Encounters with Americans: The Remains of the Day

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

Because all characters in this book develop through Stevens' diary they remain two-dimensional anecdotal figures rather than full characters. From the start, Stevens depicts Mr. Farraday as distinctly foreign, as somewhat oblivious to established societal norms. He excuses Mr. Farraday's "banter" on this basis. Stevens frets,

Perhaps I was expected to laugh heartily; or indeed, reciprocate with some remark of my own. This last possibility is the one that has given me some concern over these months, and is something about which I still feel undecided. For it well may be that in America, it is all part of what is considered good professional service that an employee provide good bantering (15).

Bantering, which has interrupted the traditional codes of the employee-employer relationship, becomes associated with America.

Stevens' most poignant interaction with Americans occurs when the Wakefields visit. The couple traipses around Darlington Hall uttering "various American exclamations of delight," led by Mr. Farraday, who is "describing with some flourish 'what the English lords used to do'" (122). Stevens does masks his annoyance with this under an attempt at rosy neutrality. He remarks that he "was surprised by the extent of my employer's knowledge, which despite the occasional infelicity, betrayed a deep enthusiasm for English ways" (122). Mrs. Wakefield enthusiastically categorizes the various parts of Darlington Hall -- including Stevens—as either "mock" or genuinely old.

Stevens believes that these Americans are comically avid collectors of things historical, lacking a history and a "dignity" (29,43), , in their in own homeland. He groups America with stereotypically savage Africa as "inferior on account of its unseemly demonstrativeness" (29). Though motivated by admiration, the Americans ruin what they collect because, what they take possession of no longer has a life of its own. By buying Darlington Hall, and Stevens as part of the package, Mr. Farraday relegates Stevens' customs and rules of real social interaction to the place of a fashionable antique.

Amidst the disturbance of new and American ways, nostalgia for the old days under Lord Darlington consumes Stevens. He looks back to a time in which he felt confidence and pride in his position. He could "say to himself: 'This employer embodies all that I find noble and admirable. I will hereafter devote myself to serving him.' . . . What is there undignified in this?" (200).

In the process of re-examining his past, however, he begins to realize the damage his long-held belief in the virtue of blind loyalty has done. By the end of the book he has come to a different understanding of the values of his past:

At least he [Lord Darlington] had the privilege of being able to say he made his own mistakes . . . As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted . . . All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes -- one has to ask oneself -- what dignity is there in that? (243).

At this point Stevens even admits that one of the changes brought by his employer, which he originally frowned upon, might brighten his life. "Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in -- particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth" (245).

Following Steven's relationship to things American, we follow the progress of his inner-conflict between his attachment to the reassuring values of his past and his experience which has proved them false. Though he finds it within himself to initiate a sincere openness to new ways, even American ones, he has yet to discover realistic steps which will move him into the present. He ends his writing with a somewhat pathetic, though optimistic, resolution to practice his bantering skills "with renewed effort. I should hope, then, that by the time of my employer's return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him" (245).

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Last Modified: 20 March, 2002