The Remains of the Day follows English butler, Stevens, resident of Darlington Hall where he has worked for thirty-four years. Opening in July 1956, Stevens is in the middle of preparing Darlington Hall for its new owner, the American, Mr Farraday, after its former owner, Lord Darlington’s, recent death. On Farraday’s insistence, Stevens decides to take a road trip. The purpose of the road trip is to visit Darlington Hall’s former housekeeper, Mrs Benn (née Miss Kenton), who, now married, seems unhappy and may be willing to return to her position at Darlington. During his travels, Stevens flashbacks over his time at Darlington Hall. He reminiscences about his former employer, other staff members he drew up friendships with and his working relationship with Miss Kenton, hinting at deeper feelings towards her.
Written as Stevens himself, The Remains of the Day takes on a well-mannered and subtle writing style, perfectly conveying Stevens’ character and fitting his profession as a butler for the upper classes. Ishiguro expertly manages to create a stunted character in Stevens, one that struggles to express emotional needs as he is devoted to a sense of duty. Governed by the example set by his father, Stevens tries to replicate his father’s ethos, sacrificing the development of his own convictions to remain loyal to whoever he serves, not forming a political conscience of his own. He seems to contain great pride in the loyalty he holds towards his profession and although has some conflictions during the book, views any sacrifices made as triumphs in his function as a Butler.
A striking book, it tackles the concept of complete obedience and the reverberating effects that it can have on one’s life. Ishiguro writes clearly and with character in mind, producing an entertaining read which is sure to delight any adult audience.
What do you think Stevens’ true feelings are towards Miss Kenton and vice-versa? Do you think they would have been happy if they had engaged in a romantic affair?
The firing of the two Jewish employees highlights a crucial part of Lord Darlington’s character, why do you think that both Stevens’ and Miss Kenton didn’t strongly oppose this action and what does Stevens willingness to comply suggest about him?
Why do you think Stevens doesn’t declare his love to Miss Kenton at the end of the novel?
Why do you think Stevens strives to be like his father?
What do you think is the main reason for Stevens reflecting on his life at this particular time?
How does Miss Kenton differ from Stevens in how she views her career?
What does Stevens’ decision to practice ‘bantering’ as a means of satisfying his employer say about how he views himself and his job?
Do you think Stevens has any true regrets about the life he has led?
How did you feel when Stevens prioritised fulfilling his duties over attending to his dead father? The-Remains-of-the-Day-Discussion-Questions.pdf
After talking with Mrs Benn, he learns that she had no intention of coming back to work at Darlington and that she is content in her marriage. Mrs Benn does admit that she often wonders whether she would have been happier if she had married Stevens. Stevens realises that it is too late and that he shouldn’t dwell on the past, he sets back for Darlington, wondering what his next chapter in life will be and how to impress his new employer.