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The Remains of the Day | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 3 of The Remains of the Day, what do Stevens's "white lies" indicate about his service to Lord Darlington and his personal sense of dignity and greatness?

These white lies indicate Stevens's uncertainty in the truth of what he tells himself and the reader about his service to Lord Darlington. They also indicate the fragile nature of his illusions about his own dignity and greatness. Stevens states that "a 'great' butler can only be, surely, one who can ... say that he has applied his talents to serving a great gentleman—and through the latter, serving humanity." He further states that the degree of dignity acquired by a butler is dependent on finding "an appropriate outlet for his accomplishments ... a gentleman of indisputable moral stature." Up to this point Stevens has insisted Lord Darlington is just such a gentleman and that any rumors to the contrary are cruel nonsense. Yet, he twice denies he served his lordship. The first instance occurs when an American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, visit Mr. Farraday for a tour of Darlington Hall. When Mrs. Wakefield asks Stevens if he worked for Lord Darlington, he replies he did not. The second instance occurs during Stevens's road trip when the car radiator runs dry. A local resident in service as a retired Colonel's batman helps Stevens out and learns where he works. The man asks Stevens if he was employed by Lord Darlington. Again, Stevens says he did not. Stevens tries to explain these "white lies" away as "the simplest means of avoiding unpleasantness" related to Lord Darlington's unfairly tarnished reputation. But the excuse is weak. Stevens cannot admit that his lordship may have been anything less than noble and moral in his intentions, and he cannot bear to have this fragile illusion challenged. Stevens's personal sense of dignity and greatness is inseparable from the reputation and actions of his former employer. An attack on his lordship is an attack on Stevens and the principles he holds dear.

In Chapter 3 of The Remains of the Day, what is revealed by Stevens's decision not to follow an inviting, yet muddy path for fear of damaging his traveling suit?

This is yet another indication of the emotional prison Stevens has built for himself. When the radiator of his car runs dry, Stevens is helped out by a man in service to a retired colonel. He urges Stevens to take a side trip and visit Mortimer's Pond. Like the advice of a stranger that led to a memorable view of the English countryside, this recommendation proves to be equally rewarding. Stevens is charmed by the serene beauty of the area surrounding Mortimer's Pond. A path around the perimeter offers a pleasant, but muddy walk. At first Stevens is tempted to throw aside caution and enjoy himself. Then he reconsiders, knowing he risks getting his suit dirty. It never crosses his mind no one will care. He cannot cast off his strict standards of propriety or risk being seen as anything less than dignified. When preparing for this trip, Stevens was mindful that he traveled as a representative of Darlington Hall and, as such, must not be seen as an embarrassment. The fear of appearing less than clean and tidy "persuaded" him to forego a pleasant walk. He will not spontaneously act or indulge a whim, no matter how much he might wish to, if there is a potential for tarnishing his image.

In Chapter 4 of The Remains of the Day, why does Stevens's approach to learning how to banter prevent him from successfully acquiring the skill?

Stevens feels duty bound to learn how to properly banter in order to please Mr. Farraday, who enjoys these verbal exchanges. Even so, the activity violates Stevens's deeply held principles. In times past exchanging playful and teasing remarks with Lord Darlington or any other gentleman would have been undignified and unthinkable. However, as Stevens remarks at the beginning of his journal, Mr. Farraday is unfamiliar with what is and is not commonly done in England. Nevertheless, since Stevens now serves the gentleman, he is determined to better his bantering. His approach is detached and methodical. This is a problem to be solved; a skill to be acquired through diligence like any other related to his profession. By methodically studying examples of witticisms, devising exercises, and faithfully practicing daily, he is sure to achieve his goal. Yet the essence of banter is its spontaneity, the ability to read and respond to a moment in time. By seeing banter as a task and trying to prepare for it, Stevens dooms his efforts. He is missing the human touch and desire to connect with others that bantering represents. Without this he will continue to struggle to acquire the skill.

In The Remains of the Day, why is the closing of Giffen and Co. significant for Stevens?

Giffen and Co. reflects Stevens's life and profession, and represents the values that shaped both. As Stevens sits in a tea shop in Taunton, he notices a signpost for the village of Mursden and recalls this was the location of Giffen and Co. During the interwar years, the company was renowned for its fine silver polish. When it appeared on the market in the early 1920s, a whole new standard for silver polishing was set. In fact the product was responsible for the high quality of silver polishing featured in the great houses of the time. Stevens recalls fondly the fine silver setting at Darlington Hill which earned him notice. For Stevens, the closing of Giffen and Co. signifies more than the loss of a valued product. It signifies the end of an era that valued high standards and professionalism. Throughout his career Stevens has been preoccupied with professional matters. He has immersed himself in the role of butler in pursuit of excellence. At the time Giffen and Co. put their silver polish on the market, butlers like Stevens were highly prized and might serve the most influential people in the country. The quality of such things as silver table settings was the benchmark by which the great houses and their butlers were judged. World War II ended that era as well as many of its cherished values and traditions. Diminished interest in fine silver polishing paralleled the diminished wealth, power, and influence of the great houses. This, in turn, paralleled the diminished value placed on fine butlers like Stevens.

In The Remains of the Day, how do the discussion of professionalism and the story's political plot intersect in Stevens's memories about Giffen and Co. silver polish?

Stevens's memories about Giffen and Co. silver polish are sparked by a signpost he sees for the village of Mursden, where the company was once located. He reminisces about the important role the company's product played in setting an unsurpassed standard for excellence in silver polishing. In fact "butlers up and down the country ... were focusing their minds on the question of silver-polishing." At the peak of this trend, silver settings for a meal "served as a public index of a house's standards." As Stevens discusses the high level of professionalism required to compete and meet these "previously unimagined standards," he cannot help but share his own moments of triumph. Stevens prides himself on the times when the silver at Darlington Hall "had a pleasing impact upon observers." He recalls how it inspired remarks by Lady Astor and appeared to enthrall the playwright George Bernard Shaw. Most particularly, he recalls how the quality of the silver made a "small, but significant contribution" to a political event involving Lord Halifax and German Ambassador Herr Ribbentrop. Arriving early for the meeting, Lord Halifax expresses doubts about the occasion, wondering aloud, "Really, Darlington, I don't know what you've put me up to here. I know I shall be sorry." Then his attention is drawn to the silver in the house, and as Lord Darlington later tells Stevens, "Lord Halifax was jolly impressed ... Put him into a quite different frame of mind altogether." Stevens concludes the pleasing state of the silver helped Lord Darlington achieve the desired outcome of the meeting. In this way Stevens's professionalism intersects with the political plot through memories sparked by the signpost for Mursden.

In The Remains of the Day, how does Stevens try to relieve Lord Darlington of guilt for associating with the "trickster" Herr Ribbentrop during the 1930s?

During the late 1930s, German Ambassador Herr Ribbentrop was a frequent visitor to Darlington Hall as Lord Darlington became more entangled in political affairs regarding Germany. Post-World War II hindsight proceeded to judge Herr Ribbentrop harshly. He had presented himself as a diplomat interested in establishing agreements beneficial to his country and Great Britain. However, the war exposed him as a "trickster." His true intent had been to encourage a policy of appeasement allowing Germany time and freedom to rearm and prepare for another war. Lord Darlington was not alone in believing Herr Ribbentrop to be an honorable gentleman and in welcoming him into his home. This did not stop newspapers and gossip from singling out his lordship and labeling him a Nazi-sympathizer and traitor. In Lord Darlington's defense, Stevens states "many of the most distinguished ladies and gentlemen in this country were quite enamoured of" Herr Ribbentrop. He courted their favor and was, in fact, a well-regarded, even glamorous figure and frequent guest of honor in the very best houses. Yet, these same elites conveniently forgot this when Germany declared war, claiming "they were never for a moment taken in by Herr Ribbentrop." Stevens adds the guest lists of banquets hosted by Germans in their own country would be an embarrassment to many who later denounced Lord Darlington. In other words Stevens paints Lord Darlington as a kind of scapegoat for all the elites who were fooled by Herr Ribbentrop. While his lordship is guilty of the association, he is as innocent as anyone of intent or the consequences. Of course the explanation is self-serving, as Stevens himself professes many times throughout the novel not to know the role many of Darlington's guests played politically.

In The Remains of the Day, why is Stevens especially troubled by the incident of Mr. Farraday's poorly polished fork?

Stevens's new employer is an American. Therefore, Stevens feels he has a special duty to show Mr. Farraday "all that is best about service in England." Stevens also prides himself on having lived up to his personal standards of dignity and professionalism. When Mr. Farraday notices an imperfectly polished silver fork at breakfast one morning, Stevens is deeply embarrassed by the incident. He moves so swiftly to correct the mistake that he startles Mr. Farraday. This error represents several that have taken place in recent months which Stevens finds disturbing. They are out of character and hurt his self-respect. This error differs in that it occurs in full view of his employer. He cannot correct it before it becomes apparent. Such errors are behind the official, professional reason he is making this journey. Miss Kenton's letter has brought to mind the days when such mistakes were unthinkable and largely nonexistent. It also has recalled the greatness, decline, and death of his father. Stevens typically tries to minimize the importance of such errors, stating "there is no reason to believe them to be the signs of anything more sinister than a staff shortage." However, he cannot help but recall the signs of failing ability that marked his father's last years. As he has been making errors of late, Stevens may fear his own powers are failing.

By the time Stevens reaches Taunton, Somerset, in The Remains of the Day, how is his perspective on the contents of Miss Kenton's letter beginning to change?

Stevens decides to take the road trip to Cornwall based on his interpretation of Miss Kenton's recently received letter. It is a sad letter that seems to suggest her marriage is over. After reading the letter through several times, Stevens decides it contains "an unmistakable nostalgia for Darlington Hall and ... distinct hints of her desire to return here." Fondly remembering Miss Kenton's "exemplary professionalism," Stevens launches his plan to visit her and explore firsthand her wish to return to employment. During the first few days of his journey, Stevens mentally reviews or rereads Miss Kenton's letter. He builds up in his mind the idea that, if she returns to Darlington Hall, her professional presence "will put a permanent end" to the problems that have been arising. He is also certain that returning to work will offer Miss Kenton consolation for a life "so dominated by a sense of waste." Nevertheless, by the time Stevens reaches Taunton, Somerset, he is less sure of his original interpretation of Miss Kenton's letter. He still sees her return to Darlington Hall as a cure for its staffing problems, but he is surprised to find it is hard to actually point to a passage clearly indicating her wish to return. He admits it may have been wishful thinking that led him to his original conclusions. He seems to be preparing for disappointment even as he lies in the dark "turning those passages over" in his mind and listening to the sounds of the landlord and his wife clearing up for the night. Through his continued rereading, Stevens teaches the reader how to understand his own narrative. Readers should not take anything he says at face value, and they should take everything he says for more than what it is worth.

In The Remains of the Day, how does Mrs. Carolyn Barnet's influence over Lord Darlington expose his lordship's weak moral character?

In the summer of 1932, Mrs. Barnet becomes a frequent visitor to Darlington Hall. She is a "formidably intelligent" woman and deeply involved in the politics of the day. She is also a member of Sir Oswald Mosley's "blackshirts" organization, the British Union of Fascists, and introduces the leader to Lord Darlington. The "blackshirts" were fascists and anti-Semites. Mrs. Barnet would take Lord Darlington on tours of the poor East End of London to show him the suffering supposedly caused by the large numbers of Jewish immigrants in the area. The British Union of Fascists often held marches and passed out anti-Semitic propaganda here. Though prior to this Lord Darlington had displayed no anti-Semitic feelings, his moral weakness is soon on display. He is swayed by Mrs. Barnet and the "blackshirts" propaganda. He begins to speak disapprovingly about a Jewish newspaper and local charity, and welcomes Sir Oswald Mosley into his home. Most significantly, he abruptly dismisses two Jewish maids simply on the grounds of their ethnicity, saying "we cannot have Jews on the staff here at Darlington Hall." He does so "in the interests of the guests" staying there. In contrast to his lordship, Stevens is fully aware the decision is wrong, and Miss Kenton objects even more strongly, calling it "a sin as any sin ever was one." Within a year the true and ugly nature of the "blackshirts" has been exposed, and Lord Darlington has severed his ties with the organization. Out from under their influence, he regrets his decision to dismiss the maids. Yet at the time, he was too morally weak to uphold the principles of decency and justice he has endlessly talked about; nor did he recognize the immorality of anti-Semitism. It is a powerful lesson for Stevens, that blind obedience is not always the best path. Unfortunately, he does not seem to see the point.

In The Remains of the Day, how do Stevens's views regarding romance between servants affect his relationship with Miss Kenton?

In a journal entry in Chapter 2 Stevens notes romantic liaisons between servants are "a serious threat to the order in a house." They are especially problematic when senior employees are involved because they "can have an extremely disruptive effect on work." He further expresses his irritation with servants, especially housekeepers, "who have no genuine commitment to their profession" and go from post to post "looking for romance." Stevens's views are shaped by his extreme professionalism barring emotional response to people and events. He is not one to hold others to a high standard he does not adhere to. Therefore, whatever his personal feelings for Miss Kenton, Stevens will not—in fact, cannot—express them while on duty. Unfortunately for Stevens, he is always "on duty" in the presence of others. He feels "a butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role," and he is free to set aside this role only when entirely alone. This point of view effectively walls Stevens off from any relationship with Miss Kenton beyond a professional one. No matter how he may feel about her privately, he is unable to express it. No matter what affection she may express, he is incapable of reciprocating and, in fact, must rebuff if he is to maintain his dignity.

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