Stevens as an Ideal Colonial Subject
Randall Bass, Assistant Professor of English, Georgetown University
The Remains of the Day is a novel about service and self-abnegation. Although the novel maintains the readers attention on the singular introspection of one man's career as an English butler, the novel nonetheless has wide reverberations as a political and social commentary. One way to interpret the book's excursion into the code of service and servitude is as an individualized model for the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. As one critic puts it, the "dynamic between the upper and lower classes, exemplified by Lord Darlington and his butler, duplicates very precisely England's relationship to its colonies. It is my contention that Stevens' private tragedy is precipitate by what Albert Memmi in his seminal study The Colonizer and the Colonized terms the cruel 'hoax' by which the colonizer or master ensures that the servant exists 'only as a function of the needs of the colonizer, i.e. be transformed into a pure colonized'"(MLS 3).
How does Stevens' perform as an ideal colonized subject? Or, as Roland Barthes would put it, how does Stevens become, himself, emptied of history and replaced with some kind of secondary signification?
How is the act of being a colonized subject revealed in specific manifestations in the novel? Through the negation of self through the act of service? Through the self-effacing entry into the discourse of the dominant other, such as in the scenes in which he attempts to banter with his new employer?