There are various reasons why Ishiguro’s third novel, The Remains of the Day is so entitled. The main reason is because the book shows us how a Butler, named Stevens, has wasted his life by serving others, when he should have been looking after himself. Stevens is about fifty years old and considers himself to be a very professional person, by which I mean he always acts as he believes the perfect butler would act. This means he constantly uses his stilted ‘butler idiom’, and never shows any outward signs of emotion.
Such signs of emotion would be misplaced in Stevens’ profession as an ideal butler; he would always act in a correct manner, and should not let emotional circumstances get the better of him. The, ‘Remains’ part of the novel’s title, ‘Remains of the Day’, is a metaphor that refers to what is left of Stevens’ life. It also refers to Stevens’ recollections of the past, which can be compared to a rotting corpse, as that is all it is, the remains. The, ‘Day’ part, however refers to the great days at Darlington Hall, when Stevens was at the height of his profession.
During this time in Darlington Hall’s past, Lord Darlington was famous, well-liked and still lived in Darlington Hall, so the word, ‘Day’ in fact pertains to the whole ‘era’. An unnamed retired butler listens to Stevens as he pours out his feelings to him at the end of the novel and brings Stevens back from the edge of despair and instead tells Stevens to enjoy the ‘remains of the day’, which is a reference to the rest of Stevens’ life. The nameless stranger acts as Stevens’ alter-ego and shows Stevens what his life might have been like, if he had not kept striving for professional perfection.
The book is divided into six days (six chapters) and describes how Stevens travels down to the West Country, as he claims, for rest and relaxation, but the true reason he travels down there is that he wants to see Miss Kenton again. Miss Kenton has been Stevens’ long-time love interest, but he has never told her of this fact. His whole excursion, deep into the West Country, takes Stevens back into his past and he also discovers that the locals still recall the significance of what went on in Darlington Hall shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
By the end of this novel, Stevens has to face the fact that he will never marry and have a family of his own. Stevens, for most of his life, has pushed all kinds of feelings and emotions to the far recesses of his mind, and felt safe in the knowledge that by doing so, he somehow has become a ‘better butler’. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality. ” – T. S. Eliot This quotation by T. S. Eliot, for me, epitomises Stevens as a character, as he at least suspects that he has wasted his life, but yet cannot bring himself to face reality.
Stevens compensates for this by elaborating his role, so that he makes himself believe that his life has been worthwhile. Stevens has also lived a life of natural sterility, which I believe has made his world revolve around every aspect of Darlington Hall from the running of it, to its welfare, and nothing else. Not only does this book cover Stevens’ emotional journey that he and Miss Kenton take but also shows the reader of Stevens’ relationship with his father, including how Stevens reacts to his father’s death. Stevens does not appear to have any love for his father, and only ever communicates on a professional level.