in to meet Stevens, taking him to be a "real gentleman." Instead of correcting the misunderstanding, Stevens enjoys a chance to air his views on dignity as the mark of a gentleman. One guest, Mr. Harry Smith, politely disagrees with Stevens's notions. He asserts every man and woman in the country can strive for and achieve dignity if they develop strong opinions about political affairs and make it their duty to vote. Stevens's polite acceptance of the statement leads to a discussion of politics and Stevens's involvement (as a supposed gentleman) in international affairs before the war. He drops the names of famous people he has met, such as Winston Churchill and Lord Halifax.

A final guest, Dr. Carlisle, causes Stevens some moments of discomfort. The doctor scrutinizes him closely as others report on the impressive people Stevens claims to know. As soon as possible, Stevens excuses himself to return to his room, but not before Dr. Carlisle offers him a ride back to his car in the morning. Stevens reluctantly accepts.

He mulls over the evening's "unfortunate misunderstanding" and Mr. Harry Smith's comments regarding dignity. It strikes him as absurd that ordinary people should have staunch opinions about most things or that this should be used as a benchmark for dignity. He recalls an episode before the war in which he was publicly tested on three complex topics in international political affairs. The interviewer was Mr. Spencer, a distinguished guest at Darlington Hall. Stevens is unable to answer Mr. Spencer's questions, just as the gentleman intended. His humiliation of Stevens was meant to prove a point that political affairs are best left to the educated and informed elite. Democracy does not work. Stevens preserves his dignity with the conviction that "a butler's duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation."

This episode reminds Stevens of the misguided idealism of his generation that encouraged a butler "to be forever reappraising his employer"—questioning his motives and analyzing his political views. To his thinking, loyalty demands a butler put his trust in an employer whom he has intelligently judged to be wise and honorable. Thereafter, his job is to simply serve, without challenging his employer. It is how he himself served Lord Darlington. And though "his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste," Stevens concludes it is illogical to feel any personal regret or shame.

Analysis

This chapter primarily deals with Stevens's relationship with Miss Kenton during her time at Darlington Hall. While attempting to honestly relate events as he recalls them, he simultaneously tries to minimize their significance. Yet he fails in the end, admitting that these "small incidents" rendered whole dreams forever irredeemable.

As this aspect of the narrative unfolds, more also comes to light regarding the extent to which Lord Darlington was influenced by the British Union of Fascists. Stevens is driven to defend Lord Darlington against accusations of anti-Semitism. He insists his employer's association with the Nazi-sympathizer Mrs. Barnet was brief, and that the incident involving the Jewish maids was "entirely untypical"—a "flimsy basis" for allegations. Nevertheless, he is too honest to withhold the details that, in fact, incriminate Lord Darlington.

During Mrs. Barnet's visits to the hall, his lordship spends hours in conversation with her and on tours of poverty-stricken London's East End. This area was home to great numbers of Jewish immigrants. As a worldwide economic depression grew in the 1930s, Jewish immigrants were blamed for taking jobs and housing from the British East End poor. Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists—to which Mrs. Barnet belonged—frequently held demonstrations in that section of London and distributed anti-Semitic propaganda. Sir Mosley was also a visitor to Darlington Hall. Mrs. Barnet most likely took Lord Darlington for a tour of the East End to point out the poverty and deprivation resulting from the Jewish "invasion" of Britain.

As a result of Mrs. Barnet and Sir Mosley's influence, Lord Darlington's attitude toward Jews turns ugly. Stevens overhears him denouncing a newspaper and a local charity for being run by Jews. Stevens labels these incidents as "extremely minor," but they stand out in his memory. By minimizing their importance, he attempts to save himself from shared guilt. Stevens prides himself on serving a man of high moral worth. For his employer to demonstrate anything less reflects poorly on him. This is the pattern of admission and denial that occurs throughout Stevens's journal.

In the matter of the dismissed Jewish maids, Miss Kenton demonstrates a stronger sense of morality than does Stevens. She fights against the unfairness and wickedness of the dismissal, instead of dutifully accepting it. She is very hard on herself when, in the end, she has not the courage to resign as she had threatened.

The new maid Lisa's elopement sparks reactions in Stevens and Miss Kenton that are quite revealing. Stevens remembers word for word the part of Lisa's note to Miss Kenton dealing with love. This and a later incident involving a romance novel reveal a repressed romantic streak in Stevens's character. In the ensuing discussion of Lisa, Miss Kenton repeatedly states how foolish the girl has been. She seems intent on convincing herself as well as nudging Stevens to tell her she is wrong; that love is not foolish. Her annoyed glance at Lisa's passionate letter suggests she fears her future may hold no similar chance for love. This may be the seed of her decision to leave the hall and get married. As Stevens's colleague Mr. Graham points out later, Miss Kenton has "missed out on the best of her mothering years, but it is not too late yet."

Stevens's musing shifts to the present and the attic room of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor's small cottage. He writes it is a relief to retreat into memories after his trying evening. As it turns out, he has been masquerading as a gentleman instead of a butler. His charade is a reflection of his intense desire for greatness. It is an innocent bit of playacting, not meant to harm, and he finds it gratifying to be perceived of as a gentleman, not a butler. His masquerade was also a means of coping with the situation. Stevens cannot be his natural self in public and must always wear a mask. This is especially true when he is being pushed to reveal his innermost thoughts and feelings. The mask of a butler was less fitting for the moment, so he donned the mask of the gentleman he knows best—Lord Darlington.

At all other times, Stevens habitually conceals himself behind his role as butler. Here he is in control. He knows who he is, what is expected of him, and all the rules. His sense of dignity relies on his role's unbreakable walls of restraint, behind which emotions are safely held in check. However, over the years, his desire to control his emotions has turned into an incapacity to express them under any circumstances.

This problem is evident in Stevens's encounter with Miss Kenton in the butler's pantry—the first of several turning points in their relationship. He cannot be "off duty" in her presence, and so cannot relate to her as a woman. This bars him completely from any hope of intimacy of a shared life; of the romance he reads about and secretly enjoys. Yet, Miss Kenton comes very close to breaching that wall of restraint. The moments between them take on the tones of a romance novel similar to the one Stevens has been reading. Unsettled, he pushes Miss Kenton away on the grounds their relationship has reached "an inappropriate footing." Though he refers to the episode as "small" or "insignificant," this is a familiar pattern: the larger an issue looms in his memory, the more apt he is to minimize it.

Tensions build when Miss Kenton begins to pull back emotionally and spend her free days with an acquaintance away from the hall. Stevens is jealous of her interest in another man. He tries to couch this in terms of a professional need to know if she intends to leave service, but there is much more to it. His bottled up feelings drive him to cancel all future cocoa sessions when one evening Miss Kenton says she is tired. He lashes out by being coolly professional to the point of cruelty and refuses to relent when she suggests they resume the sessions. By punishing her, he is driving her away, though he does not understand why.

Stevens recalls the death of Miss Kenton's aunt, when he might have reached out to comfort her. Once again, an authentic expression of emotion is impossible. He can only approach her on a professional basis. While shining a light on the event as another turning point, Stevens is quick to excuse his failure to act. He comes close to a critical analysis of his decisions, and then dodges away, saying "when ... one begins to search one's past for such 'turning points,' one is apt to start seeing them everywhere." He cannot admit his impossible standards have worked against him. Even so, he ends these reminiscences with the painful observation that these small incidents have rendered "whole dreams forever irredeemable."

When Stevens's thoughts turn to the evening conversation with Mr. Harry Smith, he defensively dismisses the man's views on dignity and the common man. If a common man can achieve dignity and dignity is a required ingredient of greatness, then any common man could be great. This does not fit with Stevens's view of the world, himself, his profession, or the aristocracy he admires. Smith's viewpoint would also require that Stevens take responsibility for his own actions, that he think for himself and make his own decisions, when Stevens has defined morality and dignity by whom he chooses to follow, namely Lord Darlington. If Stevens has to take moral responsibility for his own actions, he must judge himself to have failed in numerous respects. So he chooses to reject Smith's definition of dignity and cling to his own.

Mr. Smith's opinions about a person's duty to think and form opinions cannot, in Stevens's view, be right because Stevens—who thinks highly of himself—has never done so. He has lived and thought vicariously, through his employer, and never bothered to investigate, learn, or think for himself. He recalls his humiliation at the whim of Lord Darlington's guest Mr. Spencer. Even this did not spur him to become better educated. Though he recalls the event in painful detail, he then minimizes it, saying "It was clearly expected that I be baffled by the question," and classifies it as "a slightly uncomfortable situation."

All this ends with another attempt by Stevens to defend Lord Darlington's ideas and actions. However, he contradicts his much earlier statements concerning an employer's moral worth. He now says it is foolish for a butler to drift from employer to employer, seeking one who embodies all that a butler finds noble and admirable. Earlier, Stevens wrote he admires the idealism of his generation which sought to serve a gentleman who in turn served humanity; that he himself moved around a lot until he found Lord Darlington. He goes on to state it reflected well on him to serve such a fine gentleman. Now Stevens adds a nuance that cleverly separates him from the mess Lord Darlington made of his affairs. He claims this idea of reappraising an employer's affairs is a threat to the quality of loyalty essential to being a great butler. Loyalty that presumably has been intelligently bestowed does not question, but simply serves and serves well. How then can a butler feel shame or regret for the failings of his employer? Stevens is providing a loophole through which he hopes to escape any responsibility or feelings of guilt for Lord Darlington's entanglement with Nazi Germany.

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