THE REMAINS OF THE DAY [Kazuo Ishiguro]: Essay One [‘B+’-grading, 2001/2002]


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Choose two conversations which you think are relevant/significant. Comment on any important features of the dialogue and say:

  • how they add to your understanding of the characters and their relationship
  • how the conversations are significant within the context of the novel

{CONTENTS: Conversation 1 – context and quote; Stevens’ view of father’s generation; Stevens’ analytical nature; Stevens’ respect for father; Analysis of quote; Quote’s novelistic importance; Conversation 2 – context; Stevens Snr’s desire for reassurance; Stevens’ failure to provide reassurance; Stevens Snr: praise for son, self-doubt; Stevens’ unremitting professionalism; Stevens: butler role identification, emotional ignorance}.

One significant conversation is related to us by Stevens, as he analyses a story which made a lasting impression on his father. “Concerning a certain butler who had travelled with his employer to India and served there for many years…”, the particular quote which has significance is:

 “Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernable traces left of the recent occurrence by that time.” [referring to his killing of a tiger with the ‘twelve-bores’][^]

Stevens muses, “My father’s generation was not one accustomed to discussing and analysing in the way ours is… the telling and retelling of this story was as close as my father ever came to reflecting critically on the profession he practised.”[^]

This reflection of Stevens is typical of his character throughout the novel – thinking deeply about everyday matters (things we now consider to be ‘trivial’). Indeed, the verb “analysing”, which he attributes to his generation of butlers, is the perfect description of himself.[^]

The fact that Stevens has remembered this story shows the admiration and respect he holds for his father, as it appears that if a story was meaningful for Stevens Snr, it is meaningful to Stevens himself.[^]

In analysing the actual quote which amused Stevens Snr so much, it is clear that the humour comes from the declaration’s Jack Dee-esque deadpan tone! “Pleased to say…” is surely something of an understatement, and the long-winded, almost tautological, “no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time”, suggests that a mundane mishap has occurred, not the killing of a tiger in the dining room![^]

Within the context of the novel, this quote is important as it defines Stevens Snr’s view of ‘great’ butlership, and shows that Stevens’ unspoken feelings towards his father are love and admiration.[^]

A significant conversation which highlights Stevens’ inability to break free from the butler straitjacket comes as his father is very ill, and, plainly, on his deathbed.[^]

Stevens Snr phrases a question as a declarative by saying, “I hope I’ve been a good father to you.” He clearly wants some reassurance from Stevens that his life has been worthwhile.[^]

However, Stevens avoids the question altogether and breaks the maxim of relevance by responding, “I’m so glad you’re feeling better now” – a blatant topic shift.[^]

Stevens Snr praises his son, and again (repetition) questions his skills as a father, “I’m proud of you. A good son. I hope I’ve been a good father to you…” The final, negative part of this sentence, “I suppose I haven’t”, clearly shows that he’s suffering from self-doubt, and the obvious subtext of this statement is that he wants Stevens to reciprocate his emotions, and give him redemption by saying words to the effect of, “I love you, dad.”[^]

Yet, once again, Stevens chooses to clearly focus his mind on professional matters, saying “I’m afraid we’re extremely busy now, but we can talk again in the morning… I’m so glad you’re feeling better now.”[^]

In the wider context of the novel, this passage shows how strictly Stevens adheres to the role of the butler. He is very short-sighted, in that he cannot see what’s really important in life: family should come before work… his priorities appear to be confused. Stevens Snr eventually passes away without ever having made or established loving contact with his son, which is tragic really.[^]

Copyright 2016-present day Permission to use quotations from this English essay is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to Chris Larham and as authorial and website sources, respectively.

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Forty-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, learning programming languages, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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Posted in A Level English [A2]

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