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The Remains of the Day | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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At the end of The Remains of the Day, how do Stevens and Miss Kenton deal with regret?

Memories, lost chances, and regret come together during Stevens and Miss Kenton's meeting in the tea lounge of the Rose Garden Hotel. The two old friends reminisce about people and events, touching only lightly on painful subjects such as Lord Darlington's troubles. Stevens has brought with him all the fond, intimate memories he has of Miss Kenton, looking for and finding smiles and gestures he recalls, and happily falling into the "rhythms and habits" of their past conversations. However, it isn't until their last minutes together at the bus stop that regret for what might have been is touched upon. Already Stevens has pondered the turning points in his relationship with Miss Kenton—the lost chances for love. Though he has tried to minimize their importance, he simultaneously has recognized each turning point was a chance he wasted; a decision that ultimately rendered his dreams impossible. Unspoken regret and faint hope underlie his visit. It is a last chance. At the bus stop, Miss Kenton finally speaks of what might have been. She tells Stevens she originally entered a loveless marriage "as simply another ruse ... to annoy you." She expresses regret in terms of moments in her married life when she thought, "what a terrible mistake I've made." She would then leave her husband for a time. Even so, as she goes on to explain, she has set aside regret, realizing there is no turning back the clock. She intends to stay with her husband. The finality of Miss Kenton's words turns Stevens's regret into heartbreak. But as always, he conceals his most deeply felt emotions and tells Miss Kenton she is wise in her decision. In this instance he acts with true dignity and shields Miss Kenton from the confusion his expressed regret might have caused her.

In The Remains of the Day, how does the stranger on the pier provide emotional clarity for Stevens?

The stranger on the pier is a retired butler, though for a much smaller house than Darlington Hall. Yet he understands the job, and more importantly, he seems to understand Stevens. Several times throughout the novel, Stevens has lamented the fact he no longer has other butlers with whom he can talk, discuss problems, and get advice. Loneliness and isolation are now as much a part of his professional world as his personal world. The nameless butler on the pier has an easy manner Stevens responds to. Stevens's emotional journey has left him drained and confused. So much hinged on Miss Kenton returning to Darlington Hall. Though in truth, in seeking lost love, Stevens was also seeking the past. By the end of his journey, he has lost his illusions about the past and his triumphs, and his last attempt to reclaim love has ended in defeat. Now the future stretches out before him. Stevens opens up to the stranger and confesses his fears that he gave all to Lord Darlington and has nothing more to give. The stranger sympathetically listens and then offers Stevens a new perspective. He advises Stevens to quit looking back, comparing things now to the way they once were. He points out Stevens is no different from anyone else. As time moves on, most people cannot do their job as well as they used to, but that is all right. Then he speaks of the evening as the best part of the day, when the hard part is finished, and there's time to put up your feet and relax: "you've done your day's work." The stranger's kind advice reminds Stevens he is a member of the human race, and experiencing the passage of time just like everybody else. It also gives Stevens permission to release the past as well as permission to be human—to forgive the small errors he now makes. Most importantly, it encourages him to enjoy his remaining days, rather than fear them. From this new, clearer perspective, Stevens may be able to move forward in his life.

By the end of The Remains of the Day, what is significant about Stevens's changing view of bantering?

In Stevens's changing view of bantering, the arc of a small but significant change in his character is evident. It results from his modified view of human relationships and may indicate hope, albeit slight, for the remains of his days. Stevens's early attempts at bantering have ended rather badly, causing him to consider the practice hazardous. He has been diligently studying the skill in order to please his American employer, Mr. Farraday, who enjoys these playful exchanges. He takes no personal pleasure in the pursuit, but views it as his duty. His failures at witticisms leave him feeling as if he has fallen short on a professional level. By the end of his journey, Stevens's view of bantering changes. He begins to see how it can build bridges of human warmth between people who are otherwise strangers. Human warmth is something he now senses has been sorely missing from his life, and it was something he was seeking when he visited Miss Kenton. He decides if bantering is a key to human warmth, then maybe, with a new perspective and renewed effort, he can acquire the skill and surprise his new employer. This revised view provides a glimmer of hope that Stevens will permit himself to give and receive at least a touch of human warmth throughout the remains of his days.

In The Remains of the Day, how does Stevens use the demands of his profession as an escape during times of emotional anguish?

There are several times in Stevens's life when he uses his profession as a means of coping with emotional anguish. The first involves the death of his father during the conference of 1923. Stevens and his father have had a strained relationship. Both are unable to freely express emotion, and their relationship has undergone additional damage since the proud elder Stevens was reduced to working as an under-butler at Darlington Hall. Nevertheless, Stevens regards his father with deep respect and has shown love by safeguarding his father's pride and dignity. He studiously avoids the signs of his father's declining strength and ability. When his father is dying, Stevens's professionalism becomes a shield from the pain, protecting him from the possibility of losing emotional control in the presence of others. This would be unthinkable. He allows Miss Kenton and others to tend to his father while he returns to professional duty. This allows him to safely avoid having to confront and cope with the imminent loss of his father. Other critical moments in Stevens's life include the death of Miss Kenton's aunt when he desires to offer her comfort; the revelation by Miss Kenton that she may accept a proposal of marriage; and finally, her announcement she is engaged and will be leaving Darlington Hall. In all three instances, as during the death of his father, Stevens uses the call of duty to avoid the confrontation with emotions these events provoke. In all cases he is determined not to lose control or to demonstrate undignified passion. It is safer to escape into his professional role, where dignified calm and reserve are the rule, and where he cannot be expected to face or sort out his feelings.

By the end of The Remains of the Day, how does loss of love deepen the insignificance of Stevens's moments of triumph?

In recounting the conference of 1923, Stevens recalls his sense of triumph at the end, based on his professionalism. By the end of the secret meeting at Darlington Hall in 1938, he feels he has again triumphed, professionally speaking, by serving a great gentleman at the hub of world affairs. However, in both cases, Stevens turned his back on a chance to connect meaningfully with his father and Miss Kenton. Both instances were "last chances." During the conference of 1923, Stevens's father makes a last attempt to establish emotional contact with his son as he is dying. Stevens retreats from the scene, unable to cope with the highly charged feelings involved. He tells his father how busy he is and "we can talk again in the morning." This chance never comes. Stevens's father dies a short while later. Similarly, when Miss Kenton announces her engagement, Stevens chooses duty over discomfort, explaining that "matters of global significance [are] taking place upstairs" and he must return to his post. Her later tears and apology for something she said in anger are Stevens's final chance to reach out and capture love. However, he turns away, in the name of duty. In both cases he comforts himself with the assurance he has done the right thing: preserved his dignity, done his duty, and displayed the highest degree of professionalism despite the distractions. He tells himself this is enough. Stevens's moments of triumph are dependent on the achievements of Lord Darlington. When the dire consequences of his lordship's work on behalf of the Nazi regime become clear, the significance of those moments vanishes, taking with it the illusion that Stevens has achieved greatness. A deeper loss, however, comes from his rejection of love and human warmth that occurred during the events. As Stevens discovers over the course of his emotional journey, these are what have been missing from his life. Though now he may desire them, once they are gone, they cannot be retrieved.

What roles do trust and betrayal play in The Remains of the Day?

Trust and betrayal play a significant role in the lives of Lord Darlington and Stevens. Lord Darlington displays a tragic tendency to place trust in the wrong people. He trusts German Ambassador Herr Ribbentrop, whose sole purpose is to use Lord Darlington's good intentions to influence British policies to favor Nazi Germany. His lordship naïvely trusts that fascists and anti-Semites such as Mrs. Carolyn Barnet and Sir Oswald Mosley are working to make a better world. He also trusts his own instincts, which are fine and noble, but as American senator Mr. Lewis states, unsuitably naïve for the new world of politics. In each instance his lordship is betrayed. Only his trust in Stevens proves to be justified. Stevens recalls "with some pride and gratitude" that Lord Darlington "never made any efforts to conceal things from my own eyes and ears." His lordship would tell visiting dignitaries "you can say anything in front of Stevens, I can assure you." Stevens never betrays him. On the other hand, Stevens places complete trust in Lord Darlington, and this turns out to be a devastating mistake. He trusts in his lordship's wisdom and purpose, and believes that, by serving him, he is doing something worthwhile. He also trusts his professional principles will earn him the dignity and greatness he desires. Sacrificing his emotional well-being, Stevens immerses himself in his role of butler. He is betrayed on both counts. Lord Darlington proves to be either a fool or a Nazi-collaborator. Either way his lordship's failures taint everything Stevens believes in and robs his life's work of meaning. It also casts doubt on the professional principles by which Stevens has lived. Like Lord Darlington, Stevens is ultimately betrayed by his values and is left burdened with a loveless past of wrecked dignity and greatness.

In The Remains of the Day, how are the historic changes marked by the Suez Crisis of 1956 reflected in Stevens's narrative and life?

The Suez Crisis marked the passing of an era of British history that produced a man like Stevens. During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Egypt successfully challenged the military might of Great Britain. This marked, once and for all, the end of the era in which Britain controlled the most extensive empire in world history. Britain had emerged from World War II economically crippled and struggling with a changing social/political climate. The situation had forced the government to surrender colonial territories it no longer had the economic or military power to control. When President Nasser of Egypt seized and nationalized the Suez Canal, Britain lost most of its influence in the Middle East. At the height of its world dominance, Great Britain was ruled by society's elites. The great houses dominated politics and influenced decisions that affected the course of history. With the shrinking of the empire, their day vanished and took with it the need for butlers like Stevens, who served the aristocracy. Stevens once took pride in making a "contribution to the creation of a better world" through service to a great gentleman. Those days are finished. He must make the best of his new situation, working for a gentleman with no political ambition or influence.

In The Remains of the Day, why does Stevens continually try to rationalize Lord Darlington's behavior and its consequences?

Stevens cannot accept he has served a man who is less than noble or that his years of service at Darlington Hall were ultimately wasted. He struggles to deny the past even as honesty forces him to reveal the truth. Stevens's personal code of ethics requires he be employed by a powerful gentleman of high moral worth. His own dignity and greatness lie in serving such a man. Throughout his time with Lord Darlington, Stevens deeply believes his lordship is working for the good of humanity. In serving him, he (Stevens) is making a beneficial contribution to the future of England and the world. However, as Stevens reminisces about the interwar years and Lord Darlington's growing involvement in world politics, a pattern emerges of admission followed by denial or rationalization. First he reveals an unfavorable truth about Lord Darlington, and then proceeds to explain it away by denying or diminishing its importance, even as he reveals more than he intends about its significance. This is an act of self-preservation. By working for Lord Darlington, Stevens believes he has "come as close to the great hub of things as any butler could wish." He has tied his destiny and triumphs to Lord Darlington's success in the larger arena of world affairs. However he must equally share his lordship's failures and any guilt over the consequences. Therefore, he cannot escape indirect responsibility for Lord Darlington's misguided or calculated involvement with the Nazis and the consequences of fascism, anti-Semitism, and the policy of appeasement—meaning World War II and all its horrors. Stevens tries to avoid the related feelings of guilt by providing alibis and excuses for Lord Darlington's actions.

What are the personally destructive results of Stevens's blind loyalty to Lord Darlington in The Remains of the Day?

From Stevens's perspective, loyalty is a necessary ingredient of greatness. Any butler who wishes to achieve greatness should concentrate on "providing the best possible service to those great gentlemen in whose hands the destiny of civilization truly lies." His job is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation, but to show loyalty to an employer judged to be wise and honorable. He must also immerse himself in his profession and never abandon the role he inhabits. Stevens believes he has been completely loyal to Lord Darlington. He cannot and will not question his lordship's well-intentioned political efforts, though they turn into support for the Nazi regime. The consequences of Stevens's fierce loyalty are personally devastating. He has sacrificed everything to serve his lordship well. For example, during the course of his service, he violated his own sense of right and wrong to dismiss two innocent maids for being Jewish. He went so far as to leave his father's side when the old man was dying, believing that by doing so, he achieved a level of dignity of which his father would have approved. Perhaps most significantly, he chose duty over love on the evening of Miss Kenton's engagement to another man. Lord Darlington's eventual ruin crushes Stevens's hard-earned sense of dignity. His loyalty has earned him nothing of the greatness he desires, and he feels shame over his association with Lord Darlington. He is robbed of the illusion that he once reached a level of dignity worthy of his father. Worst of all, he has let love slip away in the name of duty.

How does the life of Lord Darlington mirror that of Stevens in The Remains of the Day?

Lord Darlington, like Stevens, is a product of his time. His lordship occupies the top rung of society, which defines him as an aristocrat and a gentleman. His life is shaped by a code of ethics defined by values such as nobility and fairness. His political influence is strong during the interwar years. Stevens, who serves Lord Darlington, is also defined by the place in society he occupies. Similarly, a code of ethics shapes his life, defined by values such as dignity, duty, and loyalty. As a butler, Stevens is at the peak of his profession during the interwar years, and by serving a gentleman of influence, he can share in his master's achievements. Key moments of triumph in Lord Darlington's life are mirrored by key moments in Stevens's career. Though his intentions are misguided, the results of his lordship's efforts concerning the 1923 conference are impressive. Equally impressive, though more dangerous, is the 1938 secret meeting his lordship arranges between the German Ambassador and British Prime Minister. In both instances Stevens also enjoys a sense of vicarious triumph as well as a personal feeling of having achieved a level of professional greatness. Unfortunately, the link between master and servant also ties Stevens to Lord Darlington's failures. When Lord Darlington's achievements prove to be dreadful errors in judgment, Stevens cannot separate himself from the consequences. His triumphs, like Lord Darlington's, are robbed of merit, and like Lord Darlington, his reputation is tarnished, and his self-respect gravely damaged. In this way the arc of Lord Darlington's rise and fall from grace is mirrored by a rise and fall in Stevens's life. Finally, following World War II, the power of the aristocracy dwindles. The old-world view of Englishness fades, and gentlemen ruled by principles, like Lord Darlington, become anachronisms. Traditional butlers in service to great houses at the hub of power also become a relic of the pre-war years. Here, at last, the mirrored path shared by his lordship and Stevens ends. Lord Darlington dies a broken man, but Stevens struggles on toward an uncertain future.

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