The Remains of the Day | Study Guide

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Remains of the Day | Symbols


Butler's Pantry

The butler's pantry is Stevens's private domain. In great houses of the era, the butler's pantry is where the silver is stored under lock and key, and it is connected to the butler's sleeping quarters. It is where a butler can work undisturbed on budgets, inventory, or plans—such as staff plans—related to managing the house, or it may serve as his retreat when not on duty. Stevens defines the butler's pantry as "a crucial office, the heart of the house's operations, not unlike a general's headquarters during a battle." He does not allow people to "wander in and out with their queries and grumbles." It is preserved as a place where his "privacy and solitude are guaranteed."

Stevens's uncompromising definition and use of this room reflects how he defines, isolates, and confines himself in his profession. Like Stevens, his pantry is unapproachable unless for professional reasons. And when he is off duty, it provides the isolation he demands in order to set aside his professional demeanor without fear of losing his dignity. Its walls conceal him physically and emotionally. As Stevens states, "any butler who aspires at all to a 'dignity in keeping with his position' ... should never allow himself to be 'off duty' in the presence of others." He is determined to "inhabit" his role to the utmost; to never let the mask of professionalism slip.

For this reason Stevens carefully guards his privacy and willingly confines himself to a physical and emotional prison of his own making. He feels threatened when Miss Kenton "invades" his retreat, to brighten it with flowers and, on one occasion, to glimpse past his dignified façade to learn he reads sentimental romance novels. Through Miss Kenton's eyes the pantry is cold, gloomy, and dull. However, Mr. Stevens makes it clear that it is to his liking and wishes to be alone. In some ways his butler's pantry also may be seen as a symbol of the wish for isolation and confinement he will come to regret.

English Countryside

As Stevens begins his journey, he is struck by the calm, restrained beauty of the English countryside. He declares it is "the most deeply satisfying in the world" because of its "very lack of obvious drama or spectacle." In his view the landscape symbolizes a very English style of greatness that defines the British Empire and reflects his own personal ideals concerning his profession.

Stevens is preoccupied with the notion of what makes a great butler. As models of greatness, he dismisses the likes of Mr. Jack Neighbours—a butler known for managing large events with a technical flourish. The showiness of his service reflects high competence, but not greatness. Greatness, Stevens claims, is a deeper quality that comes with the butler's ability to inhabit his role so completely that he "will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming, or vexing." A great butler is self-possessed, emotionally restrained, and retains his dignity under all circumstances.

Stevens's idea of greatness is exemplified by the English landscape. It reflects the very qualities he strives for—to perform his duties without drama or spectacle; to always be calm and in control.


The butler's job of scheduling and the importance of punctuality represent the professional constraints that bind Stevens.

As butler, Stevens's job is to keep the great house running smoothly and with punctuality. Work must be properly scheduled so as to be done out of sight and hearing of Lord Darlington or his guests. Meals must be served at the appointed time. Preparations for gatherings at the hall must be completed with time to spare.

The demands of time bind Stevens to his job. His pursuit of professional greatness will not allow him to sidestep the responsibility while on duty, even when personal matters intrude. As an example, when his father is dying, Stevens visits him only during rare moments when he is not needed to keep things running smoothly for his lordship's conference downstairs. His father dies while Stevens is dutifully fulfilling his role as butler, and Stevens takes pride in the fact his time has been well spent in service, as expected.

Stevens also uses the pressures of time as a means of escape when emotion threatens to break through his wall of reserve. For example, when Miss Kenton announces she intends to leave Darlington Hall to marry, Stevens coolly congratulates her. He then quickly excuses himself to attend to his duties, because "events of a global significance are taking place in this house at this very moment." Yet, as observed by Mr. Cardinal only minutes later—"I say, Stevens, are you all right there? ... Not feeling unwell, are you?"—it is clear Miss Kenton's announcement has been a blow, and Stevens is struggling to contain his emotions. To avoid what he cannot bear, Stevens has retreated into his role, using the demands of time as an excuse.

Giffen and Co.

While Stevens sits in a tea shop in Taunton composing a journal entry, he notices a sign outside the window for the town of Mursden. It calls to mind Giffen and Co. which made the finest silver polish before World War II. He notes the company is no longer there, and then recollects the bygone era when beautifully polished silver was a benchmark by which great houses were judged. His memories circle back to the pride he once took in guests' compliments on the quality of the silver polishing at Darlington Hall.

The closing of Giffen and Co. is a sign of the changing times. The great houses are in decline, as are the wealth and power of the aristocracy who valued polished silver "as a public index of a house's standards." Their days are over, as are the days of butlers like Stevens. Giffen and Co. symbolizes an era that has passed as well as the vanishing standards and values it embraced.

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