The Remains of the Day: My Review and Answers To Book Club Discussion Questions

The Remains of the Day“I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?” – Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day.

First and foremost, I would like to say that I did not enjoy this book. It was even painful to have to fill out the discussion questions because there is nothing to say.I ended up watching the movie after the fact just to see if maybe the movie was better than the book. I know, rare, but it can happen.The movie was terrible too.I was hoping for more glances, more shared experiences. Nope. It almost solidifies my belief that this was a bandwagon book. Suddenly, everyone liked it, and therefore so did most readers out there — that if you didn’t like it, maybe you didn’t get the “genius” of it.

Well, many years later, I’m not so directly influenced by the times.

Not a good book.

It was tedious. The tediousness didn’t serve the book either. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which I adore, had an element of tediousness in it. It drove the book. It helped the reader understand the world in which the characters lived in. That is simply not the case in this book. It does not translate.

I would not recommend this book … to anyone.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3
Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

The Remains of the Day = 0.5

This is my review and thoughts on The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
1. What is important about the title?It is referencing not only the end of the day, but the end of a life. What does the end of the day signify? It signifies coming home to loved ones – coming home to the reasons for your work. At the end of the day, Mr. Stevens has no one to go home to. For all of his dignity, loyalty, and service, he does not service himself. He does not have that in his life. At the end of his life, as he reflects, he realizes that he has a great deal missing – namely, someone to love. To make matters worse, he had someone he loved. Someone who knew him, for all of his faults, and still loved him –appreciated him. Someone who wanted him and gave him every opportunity to reciprocate that love.He did not appreciate it, nor did he value it.

He does not have someone to come home to at the end of the day, nor at the end of his life.

2. What are some themes in the story? How do they relate to the plot and characters?

How much do you owe to other people?  This is represented in the hierarchy of the Lord versus servant relationship and the personal relationship between Miss Kenton and Mr. Stevens. It is highlighted by both their initial disdain for other servants who run off and get married. Only late does Miss Kenton change her mind about how much she owes Mr. Stevens.

Who deserves loyalty?

Who deserves sacrifice? Is it ever worth it to give yourself wholly and completely to someone? This can be represented through Miss Kenton. Does Mr. Stevens deserve Miss Kenton? Miss Kenton is willing to forgo much in life for Mr. Stevens. He does not value her.

Lord Darlington certainly was not without serious fault. Loyalty to him was severely questionable.

Does being rich mean you are more deserving of admiration and loyalty? Does being rich and well to do mean you have more insight or forethought? Lord Darlington’s absolute missteps with the oncoming war and his reprehensible decisions regarding Jewish people point to the theme.

3. How does Kazuo Ishiguro reveal character in The Remains of the Day?

Through their interactions with other characters – like most novels.

4. Do you find the characters likable? Are the characters persons you would want to meet?

All of them were extremely unlikeable. Mr. Stevens was pompous. He was oblivious. He was a coward. Miss Kenton was afraid, weak, childish, and unmotivated. Lord Darlington was entitled and that gave way to stupidity and daftness.

5. Why is the novel usually considered a post-war novel?

It highlights the changing of the times in Britain. When Lords and the monarchy had more power. When the people were differing to the richest as being the wisest. After the war, the constructs of society changed. The large houses were broken up and the true politician came into power. It should be noted that when Ribbentrop visited England, he mistakenly put more weight into the King than into the Prime Minister. Not even Ribbentrop himself fully understanding the change in English society.

A main theme of the book is Mr. Stevens misplaced and unquestioning loyalty to Lord Darlington. Just because he was a Lord, he seemed to Mr. Stevens as beyond reproach. However, that was far, far from the case.

6. What is the central/primary purpose of the story?

There are a few main concepts to the book:

Who deserves our loyalty? – Certainly, Lord Darlington did not deserve Mr. Stevens unshakable loyalty. He was anti-semitic, uncaring, and entitled. He shows this time and time again. The main examples of this is Lord Darlington’s dismissal of the Jewish girls, the way Lord Darlington treated Mr. Steven’s Sr., and the unseemly behavior of Lord Darlington to Mr. Stevens in the library.

How much do we owe to those around us? – Miss Kenton in particular has this debate with herself. She looks at the younger women in the household and expects them to give more than they do to their work – stating they could have promising careers if not for marrying so young. However, she reevaluates this as she gets older, realizing she doesn’t want to give everything to an employer who does not appreciate her. She is also conflicted about how much of herself she can give Mr. Stevens — she loves him, but she ultimate decides she needs more. Whether or not she gets it is irrelevant to this point.

How much do we give of ourselves to our employers? – Lord Darlington did not reciprocate the level of loyalty of his employees. This is still the case today. Employers take full advantage of the loyalty given to them by employees. More often than not, employers leave their employees high and dry. We see this when employees get hurt at work, usually due to unfair work conditions imposed by the employer. Walmart is another example.

Are relationships truly reciprocated? – Miss Kenton loved Mr. Stevens, but it was never reciprocated. The question is, did she make the right choice? Probably. Mr. Stevens could never fully commit to her.

What will we regret later on in life? – This is pretty universal. So many people focus on their jobs and miss out on the good stuff in life. Things like kids, family, marriage and travel. It’s only at the end of life, when looking back, do people realize what’s really important – who really matters.

7. Talk about is the social hierarchy to which Stevens is completely loyal—yet which exploits him thoroughly.

This has been touched upon by other questions. The top of the tier takes advantage of those under them without regard to the years or level of service. In some regards, Mr. Stevens feels if he does an exceptional job it will be noted and rewarded with the same loyalty. It is not. I also feel that Mr. Stevens feels that doing any job can have its merits. I believe this, too. I have worked in the operating room. There are housekeepers there just as there are in the novel. There is certainly something to be said about the housekeepers who work in the operating room. They could work anywhere, yet they choose to apply their skills and hard work for the ultimate goal of helping out a patient. That is admirable. It is also completely crucial to the functioning of a well-run operating room. Housekeepers deserve everyone’s respect – including the surgeons. However, it does not, if ever, go that way. Those at the top, as in the book, do not respect those below them, even though they should. That should change in society. It is only right.  

8. What does Stevens care most deeply about? Can you articulate a world view for him?

He believes in service done with dignity. Dignity for him incorporates loyalty. It is dignified to stay loyal. 

9. Would Ms. Kenton ever have been happy with Stevens?

No. I do believe she romanticized their relationship. To me, she read way more into the relationship than was actually there. While she admired him, that does not translate into a relationship. Mr. Stevens was not able to change. To me, this is proven by the end of the story when he seems to be more concerned with his bantering, than Miss. Kenton, or how to fix his life moving forward. That’s why he chooses to obsess over, not his missed chance, but the bantering. 

10. Ms. Kenton never left when she was forced to dismiss the two Jewish maids — is she as culpable as Stevens in this matter?

Yes, absolutely. There have been many discussions about this in regards to WWII. If more people stood up and made a stink about what was going on around them, things might have been different, especially early on. 

11. This novel is famous for its “unreliable narrator,” meaning that Stevens who tells the story colors a great deal in his telling. He seems blind to much that goes on around him, events that we, the readers, see and judge differently than Stevens seems to. Give some examples of Steves’s inability to see things as readers see them. What blinds Steven, or gets in his way of understanding, especially when it comes to Lord Darlington.

He doesn’t see that Miss Kenton has great admiration for him. He doesn’t see the necessity of tending to his father. He doesn’t see the necessity of responding to his father when he compliments him. He doesn’t see the fault with not sticking up for the Jewish maids. He only views things first through the lens of his employer and very little through any lens after that.

12. What happens to Stevens after he leaves Miss Kenton? What does he come to understand, what insights has he gained? Will he change—indeed, is he capable of change?

I don’t think anything has really changed. I still don’t believe he could have given Miss Kenton what she needed, a true companion, lover, and partner. I don’t think he really learned anything. He becomes consumed at the end of the book with his bantering. His first thought is, how do I improve my relationship with my employer, not how do I improve my romantic and interpersonal relationships. 

As for the quote, I think that sums up the book rather well. He holds dignity so very high in his esteem, yet, he doesn’t realize that it’s pretty undignified, almost cowardly and fruitless to live your entire life for an employer.​I’m glad this book is done.

Thank you to Litlovers.com and classiclit.about.com for the use of their study questions. 

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook atmadelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

 

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