The Remains of the Day | Study Guide

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Remains of the Day | Chapter 7 : Day Six, Evening: Weymouth | Summary

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Summary

Stevens's final journal entries are made while in a seaside town in Weymouth. It has been two days since his meeting with Miss Kenton in Little Compton. As Stevens sits on a pier waiting for the nightly display of colored lights to come on, he recounts the reunion.

Miss Kenton surprises him by showing up at the Rose Garden Hotel, where he is staying. They spend the next two hours or so in conversation in the tea lounge. Stevens at first notes Miss Kenton has aged, but gracefully, yet soon it seems the Miss Kenton he remembers sits before him. He is extremely glad to see her. Nevertheless, subtle changes in her behavior suggest she is weary with life, and in repose, he glimpses sadness in her expression.

The two spend some time reminiscing and soon fall into the same rhythm and habits of their long ago conversations. Stevens notes the smiles and gestures he remembers. Talk turns to the course their lives have taken over the last 20 years. Stevens learns that, shortly after writing her letter, Miss Kenton returned home to her husband, Mr. Benn. Furthermore, her daughter, Catherine, is expecting a child in autumn. Stevens is flattered when Miss Kenton presses him to visit her daughter on his return trip.

Stevens describes current conditions at Darlington Hall, his genial employer Mr. Farraday, the present staffing arrangements, and so on. Some recollection touches on Mr. Cardinal, and Stevens must inform Miss Kenton of his death in Belgium during World War II. This leads to the topic of Lord Darlington and his failed lawsuit against a newspaper that endlessly accused him of pro-Nazi activities before the war. When his lordship lost the case for libel, his reputation was destroyed and his health ruined. He was an invalid until he died.

The two hours pass quickly. When Miss Kenton says she must be returning home, Stevens offers to drive her to the bus stop, which is outside the village. They drive awhile in silence, and then Miss Kenton asks why Stevens is smiling to himself. He confesses he was thinking of a line in her letter that read "the rest of my life stretches out like an emptiness before me." Miss Kenton plays this down as the result of a fleeting mood. She then asks Stevens what the future holds for him back a Darlington Hall. He laughs and replies, "work, work and more work."

At the bus stop Stevens waits with Miss Kenton. Feeling the pressure of their approaching farewell, he finally brings himself to ask if she has been ill-treated over the years. He knows she has left Mr. Benn three times. If he does not mistreat her, then what is the cause of the unhappiness Stevens senses in her letters? Miss Kenton rightly assumes he is asking really whether she loves Mr. Benn. She explains that, for a long time, she did not. She had married him as "simply another ruse, Mr. Stevens, to annoy you." But with their shared passage of time, the war, and a daughter, she has grown to love him. Even so, there have been times when thoughts of what might have been—for instance, the better life she might have had with Stevens—made her miserable. Feeling she had made a great mistake, she would leave Mr. Benn. However, she has come to realize "there's no turning back the clock"; it is best to appreciate what one has.

The full meaning of her words is unmistakable, and Stevens struggles to respond. Sorrow wells up within him and he writes, "At that moment, my heart was breaking." However, he manages to turn to her and smile, saying "You're very correct, Mrs. Benn. As you say, it is too late to turn back the clock." He then assures her she has some extremely happy years before her and must not let "foolish ideas" spoil the happiness she deserves. Seeing Miss Kenton's eyes fill with tears, Stevens kindly tells her she must take good care of herself and enjoy the years to come.

The lights at the pier are switched on, and the crowd which has gathered to watch cheers. Stevens notes they all appear to be willing night to fall. This seems to confirm something recently said to him—that "for a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day," the part they look most forward to. The speaker was a heavily built man in his late sixties who joins Stevens on his bench on the pier. Striking up a casual conversation, he tells Stevens he was once a butler of a small house nearby. In turn Stevens reveals he is the butler at Darlington Hall. The man is suitably impressed, and Stevens goes on to share some stories of life in a big house before the war. Now, he explains, things are quite different and his employer is an American gentleman.

A comfortable silence follows, and then Stevens confides that, while he tries hard to please his new employer, he feels he falls short of the standards he once set for himself. Errors are occurring, and he knows what they signify. Try as he might, it is no use. He gave all he had to give to Lord Darlington.

The man offers Stevens a handkerchief, for he is clearly crying. Stevens apologizes and attributes the break in poise to being tired from traveling. However, he cannot help but go on to a most important admission: Lord Darlington, while a courageous man, made mistakes. But the path he took was his own choice, and in the end, he had the privilege of saying he had made his own mistakes. Stevens cannot say the same. His trust was misplaced, and the mistakes that have tainted his life were not his own. There is no dignity in that.

The man tells Stevens his attitude is all wrong; he's spending too much time looking back. It is bound to be depressing. He then says "the evening's the best part of the day. You've done your day's work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it." Stevens understands he is speaking in a larger sense about life and decides it is good advice. Soon after, taking an interest in the people on the pier, Stevens notices how bantering among a small group of strangers has swiftly built friendliness among them. He concludes that bantering may not be foolish after all; in fact it may hold the key to human warmth. He determines to work on this skill with the hopes of pleasantly surprising Mr. Farraday when he returns.

Analysis

A sense of sad finality and quiet, desperate hope shades this final chapter in Stevens's story. Miss Kenton is lost to him forever, and he must let go of his false impressions of Lord Darlington and his own highly prized dignity. Nevertheless, he takes advice from a stranger, turns his attention to the future, and determines to permit human warmth into his life—insofar as he is able—through the art of bantering.

In a sense the goal of Stevens's journey has been to rescue Miss Kenton—or so he hopes. He believes she has come to realize she made a terrible mistake to leave him and Darlington Hall. Her life is empty and in ruins. Like a hero in the romance novels he enjoys, Stevens now may gallantly ride in to save her, while preserving his dignity. In her gratitude she will not require him to show overt emotion. It is safe to show up. Even so, he tries to protect himself from possible disappointment by repeating his interest in seeing her is purely professional, "that is to say, in respect to the present staffing problems at Darlington Hall."

The setting as described for their meeting is significant. Inside the tea lounge they sit in a "pool of grey light while the rain continue[s] to fall steadily on the square" beyond the window. The two are framed by the light; it defines their space and reflects the tone of their meeting. The rain suggests tears, and it never lets up.

Stevens's love for Miss Kenton is unmistakable as he records his first impressions of their meeting. Though she has aged, he soon sees "the person who had inhabited my memory over these years." He is sad to detect the weariness that has robbed her of the lively spark he fondly recalls, and then happily notes her "little smiles," "small ironic inflexions," and "certain gestures with her shoulders or her hands" which echo those imprinted in his memory. All of these have been gathered and carefully stored away, like treasured mementos. Even the "rhythms and habits" of their past conversations has been committed to memory.

As is Stevens's habit, he never directly asks Miss Kenton the question foremost on his mind. Here, as throughout the novel, he indirectly tries to ascertain what he wants to know. His ever-cautious approach to things of importance is a safeguard against the mistakes, misunderstandings, and disappointments he fears.

The fate of Lord Darlington becomes clear as Stevens shares news of Darlington Hall. Though the full extent of his lordship's disgraceful collaboration with the Nazis was publicly exposed and denounced, Stevens is still protective of his former employer's reputation. His personal moments of triumph have been deeply entangled with Lord Darlington's endeavors. He tells Miss Kenton his lordship was judged unfairly and deserves to be remembered as he was in the hall's finest days. Yet later he reveals conflicted feelings to the stranger on the pier, lamenting the trust he had placed in Lord Darlington. Stevens has lived by the code that says, to be great, a butler must serve a noble man working for the good of humanity. That code and the trust it implies were betrayed. Nevertheless, Stevens remains unable to recognize his own part in events—the willful self-deception that blinded him to the reality in plain sight.

At the bus stop Stevens is reluctant to part with Miss Kenton. He does not yet know if there is a chance she will return to the hall. Yet, he is pulling away even as he delays his departure. Much like Lord Darlington, who perused books when broaching a sensitive subject in conversation, Stevens stands watching for the bus, his back to Miss Kenton. When at last she makes it clear her future is with her husband, Stevens feels his heart breaking. Even so, he does not let it show. For the first time his emotional restraint achieves something truly noble. When he might have complicated things for Miss Kenton by opening up—even slightly—he refrains, not wishing "foolish ideas" to come between her and the happiness she deserves. In a selfless and loving gesture, he lets her go.

The remains of Stevens's days stretch out before him. Along his journey he has been forced to let go of everything he cherished. The sense of having wasted his life is overwhelming. With quiet desperation he grasps the advice of a stranger to stop looking back; to make the best of things and enjoy what is left of life. There is a flicker of hope for Stevens in his new perspective on bantering. The human warmth imprisoned by his rigid code of ethics and behavior may find release in this friendly pastime. At last he may allow himself to emotionally give and receive, at least a little.

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