Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Remains of the Day was for me rather enjoyable. The story was straight forward and mostly in order, without naked virgins in the forest. Stevens is an interesting character. He so typically is a British Butler. He fits the stereotype absolutely perfectly. Stiff upper lip, and a certain properness that you imagine all butlers to have. However, with this comes a disconnect with reality sometimes. Im not a very emotional person, but I could not believe the passage regarding his father on deaths doorstep upstairs, and his refusal to tend to him. It was simply unimaginable to even think of such a situation from happening. Stevens seems to be void of the normal emotions that any human would have in such a situation. And while the guest say to him "Stevens are you alright?"(105) Stevens quickly responds with "strains of a hard day"(105) A hard day? His father is upstairs at the moment of death and he says that? It was shocking to say the least.

Regarding his employer, I believe Stevens refuses to acknowledge any thought or judgement of his own in some ways. Clearly the two Jewish girls were let go for bad reasons. Yet Stevens refuses to see this, while Miss Kenton does. Clearly, his old boss "Lord Darlington" hung with some unsavory fellas. Now maybe they were fine at the time, but retrospect, its pretty ugly. I don't think Stevens sees this, and I think he basically shuts down everything behind his "professionalism". Its like the soldiers say when doing something terrible, "I was just following orders". Stevens was just being "dignified". Now, I am not saying I do not like Stevens as a character. I am just picking away at some things.

Stevens relation to Miss Kenton is also a spot that kind of grabbed me a bit. Its obvious there is some sort of connection between the two of them. Stevens, a man who shows nothing, goes on a road trip to find her. Whether for a job interview or not, he did put some effort into this one. And when she reveals what could have been, Stevens even acknowledges it for a brief moment to us, the reader, but quickly maintains his stiff upper lip and conceals his thoughts. It could be argued, that he was doing a favor to Miss Kenton here. Perhaps he was trying to minimize her dwelling on such a thing, and if he to revealed what he truly thought, well obviously this would make it harder for her to deal with. So in a ways, Stevens took the professional approach, when so many "normal" people would have probably failed, myself included. I give him a little credit, not much, but a understanding I guess.

At the very end of the book Stevens does reveal he has simply lived a life for somebody else when he said "I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself - what dignity is there in that?"(243) By always concealing his own emotions, Stevens really missed out on his own life a great deal. Emotions play a huge role in life, without them, we are sort of like the walking dead.

I agree with Chris on many points. First, it did make me uncomfortable to read the part when Stevens' dad ends up dying. It's hard to believe his coldness and lack of emotion, or refusal, rather. I was also continually frustrated with the relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton. It was obvious to the reader that something was there between them, which made it difficult to read that they do not end up together. I also agree that Stevens really missed out on life because of his dedication to what he calls "dinity," but is really just a rejection of emotion. He may claim that living your life for someone else is a noble thing to do, but by the end, as seen in the "mistake" quote, it's obvious he is starting to reconsider that, and is regretting some of the ways he lived his life.
I agree with both Chris and Kate about the whole father thing. I understand that Stevens was "on duty" and was retaining his dignity but the man's father was dying! Even if you don't have an extremely close relationship with the father and he is dying only one floor above you, the least you could do is go be with him in his last moments. It just showed, to me at least, how much this whole butler culture has taken over Stevens's human qualities. This can be seen also, as Chris points out, in Lord Darlington and Stevens's refusal to see the bad in him and of course Miss Kenton, who he obviously cares about but is unable to tell her how he feels. I totally agree with Chris's idea of emotion being a major part of living life and Stevens obviously missed out on a lot because he was unable to show his emotions. It's really just a sad, sad thought which made the ending, for me, a less than happy ending.
As did Chris, I also enjoyed reading The Remains of the Day. It was a laid back novel and a rather quick read. As Chris noted, it was very straightforward and got down to the point. Stevens was an odd character, so odd, that it makes me wonders if MOST butlers carry themselves in the exact same manner as Stevens did. I also noticed that Stevens does seem to be disconnected with reality because his ideals of having having "dignity" in the world of a butler seem to be completely absurd. He seems to be even more so disconnected from humanity, in some ways. Chris noted a most memorable passage, when Stevens father's is dying and he makes as if everything is peaches and cream. Although "the strains of a hard day" can HARDLY be considered to be peaches and cream, undoubtedly, compared to having one's father die and having a hard day, a hard day would be "peaches and cream." On another note, I agree with Chris's comment that without emotion, human beings are as the walking dead is definitely on point. All normal human beings desire to be loved, and to feel loved. Stevens, although he was weird, deep down he desired, if just an inkling of love from somewhere. How do we know this? Because as Chris said, he fesses up to his lifelong mistake of allowing being the best butler that he could be for another man, to get in the way of his own life.
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