The Remains of the Day: Kazuo Ishiguro
Posted by Frank Burns
“It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days”. Words spoken by the protagonist of the novel, Stevens, who has spent most of his life as a butler working for Lord Darlington. A man beset by the compelling desire to be the perfect butler, to be the epitome of discretion in his service to someone who mistakenly dallied with the Nazis during the inter-war years, and to achieve the apex of ‘dignity’ that will distinguish him from average men in his profession.
The expedition down to the west country serves as both a holiday and an opportunity to meet up with Miss Kenton, former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, who had married (unhappily) and left service. The ‘expedition’ becomes, in fact, a journey through his past life, reflecting on the perceived achievements and failures of his life as a butler and, ultimately, on the love he lost (Miss Kenton) blinded by the ‘dignity’ that became the controlling force in his life.
The ‘remains of the day’ of the title is an allusion to what lies at the end of his journey through a life that has been bereft of the warmth of human contact, and has failed to acknowledge any kind of honesty to himself and his own feelings. In the closing pages, having said a final goodbye to Miss Kenton, he sits next to a stranger (another butler now retired) on a park bench, whose wisdom is canny and poignant: “You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day”.
A motto for retirement?