Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is like a long song to that Latin phrase: carpe diem. Seize the mother-fucking-day! Pardon my French. Or, you’ll end up like Stevens. At the closing of his life, he’s a very accomplished and professional English butler that gave three decades of service at Darlington. But, he’s (hella) emotionally constipated, lonely, and probably really needs to get laid.
Stevens is taking a country drive through Great Britain to visit an former coworker, Miss Kenton, now Mrs. Benn. And, yes, you guessed it! She’s Steven’s would-have-been beau. This reads like a Jane Austen novel, very British and constrained narrative tone. Books always make me feel emotions deeply, and this was really angsty. I had a constant nagging feeling because this novel easily highlights how some people seem to really live, live in the moment, era, zeitgeist – live and participate in public life – while others only seem to exist in the shadows, the backdrop, hidden behind key figures.
“What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint” (28-29).
As a Mexican-American, I found this British take on the themes of professionalism, dignity, and strained father-son relationships very interesting. Stevens has a fixation on having given the best of himself to Lord Darlington and doubts about Lord Darlington’s potential anti-semitism shakes him to the core. Reminiscing about it all troubles him so much he takes the first vacation in forever!
A not-so-obvious theme of this story is regret. The regret that people can’t even acknowledge to themselves fully without breaking their own heart. Stevens can’t seem to bring himself to fully regret not having told Miss Kenton the truth about his feelings and, when they finally see each other again, its way too late. She’s moved on. He can’t even bring himself to think that even speaking his truth and being rejected would have been better. Pay attention children of the corn! Ishiguro’s got all the romantic secrets.
“In looking back over my career thus far, my chief satisfaction derives from what I achieved during those years, and I am today nothing but proud and grateful to have been given such privilege” (126).
This story also made me feel kind-of bitter. Stevens has amazing work benefits. Ah, those were the days, when you could give your life to a position, work, employer, etc. and you would be covered! What a dream long gone for some. You know what is a dream though? Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins! If you don’t like to read much, the film is basically a play-by-play of the book. So, it’s an amazingly accurate adaptation. In the end, I was left thinking that many people seem to think that love comes with a set of expectations, that if you love certain actions must follow, a certain life. Stevens’ life story shows that you can love and choose to not follow the era’s romantic expectations. In other words, you’re not an alien if you choose to not be a part of a couple or if you choose to be a life-long single person. Be sure to read and/or watch the film!
“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that 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. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?” (244).
Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. New York New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Distributed by Random House, 1989. Print.
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