The Remains of the Day, Stevens and Miss Kenton

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The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a story which reveals itself through a recollection of memories of Stevens, the butler, and through the occurrences of present day events as they take place in the novel. The events of the present day life of the butler, remind him of past events which spring to his mind during a motoring tip he is taking.

Interpretations of the novel can be drawn out through attempts at defining it: “The Remains of the Day,” metaphorically refer to a day’s end, the evening, when a person is able to sit down and reflect upon events which have passed. It is also a symbol for older age, when a person can assess what they have achieved, and what has literally remained for them to do or aim for. But, on a heavier note, it can mean that only a wreck or only an undesirable pieces of one’s life remain at the end of it and that one’s life has been torn and all that remain are bits and pieces, i.e. the remains. These interlinked interpretations can be directly linked to Stevens’ life; throughout his motoring trip he is constantly reflecting on his achievements, his view of dignity and his relationships with Lord Darlington, Miss Kenton and his present employer.

Stevens is the protagonist and narrator in this English aristocratic novel. His merciless and relentless pursuit of dignity, leads him to become almost emotionally hollow as he is unable to wholly express or even acknowledge his feelings and as a result, Miss Kenton goes her own way with someone else. This social stiffness in the end leads him to fully and regretfully realize to what extent this characteristic has lead to his loneliness and feeling of loss. He dons a mask of

professional poise at all times, and thus creates a blockade between himself and the outside world. His decorum and loyalty to Lord Darlington prevent him from seeing his true nature and he never, during his years of service, brings into question his absolute trust in and service of him.

Since he is emotionally unavailable, he is unable to express his subdued feelings for Miss Kenton. Stevens is presented as both a paragon of virtue and as a victim of historical and cultural

circumstances which are beyond his control. Nearing the end of the novel, he realizes that he has been harboring strong feelings for her, but has never dared to reveal them. Her possible allusions to coming back to work at Darlington Hall fill him with a hint of hope and give him the concluding motivation to start on his motoring trip. Throughout his years of work at Darlington Hall, due to his unwavering high level of professionalism, he couldn’t and didn’t allow himself to approach Miss

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Kenton in a romantic way, but rather kept his distance, and only allowed himself to become professionally involved.

Miss Kenton worked as the head housekeeper at Darlington Hall. She parallels Stevens in efficiency and intelligent, but unlike Stevens, does not lack warmth and personality without disregarding her professional etiquette. Over the years she gains a fondness for Stevens, which grows into love. But, due to his refusal and inability to reciprocate her feelings, she leaves the house to get married to someone else when it becomes clear that he will never allow himself to express his feelings for her. Miss Kenton, unlike Stevens, does not substitute Lord Darlington’s values for her own; her decisions are based on her own judgments and preferences. Due to this, in the end, she can only regret the fact that her life turned out the way it did due to circumstance and not because of lack of trying, whereas as in Stevens situation, he realizes that because he didn’t realize some potential situations that presented themselves to him, to make his life better, he has regretfully ended up as he has.

Miss Kenton and Stevens’s father came to the house as a result of the departure of the housekeeper and under-butler. Already in the next passage relating to the un-professionalism of finding love at the workplace, we can see that Stevens is highly professional and would never cross professional boundaries in order to find emotional security. He is secure in his knowledge that Miss Kenton regards her post seriously and with great dedication, “…she was nothing less than dedicated and never allowed her professional priorities to be distracted.” Through his description of developing romantic relationships at work, we can clearly see Stevens’ opinion, “…but what I find a major irritation are those persons…who have no genuine commitment to their profession and who are essentially going from post to post looking for romance. This sort of person is a blight on good professionalism.” We can thus judge Stevens’ character as particularly specific in his expectations, not only of himself but also of other employees under his regard in the house. It is clear that

Stevens views Miss Kenton as being highly professional, and so with his description of her professionalism and his admiration for it, we see that he clearly beholds some affection for her. Also, it becomes clear that Stevens holds his own professionalism in high regard and would do nothing to disrupt this level of commitment.

We take notice that there was some kind of affection between these two characters on Stevens’ recollection of Miss Kenton’s letter, and how she described an event that occurred some thirty years

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ago. Her description of how Stevens’ father had been walking back and forth across the lawn whilst looking at the ground, “…as though he had hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there.”, indicates not only a moment where both of them had stood at the windowsill and watched his father walking, but it is a symbolic moment which indicates that both of them, have in fact, lost something through their extreme professionalism and dedication. Stevens had lost himself completely and had become an emotional desert whilst Miss Kenton, even though she battled with herself and her desire, in the end bid her professional career farewell and went off to get married, though not without hesitation. Through Miss Kenton’s observation of Stevens’ father and her calling him to come closer and see for himself, we can clearly see that their mutual affection for this older butler has joined them in some way. But it is the difference in their expression of this

affection which ultimately means that they would never be able to express their feelings to each other.

To express her feelings towards Stevens, Miss Kenton makes several attempts to open Stevens up to her and to find out what emotions he holds for her. One passionate scene in the novel depicts how Miss Kenton, despite Stevens’ almost physical reaction of withdrawal from her closeness, ‘closes in’ on him and persistently demands to know what kind of book he is reading. They are almost in a sort of spell, Miss Kenton would never have dared to approach Stevens in such a manner had she not felt drawn in by him; an urge to discover something about him, as he is so secretive and

impersonal in his attitudes. Stevens, completely freezes, he is at the same time almost aroused and yet scared of this incredible invasion of privacy and personal space. The spell is broken when Miss Kenton discovers that he is holding only, “…a sentimental love story.”, which Stevens rather poorly justifies reading as a way of, “maintain(ing) and develop(ing) one’s command of the English

language.” With this explanation on his part, he clearly shows that even though Miss Kenton made a subtle advance on him, and an attempt to almost force him and corner him into giving up a part of himself, even if it was to reveal what kind of book he was reading, he is unable to emotionally disintegrate himself from his professional standpoints. This leads his pushing away of Miss Kenton and dampening her romantic desire for him.

Stevens, unlike Miss Kenton, is not only emotionally hollow, but he is unable to even bring himself to show some kind of compassion or come to her aid in times of distress. When Miss Kenton’s aunt dies, after he has exited the room, it occurred to him that he had not offered her his condolences. But rather than knocking on her door and offering her comfort, he simply imagines that she is in

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distress and crying. Not only is he unable to make that step, open himself up to her and offer her the affection that he feels, but even afterwards when he sees in the house, instead of making up for his mistake, he simply reprimands her for some work that the maids have missed. This shows that he uses his professional character as a guise to mask his emotional instability and complete

coldness, even though it is naive coldness, towards people he may deeply care about. He says later that, “There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”, which shows that he did care for Miss Kenton, and later while on his motoring trip, sees that through his inadequacies at being an emotionally open man, he not only pushed Miss Kenton away, but blocked himself from letting in or being observant to anyone else’s affections.

On meeting Miss Kenton after so many years, the result is nothing less than tragic. Miss Kenton openly admits that, “…I get to thinking about a life I may have had with you, Mr. Stevens.”, and finally directly admits her fondness for Stevens and that she had had feelings for him. Stevens, on the other hand, is taken aback at these finally said words, but still, he does not respond in an equal manner. He felt like his heart, “…was breaking.”, as he finally realized himself that he had pent-up emotions concerning Miss Kenton. He has no response to her confession and we can see that he is still unable to express himself. Miss Kenton also confesses that she had dealt with the hand that life has given her, but that she still thinks about the life that she could have had, had Stevens responded to her advances. She is sad because she also regrets that she is leading a life that is perhaps less filling; but again, the difference between Stevens and Miss Kent, is that she accepted her

circumstances a long time ago and has fully reviewed her situation and adapted accordingly, whilst Stevens only now realizes the mistakes he made and how they have affected his life. Mistakes, not only concerning Miss Kenton, but his professional attitude and unquestioning loyalty to Lord Darlington, which could even be paralleled with social naivety. His regret is over-whelming when later, whilst sitting on the pier, he realizes all of the missed opportunities in his life. How, due to his social stiffness and professional poise, he was unable to let human emotion in, and to find ways to express his emotions.

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Bibliography:

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro; Faber and Faber, 1990 Edition

Kazuo Ishiguro: Writers and Their Work; Chapter 5: Disclosure and ‘Unconcealment’: The Remains of the Day, Cynthia F. Wong, May 2007, 2nd Edition

Like idealism is to the intellect: an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro, Cynthia F. Wong http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/classic_literature/15961/1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Remains_of_the_Day

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