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The Remains of the Day | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In the prologue of The Remains of the Day, what does Stevens's attitude toward bantering reveal about his character?

Stevens's new employer Mr. Farraday enjoys friendly, sometimes teasing, exchanges Stevens's calls "bantering." The butler views the practice as something strictly American in nature: "a kind of affectionate sport" between employee and employer. Though it is not how things are done in England, Stevens feels duty-bound to learn the skill and join in to please his employer. Professionalism demands it, and Stevens represents a long tradition of English butlers for whom devotion to duty is a virtue. Nevertheless, Stevens struggles with the concept of free and easy conversation with his employer. His professional role, as he understands it and has been conditioned to perform it, does not allow the freedom of expression a bantering exchange requires. Servants of his era were not accustomed to informality or familiarity with their employers. Stevens is caught between his desire to provide the best possible service to Mr. Farraday and the habitual restraint he has carefully acquired throughout his years of service. With stiff determination, he intends to learn the skill. This reveals a mix of pride in service and an eagerness to please, with an emotional inability to participate naturally or spontaneously.

As Stevens prepares for his journey in The Remains of the Day, how are his clothing and the travel guide he chooses clues to his character?

Stevens's clothing choices and his worry over what to wear on his journey reveal his inability to separate his professional from his personal life. As a butler, Stevens is keenly aware of his role and rank in society. They define the code of behavior he has lived by for most of his life, and he is unable to shed the associated values of propriety and professionalism. This is evident in his anxiety over what to wear on his journey. From his perspective, even though on holiday, he will travel as a representative of Darlington Hall and "it is important that one be attired at such times in a manner worthy of one's position." Choices from among his personal wardrobe are limited. His wardrobe—like Stevens himself—is primarily professional in nature. The only other clothes he owns are out-of-date cast-offs from well-meaning gentlemen. It is only after careful consideration that he decides to stretch his budget and purchase new traveling clothes. This also illustrates the studied caution with which he approaches life. The travel guide Stevens chooses reflects the values and standards of a past era. This is where Stevens lives, so it is appropriate he take something from the past as his guide; his point of reference. In addition his familiarity with the volume suggests his interest in Miss Kenton was and is more than professional. The guide he takes is Volume III from Mrs. Jane Symons's The Wonder of England. This is a series published during the interwar years, when there was a revival of appreciation for rural beauty and the Englishness of the English countryside. Volume III is very familiar to him. When Miss Kenton left service to marry, she settled in Cornwall. Stevens frequently turned to the volume to study that part of the country, "to gain some sense of the sort of place Miss Kenton had gone to live her married life."

How do memories play a role in Stevens's initial steps toward his journey in The Remains of the Day?

Stevens's most frequent point of reference for his musings is the pre-World War II past, when he served Lord Darlington and worked alongside the housekeeper Miss Kenton. He views service to his American employer in light of the past when a gentleman knew "what was and what was not commonly done in England." He fondly recalls the days when a staff of 28 had been employed at Darlington Hall and large social occasions were common. Now, he must manage with only four, and Mr. Farraday has no plans for social occasions needing more. Miss Kenton's letter opens a portal to memories of the days when she served at the hall, of her efficiency and professionalism, and the smoothly running household. Finally, an uncomfortable bit of teasing by Mr. Farraday causes Stevens to longingly recall the days when other butlers visited the hall. He would have liked to discuss this bantering business with another professional. The element of nostalgia runs through these memories, and the return of Miss Kenton to Darlington Hall seems a way to retrieve what has been lost.

Why do Stevens's feelings at the beginning of his journey undergo a change as he views the English countryside in The Remains of the Day?

As Stevens is leaving Darlington Hall, he experiences anxiety. Not only is he leaving Darlington Hall empty, but he is leaving behind everything personally familiar, from his home to his professional role and daily routine. Darlington Hall has been his world for more than four decades and represents the past he is trying to hold onto. Once he leaves, he must confront the unknown post-war world where butlers like him are, for the most part, an anachronism. The further the road takes him from the hall, the more uneasy he becomes. Then the advice of a stranger sends him up to a hilltop for a fine view of the countryside. The Englishness of the sight reassures him. In the calm, restrained beauty, he sees a reflection of Great Britain, "as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it." Its dignity and reserve also reflect the values he personally holds dear—the values that make a great butler. In other words, in the Englishness of the landscape, he sees himself and is comforted. Here, in this hilltop view, is evidence of the world that shaped him and the image he holds of himself. His "slight sense of alarm" turns to a "flush of anticipation" for days ahead. Maybe things will be all right and turn out for the best.

In light of Stevens's later recalled personal triumphs, what does his critique of butler Mr. Jack Neighbours reveal in Chapter 1 of The Remains of the Day?

Mr. Jack Neighbours was a butler and contemporary of Stevens who enjoyed widespread fame for his achievements. However, Stevens questions the legitimacy of Mr. Jack Neighbours's reputation. He disdainfully describes how butlers such as Mr. Neighbours often "come to the fore quite suddenly" by luck. They have the good fortune to enter service in a prominent house and then manage to pull off two or three large events with outstanding style. There's a note of jealousy and false pride in his description of "the frustrating experience of hearing anecdote after anecdote relating to [Mr. Neighbours]." He finds valets who aspire to be butlers particularly irritating because they insist on looking for "some particular hero" to emulate. With a hint of satisfaction, Stevens speaks of butlers like Mr. Neighbours falling out of favor and disappearing from sight. He concludes that Mr. Neighbours's meteoric rise to fame was not an indication of greatness, especially since he vanished a few years later. This reveals Stevens's conviction that greatness is more than style and the occasional success. He himself has aspired to greatness and believes he has achieved it, especially during the two occasions he so proudly recalls: the March 1923 conference and the secret meeting of 1938. He overlooks the fact that, like Mr. Neighbours, he has fallen from favor, toppled by the actions of Lord Darlington. Not only has his alliance with greatness proven disastrous, but his fall was due to the actions of the man he trusted. He then vanished, like Mr. Neighbours, to serve in the house of a ruined man.

In The Remains of the Day, how are Stevens's ideas of dignity reflected in his use of language?

The main benchmark against which Stevens measures his greatness as a butler is dignity. It is the quality that distinguishes a great butler from one who is merely extremely competent. Stevens believes dignity is acquired over years of self-training and careful attention to the lessons of experience. A great butler inhabits his professional role to the utmost and is capable of great emotional restraint, even in the most challenging situations. Never does he allow himself to lose control. Stevens has worked to acquire these attributes, and his use of language reflects the restraint and strict formality of his behavior. He has adopted the formal speech patterns of the aristocracy whom he serves and takes great care to always speak properly. However, his speech, like his dignified behavior, comes off as stiff and unnatural. The ability to be natural and spontaneous is completely repressed. This is particularly evident in Stevens's inability to successfully engage in bantering, which requires a certain level of unstudied speech and informality.

In The Remains of the Day, why does Stevens object to his colleague Mr. Harry Graham's definition of dignity?

Mr. Graham is a colleague whom Stevens respects and has regretfully lost track of over the years. Stevens recalls their discussion on the definition of dignity. In Mr. Graham's opinion, dignity is like beauty—"something one possessed or did not by a fluke of nature." He further states it would be futile to try to acquire it, much the same as it would be futile for an unattractive woman to try to make herself beautiful. This challenges Stevens's belief that dignity comes from self-training and discipline. By applying these traits, a butler may achieve the dignity that defines greatness. Greatness as a butler is something he desires above all else. He believes his father has achieved it over years of service, and Stevens very much wants to be like his father; to reach a level of dignity and greatness that would gain his father's approval. If Mr. Graham is right, there is no hope for him to achieve this.

What is the central idea of the story of the tiger and the butler Stevens relates in The Remains of the Day?

The story of the tiger and the butler is one Stevens's father was "fond of repeating over the years." It tells of an English butler in India who finds a tiger in the dining room where guests will soon be dining. He handles the situation coolly, with no hint of nervousness or distress, shooting the tiger and disposing of the body, then announcing dinner will be served on time. This is the personification of dignity, as Stevens and his father understand it. The butler is unshaken by external events and maintains a professional demeanor. He demonstrates the emotional restraint—the "dignity in keeping with his position," as described by the Hayes Society—by which all great English butlers are known. As the novel progresses, the violent undertones in the story will become more pronounced.

In The Remains of the Day, how has Stevens's professional outlook been influenced by his father?

Stevens's career choice, his views on dignity, and the crippling emotional restraint he exhibits are associated with his father. William Stevens was a butler employed by Mr. John Silvers at Loughborough House, where he served for 15 years. At the time, it was traditional for the children born to the servant class to follow in their parents' footsteps. So, it was not surprising Stevens became a butler, too. His early training as a footman began under his father's supervision. Throughout childhood, Stevens heard his father's story of the tiger and the butler, which highlighted his father's ideals of dignity and greatness. He absorbed stories told by others in which his father demonstrated almost mythic levels of dignity. Stevens idolizes his father and speaks of him with the greatest respect, believing he "comes close to being the personification" of dignity. This is the same level of dignity to which Stevens aspires. At the same time, there is no hint of a warm relationship between Stevens and his father. He describes his father in terms of his restrained professionalism, his "imposing physical force," and "his dark, severe presence." There is awe and respect, but no love in his stories. There is also the sense the elder Stevens is as emotionally restrained as his son. With his father as a revered role model, it is not surprising Stevens adopts similar principles, emulates his father's behavior, and aspires to greatness. At the same time, he becomes emotionally fettered.

How is Stevens's demand that Miss Kenton address his father as "Mr. Stevens" misguided in The Remains of the Day?

While trying to show respect for his father, Stevens breaks his own code of behavior and is unintentionally unkind to his father. In the hierarchy of the servant class Miss Kenton, as housekeeper, is the head of her staff and only one step below Stevens in authority. According to custom, she addresses servants beneath her by their first name. In turn they address her as "Miss Kenton." Because Stevens occupies the top rung of the hierarchy, even Miss Kenton must address him as "Mr. Stevens." Therefore, it is a significant breach of etiquette when Stevens demands Miss Kenton call his father—who is merely an under-butler—by his full title, instead of "William," as would be proper. William Stevens once served a distinguished household as head butler. Following his employer's death, the aging servant could find no better employment than under-butler at Darlington Hall. However, despite his father's diminished capabilities, Stevens is ever-aware of his past achievements and very protective of his dignity. Though Stevens's own level of accomplishment now places him above his father professionally, he is deferential to the elderly man and will not allow Miss Kenton to be any less reverent. As he explains, "you may come to see the inappropriateness of someone such as yourself talking 'down' to one such as my father." Stevens's otherwise strict adherence to protocol is set aside for his father. He cannot bring himself in any way to indicate that Mr. Stevens is less great than he (Stevens) has always perceived him to be. While his respect for his father is admirable, it is unprofessional to insist Miss Kenton treat him differently from the rest of her staff. It is also condescending and unkind, though not deliberately. Stevens is treating his father as if the older man cannot tolerate his reduced position. At the same time, he is underscoring his father's demotion by making an exception to the accepted custom. However, the emotional chasm between father and son leaves Stevens no other way of expressing his feelings than through this imperfect professional gesture.

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