Language and Objectification in Remains of the Day

Irene Tung English 27, 1997

Discourse and language contribute significantly to Stevens' self-subjugation in The Remains of the Day. Stevens in many ways appears a representation of the colonial or postcolonial subject. His utilization of upper-class English, for example, exemplifies one form of assimilation and acculturation, since in order to perform his job, he must acquire the language of those he serves. In addition, by obscuring class markers of language, the butler's required use of upper-class English heightens the transparency of service; that is, by using diction, pronunciation, and speech rhythms similar to that of his upper-class employers he creates an illusory appearance of likeness with them, and this illusory appearance prevents his employers from having to confront potentially troubling difference.

His manner of speech leads the townspeople that he meets on his trip to mistake him for a distinguished gentleman. The foreignness of his language suspends him between class lines, unable to interact with those he might consider close to his peers. The transformation of his language makes him a stranger in all lands. In Darlington Hall, he is always on other people's terms, in other people's words. However, the effacement of his humanity can be understood in terms of his relationship with the English language.

Language is an empty tool for people's ideas, as Stevens has become a tool in the service of other people's agendas. The superficiality and performativity that is inherent in language is epitomized in elements such as accent, which ought to be a tool to convey ideas. But in his case, that performativity is the end, not only the means, since in his position, he is a vessel for other people's ideas.

Stevens refers to "good accent and command of language" as superficial characteristics that can be separated from true dignity, which at its core, entails an consistent absence of emotion. Yet his relationship with language is inextricably bound with his inability to emote.

He is at a loss to communicate with Miss Kenton or with his father with the discursive tools that he possesses. His language is not an adequate emotional framework within which to live, and he seeks out other words to live by. Yet he even frames the language of a romance novel into terms that he is accustomed to.

I often tended to choose the sort of volume Miss Kenton had found me reading that evening simply because such works tend to be written in good English, with plenty of elegant dialogue of much practical value to me. . .A weightier book--a scholarly study, while it might have been more generally improving would have tended to be couched in terms likely to be of more limited use in the course of one's normal intercourse with ladies and gentleman. (168)

For Farraday, Steven's value, indeed his monetary value stems from these same characteristics. It stems not necessarily the quality these characteristics since Farraday probably would not be a qualified judge of butlerhood, but rather in the semblance. The characteristics which qualified his so-called dignity, now increase his market worth. He has spent his entire life performing the "real thing", and its worth with Farraday is now nakedly based on his performance of this role.

Bantering, as Stevens calls it, is another mode of language, of discourse. It is a manner of exchange that he is not familiar with and that puts him ill at ease. In submitting himself to another mode of discourse, he is again bending his language for another person's ends.

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