The Remains of the Day: Leading Questions

Members of English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, 1997

See also the questions posed by the following class in this course.

1. Stevens uses many anecdotes to relate the importance of dignity and restraint in his profession. He also posits that his profession itself is in some way representative of England. He goes to the extent of saying plainly that the "greatness" of a "great" butler is tied to the "emotional restraint which only the English are capable of" (43). The parallel made between England and the occupation of butler go further as he ties his professional anecdotes to his description of the English landscape. "It is with such men as it is with the English landscape...." (44). In stevens mind the beauty of the landscape lies in the "calmeness of the beauty, its sense of restraint" (28-29). The composure which any great butler must posess in order to maintain a proper facade seems to be related to the power of England. The historical events which occured contemporally with those of the novel, in terms of England attempting to maintain an appearence of imperial power, or "dignity" i.e. the Boer War, seem to be related to what stevens calls "a sharp decline in professional standards" (7). How does this relate to other post-imperial novels that we have read. Think of some ideas from other novels such as Waterland, Oscar and Lucinda, and Sour Sweet that function as paralells to the idea of maintaining the "dignity," or appearence of power, power of the empire. How does the idea of enclosure function in the novel? compare this also with other novels from our readings. What is the signifigance of Stevens leaving Darlington? Recall Wole's first trip out of Aké and Devin's first trip to see Nur. How is this similar to the glass church in Oscar & Lucinda? What is the signifigance of Mr. Farraday's presence -- being American -- living in Darlington Hall? [Brandon Brown]

2. "And let me now posit this: 'dignity' has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the profession of being he inhabits" (42). How do various notions of dignity navigate both the characters and the plot of The Remains of the Day? [Kate Cook]

3. "I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, the sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. In comparison, the sorts of sights offered in such places as Africa and America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness." (The Remains of the Day, 28-29) How does Kazuo Ishiguro's use of geography, from the structure of the novel's parts (Darlington Hall, Salisbury, Mortimer's Pond, Dorset, Taunton, Somerset, Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon, and Little Compton, Cornwall) to the implicit invocation of the Suez Canal, intertwine with representations of national identity, class division, morality, human sociability, etc. as meditated by Stevens? [Erica Dillon]

4. In The Remains of the Day we again encounter a protagonist who experiences a realization of self and of the power dynamics at work in his society. In contrast, the failure to make such realizations in other texts seems key. In Sour Sweet, Lily continues to believe that Chen is away working and sending back money to support his family. It is left very ambiguous wether or not Devan has made any realizations of self -- he thinks he has. What does the ambiguity of these endings leave us with? Is there any progress made from the beginnings of these books to the end? What does this say about the colonization of individuals and the scope for de-colonization? What differences exist between men's and women's "realizations"? [Lucia Duncan]

5. Throughout The Remains of the Day, Stevens attempts to maintain a seemingly superhuman state of tolerance, deference, and servitude. Simultaneously, he seems to be able to quell any apparition of human emotion or spontaneity. At no time does he release himself from his duties, and even when off duty, he engages himself with professionally edifying tasks - such as the perusal of romance novels to attain mastery of the colloquial tongue. Is this state of being humanly possible without relief? If not, what are Stevens' releases throughout the novel; which of his activities can be seen as cathartic, either over the course of his service to Darlington and Farraday, or on his motoring trip? [Jeremy Finer]

6. Stevens uses many tools to impress his dignity and professionalism upon the reader. The state of the silver is an example. Stevens conveniently manages to slip in Lady Astor's opinion that "our silver 'was probably unrivaled'" (134-135). When the silver is not of this quality, Stevens shows the reader his great professionalism by discreetly attending to the problem. Stevens believes that the impressive "state of the silver had made a small, but significant contribution towards the easing of relations between Lord Halifax and Her Ribbentrop" (135-136). How does silver portray Stevens' personality and portray what role he perceives himself playing? [Laura Gelfman]

7. This passage at the beginning of Ishiguro's book seems to give a false indication of what is to come:

It was a fine feeling indeed to be standing up there like that, with the sound of summer all around one and a light breeze on one's face. And I believe it was then, looking on that view, that I began for the first time to adopt a frame of mind appropriate for the journey before me. For it was then that I felt the first healthy flush of anticipation for the many interesting experiences I know these days ahead hold in store for me. And indeed, it was then that I felt a new resolve not to be daunted in respect to the one professional task I have entrusted myself with on this trip; that is to say, regarding Miss Kenton and our present staffing problem. (26)

Although Stevens climbs the hill to the viewpoint only after being urged by another man, he is glad upon arrival at the top. At this point he resolves himself to confront Miss Kenton regarding work and, perhaps unconsciously, regarding his love for her. After this hopeful start, the rest of the book is filled with regrets and missed opportunities. What was Ishiguro's purpose in beginning Stevens's travels with this episode? [Phoebe Koch]

8. Humor has a very specific function in Remains of the Day. Because of the otherwise somber effect of the book, the scenes in which there is an element of humor or frivolity become vivid in the reader's mind. The Chinaman affair on pp. 57-59 is one example. Another appears on page 15: "For a moment I had not an idea what my employer was saying. Then I realized he was making some sort of joke and endeavoured to smile appropriately, though I suspect some residue of my bewilderment, not to say shock, remianed detectable in my expression." What do these passages say about Stevens and the people around him? [Laura Otis]

9. What is the purpose of Young Reginald? What do Stevens' attempts to reveal 'the facts of life' to the man reveal about how he relates to women, sex, and how he concives of a father son relationship? Why does contact with Young Reginald coincide with Darlington's international coference? What about Reginald's idea that "I wonder if it wouldnt have been better if the Almighty had created us all as -- well-- as sort of plants. You know, truly embedded in the soil. Then none of this rot about wars and boundaries would have come up in the first place.?" (108) What about his follow up comment about the place of butlers in this world: "But we could still have chaps like ytou taking messages back and forth, bringing tea, that sort of thing. Otherwise, how would we get anything done?" (108) Is this a commentary on the fact that butlers are not seen as players in the political game, who therefore could keep their mobility? How does this relate to Steven's decision to take a journey to find Miss Kenton? [Elora Raymond]

10. Why does Ishiguro include passages like "Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are as a breed incapable of the emotional restraint which only the English race are capable of," where Stevens expresses sentiments contrary to more conventional wisdom. How do these passages that force the reader to be more critical of the narrative in general affect the reading of The Remains of the Day? [Uzoma Ukomadu]

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