Welcome to the discussion of our book club title The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m so excited to discuss this with you! This was the first title by Ishiguro that I’ve read. If you didn’t get a chance to read the Introduction post, you can do so by clicking HERE.
We’ll have two separate posts for discussion (which is explained more later in this post). I hope that this will make discussing the book easier in this blog format.
As I already mentioned in the Introduction post, Stevens is a butler who goes on an automobile holiday to the west country of England. During this holiday, we learn what’s presently going on which takes place in the 1950s, as well as Stevens’ past as a butler and various events that occurred in that time which goes all the way back to right before World War II. Stevens also relates his own thoughts, feelings, and impressions about a variety of things; but principally, his thoughts on dignity and his job as a butler are foremost. Therefore, two of the biggest themes in this novel are duty and dignity. Let’s discuss those themes today. And then on Wednesday, I will put up a post for everyone to share their overall thoughts of the book along with any favorite quotes. That post will be kind of the general catch-all post for sharing various thoughts and insights on the book.
Today, let’s consider these two questions as we discuss the themes of dignity and duty:
Question 1 – Throughout the novel, Stevens relates his thoughts on the issue of dignity. These thoughts progress through the novel and we see how his thoughts on dignity change. Did you notice the changes in Stevens’ perspective on what dignity is as you read the book?
Question 2 – Stevens’ job as a butler and how that job is performed is of utmost importance to him and is a key aspect of this novel. How does his view of his role as butler and his perspective of dignity intertwine?
Stevens feels that a great butler has dignity. He spends a lot of time hashing out just exactly what this means…what dignity is, what greatness is. So we see this progression of his thoughts and beliefs as we read the book. Stevens starts out at the beginning of the novel sharing how he was a really good butler. He felt he had every reason to be proud of how he performed his duties. But then as he thinks back on some scenarios, he begins to see that some of what his employer did was regrettable. Yet, he still felt he did what he could do. In his mind, he was just the butler. He thought, what could he have done really? By the time we reach the end of the book, we see this transformation in his thoughts on dignity and his role as a butler culminate to where he finally begins to think that the essence of dignity as a butler really is about taking responsibility of one’s own choices. Towards the end, he makes this comment about what dignity is:
“But I suspect it comes down to not removing one’s clothing in public.” (pg. 210)
I think what he’s trying to say here is don’t cover up who you are in public. Be the real you. In other words, the person you are in public should be the same as the person you are when you’re alone. And isn’t that the essence of authenticity? About being real?
I think that in this whole process Stevens goes through in his thoughts throughout the book, he sees what he once thought slowly being dismantled. So what was meant to be a simple automobile holiday for some time away, turns into a time for introspection of long held beliefs/thoughts.
Here are a just a few quotes relating to the discussion of these themes.
“And let me now posit this: ‘dignity’ has to do crucially with a butler’s ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits….The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost…” (pgs. 42-43)
“It would seem there is a whole dimension to the question ‘what is a “great” butler?’ I have hitherto not properly considered…” (pg. 113)
“A ‘great’ butler can only be, surely, one who can point to his years of service and say that he has applied his talents to serving a great gentleman – and through the latter, to serving humanity.” (pg. 117)
“A butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role, utterly and fully; he cannot be seen casting it aside one moment simply to don it again the next as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume.” (pg. 169)
“’What do you think dignity’s all about?’ The directness of this inquiry did, I admit, take me rather by surprise. ‘It’s rather a hard thing to explain in a few words, sir,’ I said. ‘But I suspect it comes down to not removing one’s clothing in public.’” (pg. 210)
Let’s continue the discussion in the comments. 🙂 But before we do, I want to make a few comments regarding discussion. I think it goes without saying that we want to all have an enjoyable experience discussing books. The reading world is a wonderful place. There is such diversity in thoughts and opinions and that’s what makes it so wonderful! I ask that everyone please be kind and respectful in your comments. 🙂