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The Remains of the Day | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In The Remains of the Day, how does Stevens try to draw attention away from the uncomfortable intimacy of the incident in the butler's pantry?

Stevens has been reading a romance novel in the privacy of the butler's pantry when Miss Kenton enters unexpectedly. Teasingly curious to see the book Stevens is trying unsuccessfully to hide, she attempts to wrestle it gently from his hands. Her nearness and the familiarity of her actions suddenly cast the moment in an uncomfortably intimate light. Stevens is keenly aware of the tension awakened between them, yet seems unable or unwilling to move or resist. He turns his head and lets her take the book, as if a romantic notion trapped behind his wall of reserve has dared risk being discovered. However, when she exclaims the book is nothing more than "a sentimental love story," he decides he can take no more and shows her to the door. Abruptly, Stevens switches to discuss the book he was reading and why he was reading it—that it was "an extremely efficient way to maintain and develop one's command of the English language." In this way he draws attention away from the incident and refuses to acknowledge the uncomfortable intimacy it produced. He goes on to associate his behavior with his principles, mainly dignity, explaining that a butler "should never allow himself to be 'off duty' in the presence of others." He claims it was "a crucial matter of principle, a matter indeed of dignity" that he not appear before Miss Kenton in anything less than his full and proper role. The end result is denial of the moment's significance and its potential for closeness.

In The Remains of the Day, how does the incident with the housemaid Miss Lisa foreshadow the incident in the butler's pantry between Stevens and Miss Kenton?

Lisa is hired to replace the two dismissed Jewish maids. Though Stevens doubts the girl will work out, Miss Kenton sees potential in her and makes it her mission to prove Stevens wrong. Under her guidance Lisa makes good progress, and Stevens must grudgingly admit she is doing well. At one point Miss Kenton teasingly suggests Stevens actually finds Lisa attractive—that "our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself." He never actually denies it. When Lisa runs off with the second footman, she leaves a letter for Miss Kenton. Twenty years later, Stevens can still recall particular lines word for word: those dealing with love. Miss Kenton is dismayed over Lisa's elopement, and insists the girl is foolish and "bound to be let down." Yet, she turns away from the girl's letter with annoyance, as if she sees her own heart's desire in Lisa's actions and her own inability to achieve it. Stevens is drawn to the romantic notion of love in Lisa's letter. Miss Kenton is struck by the stark differences between Lisa's successful bid for love and her own, as well as the loveless life she is leading. These set the stage for later events in the butler's pantry when Stevens is caught reading a sentimental romance novel. In spite of protests that his reading is purely educational, it is clear these novels provide some kind of emotional outlet. His description of the moment when Miss Kenton stands before him is cast in romantic tones. For her part Miss Kenton is making a bold attempt to break through Stevens's wall of reserve and establish the emotional connection she desires.

In The Remains of the Day, how is the maid Miss Lisa, who leaves Darlington Hall to elope with the footman, a foil for Miss Kenton?

Despite Stevens's doubts about Miss Lisa's ability to meet the standards of Darlington Hall, the young woman makes remarkable progress and seems to have a promising career ahead of her, but impetuously abandons it to get married. This represents one of many ways Lisa is a foil for Miss Kenton. Lisa is young, and while she learns to do her job well, she is not ambitious or devoted to a career in service. She finds love and is willing to strike out for an uncertain future with the footman. She leaves service quickly and recklessly, with no intention of looking back. Candidly passionate in her "good-bye" letters to Stevens and Miss Kenton, she seems headed for a happy future in marriage. In contrast Miss Kenton has devoted her life to her career, strives for excellence, and is cautious about leaving her job behind. Her affection for Stevens grows over the years, but she patiently waits for him to make the first move. Her gentle efforts to reach beyond the walls of his reserve lead to nothing, and time slips by until she is no longer young. When she eventually realizes this path to love is blocked, she reluctantly leaves Darlington Hall to enter an initially loveless marriage with Mr. Benn. Miss Kenton sees something of this contrast herself when she reads Lisa's letter. She is saddened by the young woman's departure as well as irritated by the letter and all it represents.

In The Remains of the Day, what is significant about Stevens's pattern of revelation and denial in his accounts of turning points in his relationship with Miss Kenton?

Throughout the novel Stevens demonstrates a pattern of revelation and denial. The more important an event seems, the more likely he is to deny or minimize its importance. Various incidents in his relationship with Miss Kenton have deep meaning for Stevens. He relates them in detail and even labels them as turning points in their relationship. These incidents include his encounter in the butler's pantry with Miss Kenton; his failure to offer Miss Kenton proper condolences at the death of her aunt; and his petulantly ending the evening cocoa sessions with Miss Kenton. Yet, as he relates these incidents and ponders their consequences, he trivializes them as "small episodes" or "small incidents," and the result of "small decisions." In this way he tries to shield himself from guilt and regret over the consequences of his actions or failures to act. Love slipped through his fingers, and to admit he is responsible would be too painful. Nevertheless, honesty forces him to acknowledge he miscalculated the amount of time he would have "to sort out the vagaries" of his relationship with Miss Kenton. However, he excuses this perception as stemming from hindsight, explaining "there was surely nothing to indicate" that whole dreams were being rendered "forever irredeemable." This last revelation—that his dreams have been crushed—cannot be denied, so Stevens dismisses his reminiscences as "unduly introspective" and moves on to another topic.

In The Remains of the Day, how do Lord Darlington's views of democracy reveal the extent of his sympathy for the Nazi regime?

As Stevens reminisces about Lord Darlington and his involvement in world affairs, he often complains that he cannot understand why his lordship has been labeled pro-Nazi. He does not want to see how the Nazis manipulated his employer. However, as details of Lord Darlington's activities are revealed, a picture emerges of a man sympathetic to Adolph Hitler's fascist, anti-Semitic regime. One conversation in particular between Stevens and his employer in 1935 illustrates his lordship's political leanings. In it Lord Darlington states the notion of universal suffrage is old-fashioned, and the common man is unable to comprehend the issues of an increasingly complex world. While democracy may be a well-loved system of government, it is not fit for modern times. "Democracy is something for a bygone era," he explains to Stevens, and then goes on to praise a "better" method of government being applied elsewhere: "Look at Germany and Italy, Stevens. See what strong leadership can do if it is allowed to act." By 1935 Hitler had become a virtual dictator, had declared the Nazi party the only political party permitted in Germany, had rearmed the nation (in violation of the Treaty of Versailles), and had united the German people. Italy had been under the rule of dictator Benito Mussolini for 10 years. Clearly, Lord Darlington's political sympathies align with the regimes of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy rather than the democratic system of government in Great Britain.

In The Remains of the Day, how does Stevens's perception of greatness based on dignity differ from what is illustrated in his account of the Prime Minister's visit in 1938?

Stevens draws his perception of greatness based on dignity from examples like the story of the tiger and the butler, and stories about his father. He refines his vision of greatness with the Hayes Society's requirements that a butler worthy of the society be "attached to a distinguished household" and "be possessed of a dignity in keeping with his position." Such dignity requires unshakable calm and emotional restraint. Stevens expands the Hayes Society's definition of "a distinguished house" to mean one headed by a gentleman of high moral character whom a butler may serve confidently and loyally. By the end of the Prime Minister's visit, Stevens believes he has performed with a degree of dignity worthy of the great butlers like his father. However, his account of the evening illustrates something different. His conversation with Mr. Reginald Cardinal makes it clear Darlington Hall may no longer be "a distinguished household" due to the political activities of Lord Darlington. Furthermore, his lordship is not the gentleman of high moral character working for the good of humanity, as Stevens believes. He is an amateur being manipulated by Herr Ribbentrop and the Nazis. Though Mr. Cardinal tries desperately to enlist the butler's help to somehow stop Lord Darlington from doing something he will regret, Stevens stubbornly feigns ignorance, though he knows who is in the house and why. His loyalty is misplaced, but he lacks the courage to examine or admit the truth. Too much of himself is invested in the illusion he is working for a noble gentleman, close to the great hub of things.

In The Remains of the Day, what is significant about Stevens's faulty memory of standing outside Miss Kenton's door, sure that she is on the other side crying?

In the process of recalling this incident, Stevens demonstrates his unreliability as a narrator. The first time he recalls it, he is reminiscing about the day Miss Kenton received news of her aunt's death. He is with her at the time and leaves her in her parlor without offering condolences. Standing outside her closed door, he wonders if he should "knock and make good [his] omission." But he is afraid he may intrude on her grief, so he leaves and waits for another opportunity to express his sympathy. Stevens records this incident without any hint his memory may be faulty. He goes on to describe his follow-up conversation with Miss Kenton in the dining room. However, in his journal the following day, he acknowledges he may have been mistaken and that the incident took place at a later time. The time in question is the evening Lord Darlington brings together Herr Ribbentrop, the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary for a highly secret meeting. That same evening Miss Kenton announces to Stevens she has accepted a proposal of marriage and will be leaving service at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton gives Stevens every chance to ask her not to go through with it, but he is unable to express how he feels. Later, upon passing her closed parlor door, Stevens is convinced she is on the other side of it, crying. Emotionally paralyzed, he cannot bring himself to knock and deal with all that her tears may signify. This instance of faulty memory represents others within Stevens's narrative, such as his confusion over whether it was Miss Kenton or Lord Darlington who spoke to him quite bluntly about his father's failing abilities. He recognizes the contradiction, but does not explain it. Perhaps both are accurate. There is no way for the reader to tell, and it highlights the overall unreliability of memory.

In The Remains of the Day, how would Stevens's loyalty to Lord Darlington be evaluated differently if his lordship's ideas about Germany had been right?

If Lord Darlington's judgment of Germany had turned out to be right, Stevens would have been applauded as an intelligent, perceptive, and admirably loyal butler. He would have been labeled "great," as he has always aspired to be. Loyalty is an important element in Stevens's code of ethics. By the term loyalty, he claims not to mean mindless servitude to just any employer, but loyalty "intelligently bestowed" on an employer judged noble and admirable. Unfortunately, he also believes only the upper-class members of society like Lord Darlington are capable of understanding the great affairs of the modern world. The best a butler can do is put his trust in an employer he judges to be wise and honorable. When opportunities arise for him to judge Darlington for himself, he ignores them. Two examples come to mind: the disagreement between Lewis and Dupont and the dismissal of the Jewish maids. In both instances Stevens clearly saw his employer was behaving in a way that was unwise, immoral, and disloyal to his nation. Yet in both instances, Stevens chose to believe in his employer's greatness rather than trust the evidence before his own eyes. In light of the consequences of policies promoted by men like Lord Darlington—war, destruction, and mass extermination—Stevens's trust is clearly misplaced. His loyalty seems especially foolish when Mr. Reginald Cardinal—a trustworthy man—challenges him to set aside his blind loyalty and see the disastrous direction Lord Darlington's efforts are leading. Stevens stubbornly refuses. While he may have bestowed his trust intelligently at one time, he refuses to reevaluate his choice. His loyalty becomes as mindless as that of the most uninformed servant. The result is a tarnished reputation and a life of service rendered useless, instead of the glory Stevens hoped to attain. One of the book's losses is a time when men can entrust their own consciences to others.

In The Remains of the Day, according to Reginald Cardinal during his talk with Stevens, why is Lord Darlington not entirely at fault for his support of the Nazi regime?

According to Mr. Reginald Cardinal, Lord Darlington is an amateur in the political arena and naïve in his beliefs the Nazi regime desires world peace. Mr. Cardinal comes to Darlington Hall on the night of a secret meeting between German Ambassador Herr Ribbentrop and Britain's Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, is also present. The meeting has been arranged by Lord Darlington with the hopes of convincing the Prime Minister to meet with Adolph Hitler. In spite of the meeting's secrecy, Mr. Cardinal has learned of it and is concerned for its implications, not only for his country and Europe, but for Lord Darlington personally. In an informal talk with Stevens, he tries to enlist Stevens's help to stop Lord Darlington before something disastrous happens. From Mr. Cardinal's point of view, Lord Darlington is being used by the Nazi regime for its own evil ends. Mr. Cardinal describes his lordship's involvement with the Nazis as well-intentioned, but misguided, amateurish, and lacking in good judgment. While his lordship has fine and noble instincts, they have no place in the current, foul world of politics. Herr Ribbentrop has deceived him, manipulating his sincere and honorable intentions toward a purpose that must not be trusted, like this meeting with the Prime Minister. He has become a puppet for the Nazi regime, which is using him to connect Berlin with the most influential people in Britain. These people, in turn, support the British government's policy of appeasement toward Germany, even as Germany builds up for war. For these reasons Lord Darlington seems to be a fool, blinded by his own good intentions, and not entirely at fault for supporting a regime he sincerely believes wishes world peace as much as he does. He has no way of knowing what the consequences will be, but it is precisely for that reason that he should not be interfering.

In Chapter 7 of The Remains of the Day, how does the setting contribute to the emotional impact of the meeting between Stevens and Miss Kenton?

Stevens and Miss Kenton meet in the tea lounge of the Rose Garden Hotel. The grey day and incessant rain adds an air of sadness to the occasion. Even so, the tea lounge is a cozy setting with a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. This impression is heightened by the pool of light framing the two old friends as they visit and is reminiscent of the sociable cocoa sessions Stevens so fondly remembers. The overall feeling is of intimacy and warmth mixed with unspoken regret. There is a sense of finality and closure in the rain that never stops, with no cloud with a silver lining to signal hope. Stevens and Miss Kenton part ways at the bus stop—a symbol of arrivals and departures.

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