"The Remains" of the Day by Jaros"aw Michalski

Essay by BasstardA-, June 2003

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In numerous works of literature, one may encounter a protagonist who undertakes actions that eventually prove to be completely wrong thus wasting his or her life, yet does not lose reader's sympathy. Such is the case with Mr Stevens - the main character of The Remains of the Day, the third novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The novel tells the story of a perfect English butler, whose most important aim in life is to retain 'dignity in keeping with his position' by all costs. The costs prove themselves to be extremely high, for Stevens is practically a clinical case of repressed emotions.

In an opening scene of the novel, set in the autumn 1956, the reader encounters Stevens about to begin a motoring trip to the West Country. Encouraged by his new American employer, the new owner of the Darlington Hall, to take a few days off, the elderly butler plans to meet the former housekeeper - Miss Kenton (at present Mrs Benn, for she left to get married several years before the World War II).

He claims to be traveling for solely professional purposes - he wants to persuade Miss Kenton to return to Darlington Hall and accept her former post as a housekeeper - yet it is clear that he has something more on his mind. The real reason to start the journey seems to be the letter from the former housekeeper who is separated from her husband, Mr Benn, after years of rather unhappy marriage. Through a series of reminiscences Stevens plunges in, the reader learns about his complicated relations with Miss Kenton. It becomes quite obvious that the butler and the housekeeper were in love with each other - unfortunately, the feeling was left unrealized. Although Miss Kenton seemed to be aware of her affection...