Stevens' Self Revelation
"The Remains of the Day" is a superb study of a man and his quest to find himself. Stevens, a first-class butler, undertakes a journey through the English countryside to discover truths about his former employer and events that took place under the roof of Darlington Hall. Gradually, we see the transformation of Stevens from a man whose only credo was serving "a great gentleman", to a being, fully conscious of the past and the lack of essence in it. As each day of the journey progresses, Stevens reveals new layers of his restrained emotions and we begin to understand complexity of his emotional life.
After Stevens' previous employer dies, the house is purchased by an American gentleman Mr. Farraday, who encourages Stevens to go on a trip through the English countryside. Stevens gladly excepts the offer since he wants to contact Miss Kenton in order to re-employ her at Darlington hall. On the first day of journey we see Stevens leave Darlington Hall empty "for probably the first time since the day it was built". After a a lengthy ride Stevens visits a hill, nearby Salisbury, that offers a breathtaking view and he begins to "adopt a frame of mind appropriate for the journey before" him. For the first time he begins to question himself: "What is a great butler?" and arrives to a decision that the only word describing this profession is "dignity".
"The great butlers are great by virtue if their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit. (43)" Stevens has, by the definition, been "a great butler". On the cover he is emotionless and performs every task perfectly. While retaining the appearance of control, this "professionalism" destroys his ability to have a normal emotional life. He keeps "playing" the role of butler and tries to reach perfection within his field, yet suffers tremendously with the lack of affection.
On the second day of the journey, Stevens starts recalling events that took place during his time serving lord Darlington. In 1922, Miss Kenton and Stevens' father come to Darlington to replace a runaway housekeeper and an under-butler. Almost immediately there is an escalating tension underlying the relationship between Miss Kenton and Stevens.
"Miss Kenton, you are merely making yourself look foolish. I am sorry, Mr. Stevens, but I must go on. I believe there are many duties your father should be relieved of. (59)"
Since, Miss Kenton is a very attractive and intelligent woman, Stevens is afraid of being emotionally involved. Such sort of entanglement would destroy his professional appearance and "dignity". His internal fight is quite obvious, but he does restrain himself from making any advances on Miss Kenton.
After falling down with a tray, Steven's father is relived of his duties as an under-butler due to an upcoming conference in Darlington hall. During this event we see how far Stevens can stretch the word "professionalism". While the conference is progressing, Steven's father suffers a sever stroke and eventually dies. Yet, Stevens doesn't ask to be relieved of his duties and carries on.
"Miss Kenton, please don't think of me unduly improper in not ascending to see my father in his deceased condition just at this moment. You see, I know my father would have wished me to carry on. (106)"
This is clearly a case of not knowing when to put the "mask" down. Two personalities, one of a man and one of a butler are at struggle. Would anyone choose to rather care for the feet of a tired politician than to close the eyes of their dying father? Steven chooses to rather continue with his duties and is proud of this choice.
"That night constituted a turning point in my professional development, I am speaking very much in terms of my own more humble standards. . . . if I go so far as to suggest that I did perhaps display, in the face of everything, at least in some modest degree a `dignity` . . . for all its sad associations, whenever I recall that evening today, I find to do so with a large sense of triumph. (110)" It seems that Stevens is frightened by his own words. Does that sort of unnatural restraining mean dignity? Do you have to go through some experience as such to become a great butler? Stevens believes that his father would have been proud of the way he acted in this situation. Maybe Mr. Stevens Senior, the butler, not Mr. Stevens, the father and a human being.
At the evening of the same day Stevens progresses to think about the moral stature of his employer Mr. Darlington. Although, Mr. Darlington is attacked for being a Nazi sympathizer he holds him as a gentleman who means well in all the situations. On the other hand, Stevens refuses to acknowledge that he has served him or even known him at several occasions. "Stevens, what was lord Darlington like? Presumably you must have worked for him. I didn't, madam, no. (123)" Stevens informs us that this sort of a lie is only said not to hear any more nonsense about the lordship. However, Stevens very well knows that what is said about lord Darlington is true and is afraid to admit it. He is hiding away from the truth and is ashamed of what Darlington Hall stood for during the years of war.
During the third day's visit to a small town tavern, Stevens goes as far as concealing his true identity and poses as a lord. "For than I said: In fact, I tend to concern myself with international affairs more than domestic ones. (187)" The crisis within Stevens is obvious. He feels that his life has not been filled with much of importance and that just serving a great gentleman doesn't mean being one. Stevens desires to cross the gap between the working class and aristocracy and become more than he is at the moment. He manages to fool some of his companions at the pub but local doctor can place him instantaneously. Steven's knows what his realm is: "providing the best possible service to those great gentlemen in whose hands the destiny of civilization truly lies" but of course wishes for more.
During the last day of traveling, Stevens finally comes to terms with his service in Darlington Hall. He recognizes the true value of lord Darlington's persona. "Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. . . . He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say at least that. (243)" Stevens lastly sees that all his life he has been taking orders and didn't even have a chance to make his own mistakes. He starts apprehending the fact that he misjudged Lord Darlington and failed to use his own wisdom, but realizes that there is no point in returning back to an era that has ended. "I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. (243)" Stevens lets go of most of his tensions and decides not to blame himself anymore. He sees that his place is set, but there is a way to remain professional attitude while enjoying life. Be loyal to those who you serve, but remain a human not a puppet.
On this short journey, Stevens is able to successfully search for his identity. The final choice to engage in bantering as a way to human warmth might seem a little bit rigid, but it is clearly a step in the positive direction. Stevens, gradually transforms from a perfect butler to an imperfect human being. However, it is exactly the imperfection that makes him human.