About wasted opportunities in Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day."

Running in Circles

Seminar Paper, 2009

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Stevens’ restraint

3 Stevens’ exaggerated professionalism

4 Stevens’ view of his father

5 Stevens’ view of Lord Darlington

6 Conclusion

7 List of works cited

1 Introduction

The narration is primarily about wasted opportunities, about a man who is looking back upon his life and wishes he had acted differently. Through his ‘expedition’, Mr Stevens is granted the opportunity to rethink his life, identify the mistakes he made and avoid them in the future. The question is whether he uses this opportunity wisely or if he wastes it. Already in the prologue Mr Stevens admits to have “a reluctance to change too many of the old ways”, and this will be proven to be all-too true (Ishiguro 7). His behaviour and attitude after the journey which could have been a turning point in his life are by and large not altered after his journey.Mr Stevens is not able to change himself in the important areas, namely his restraint, his extreme professionalism, and the attitude towards his father, although he makes some superficial progress regarding Lord Darlington.

2 Stevens’ restraint

One of Mr Stevens’ most striking characteristics is the almost inhuman restraint he has strived for his whole life. This restraint –seen as a virtue by Mr Stevens – is the main reason that he has not had any deeper relationships to other people. In order to be looked at properly, this restraint should be divided into two aspects: On the one hand Stevens’ inability to express feelings towards others, and on the other hand his inability to admit to himself to have feelings at all in certain respects. Quite early it becomes clear that Stevens seems to have lost the ability to show his emotions, for he always prefers to stay neutral. There are various occasions when he tells the reader his thoughts and feelings in every detail, but keeps silent towards others, often resulting in a discrepancy between his actual feelings and what other people think of him. To illustrate this, the scene after Mrs Kenton is informed of her aunt’s death is a representative for many similar situations. When Mr Stevens realises to have missed offering Mrs Kenton his condolences, he is pondering whether he “should go back, knock, and make good [his] omission” (186). Furthermore, he admits to ”have been preoccupied for some hours with the matter of Mrs Kenton’s sorrow, having given particular thought to the question what [he] might best do or say to ease her burden a little” (186, authors annotation). This shows clearly that Stevens is a very sensitive person who cares for the people around him, but also that he is not very self-confident and unsure how to approach other people. However, when he finally manages to speak to Mrs Kenton, he fails to simply offer his condolences. Instead, he speaks to her as if he would not bother at all about her loss and loses himself in criticizing her for her professional negligence. So, his intention was to make her feel better, but because of his inability to put this intention into action, Mrs Kenton felt even worse and may have thought of Mr Stevens as a ignoramus.

The question rises, what Stevens’ behaviour is like after the journey that was supposed to change his life. Apparently, he has not changed much. Stevens ultimately fails to express his feelings towards Mrs Kenton when they meet probably for the last time, and she tells him that she had feelings for him all the time they had been working together. He admits to the reader that “at that moment, [his] heart was breaking”, but keeps silent towards Miss Kenton like he always did (252). She is lost for him anyway, but if Stevens had really changed, he would now understand how important it would be to finally give way to his emotions, so he could feel how liberating this can be. Furthermore, he sees “that her eyes had filled with tears” (252).This shows clearly that Mrs Kenton has still feelings for him, signing that this is his moment to speak up. But again, he does not lose any word about his own feelings. He shows exactly the same discrepancy between his ‘inner life’ and what he shows thereof which he has possessed his whole life. This discrepancy between thinking and acting is also shown in the fact that Stevens addresses Mrs Kenton as Mrs Benn, but in his thoughts he still calls her Mrs Kenton. In addition, in the moment he is sitting on the bench with the stranger and telling him of his life, he is clearly crying. He does not tell the reader directly, but just indirectly through the stranger saying, “here, you want a hankie?” (225). In fact, it is one of only two moments when Stevens somehow shows emotions by crying, an emotion all-too human and understandable in this situation.[1] However, he does not seem to do so voluntarily because he does not tell the reader directly and excuses himself with the long travel, which indicates that he is still not able to express his feelings freely. Furthermore, the stranger is of the same profession as Stevens, and probably it is easier for him to open himself to a ‘colleague’ than to a real stranger. Hence, Stevens has not managed to solve one of his main problems, the one which has prevented him his whole life from building up any deeper relationships to other people.

The less obvious aspect of Stevens’ restrain is his incapability to admit that he has feelings. Since Stevens is so devoted to his profession as a butler, to serve his master seems to have the highest priority for him. Thus, he does not allow himself to have any personal feelings besides these concerning his profession.[2] Yet, even though he does not want to, Stevens gives several clues that he has secret wishes which he does not want to confess to himself. There are various occasions when he says to do things for professional reasons, especially regarding Mrs Kenton, while the reader suspects that there is more behind it. He claims to be only interested in Mrs Kenton’s professional qualities, “with her great affection for this house, with her exemplary professionalism” (13). It is, however, hard to believe that her professional qualities are enough to justify a trip through half of the country. Mr Farraday puts Stevens in “a most embarrassing situation” by alluding that he has a “lady-friend” (17). Stevens feels “the temptation to deny immediately and unambiguously such motivations” (15, author’s emphasis). Exactly because he denies it so firmly he creates the more the impression that there is some truth to Mr Farraday’s allusion, more than Stevens wants to realise. Although the recollection of all his memories throughout his journey should have shown Mr Stevens that he wants to visit Mrs Kenton not only for professional reasons, he remains blind to his feelings. At the point when Stevens and Mrs Kenton finally meet in the hotel, it has become clear that Stevens definitely has feelings for Mrs Kenton, although he always insists on her professional qualities. Furthermore, he gives away more than he wants with his description of Mrs Kenton when he talks to her for the first time since years:

But it was not so much the content of our conversation as the little smiles she gave at the end of utterances, her small ironic inflexions here and there, certain gestures with her shoulders or her hands, which began to recall unmistakably the rhythms and habits of our conversations from all those years ago (Ishiguro 245).


[1] The other occasion is shortly after Stevens father died. Lord Darlington says to Stevens “You look as though you are crying”. Similarly, Stevens excuses himself with “the strains of a hard day” (Ishiguro 110).

[2] It is arguable whether Stevens does not realise to have feelings or whether he knows them but does not admit it to the reader. This has much to do with his unreliability as a narrator. However, it is not possible to find out only from the text.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


About wasted opportunities in Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day."
Running in Circles
University of Tubingen  (English Department)
Introduction to Literature Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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467 KB
Ishiguro, Remains of the day, remains
Quote paper
Gregor Schönfelder (Author), 2009, About wasted opportunities in Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day.", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/203786


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