Butler Asks for Self-Rule

Matthew Meschery '93 (English 34, 1991)

The following headlines appeared in the London Times during the summer of 1956, the same summer that Stevens, the narrator in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, The Remains of the Day, takes a vacation and tours England: "ASSURANCE TO SINGAPORE, SELF RULE WITHIN COMMONWEALTH; NORTHERN PARTY OF NIGERIA ISSUED A STATEMENT IN FAVOUR OF SELF GOVERNMENT IN 1959; REVOLT IN KENYA; ASSISTANCE FOR SOMALILAND, PLANS OUTLINED BY LORD LOYD."

I imagine that, in the same year, in a certain private publication, this headline might be found: "AFTER 50 YEARS OF SERVICE, BUTLER ASKS FOR SELF RULE." This title I have given to Stevens' future is, of course, quite optimistic. After all, when we leave him at the end of the novel, he has finally come to realize he has spent his entire life serving and admiring a man who made many political mistakes and was actually a shameful person. Stevens says, "I've given what I had to give. I gave it all to Lord Darlington." When we leave him in Weymouth, he is in a state of what I will call "post-colonial persona." Let me explain the term I have given to Stevens' newly acquired state:

Two years ago, I had the experience of travelling in Ghana, a country which started its move toward independence from the British about the same time that Stevens takes his trip around England. Ghana, since 1960, has been a fine example of post-colonialism. I would like to juxtapose the state that Stevens is in when Remains of the Day ends and Ghana as a country in a post-colonialist phase. First of all, Stevens, being as old as he is, is obviously economically dependent on his job just as Ghana, although it gained full independence in 1960, still dependends on England and on the West in general. When I was in Ghana, it seemed that the country was somewhat culturally schizophrenic as a result of colonialism. Officially, Ghana used the British education system, everyone spoke English, people had tea time, etc. And at the same time that all these very British institutions were maintained, there was talk of African Socialism, many Traditional African religions were being practiced, all the food and clothing was usually African, etc. This ambiguous and schizofrenic state that Ghana was in socially is very similar to Stevens' personal state. He has realized that he needs to become more human and do things like banter, yet it will be a long time before he can shake his old inhuman persona and "be himself."

We must remember that after over a century of domination by the British, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first elected president, could not just snap his fingers and make Ghana the place it was before the British came. He could not instantly make Ghana African again and make it its own country, just as Stevens cannot snap his fingers and make him his "own self." We must also keep in mind that what we know today as Ghana, 300 years ago was just an area of land that was made up of many different ethnic groups. Just as there was no Ghana before the British stumbled upon it, there was never any "real Stevens" but just a "Stevens the Butler." Ghana will eventually, over time, forget what is African and British and find its' "own country." This self defining a discovery is a natural process. Stevens, on the other hand, may die before he escapes from his post-colonial state. This is what I found most depressing about the novel. Even after Stevens comes to the realization that he was never his own person, he still probably doesn't have the time to fulfill the necessity for creating a Stevens' Stevens in the world.

Postcolonial Web United Kingdom OV Ishiguro OV Remains of the Day