The Remains of Thatcher. Is Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day" a metaphorical critique to Thatcher’s nostalgia policy?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1. Object of Investigation and Research Question
1.2. Purpose and Structure

2. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day – Overview

3. Englishness a ‘National Identity’

4. Motifs: Englishness and dignity
4.1. How does Stevens implement an ‘image of Englishness’?
4.2. Stevens’ preoccupation with ‘dignity’

5. The Heritage in The Remains of the Day
5.1. The decline of the nostalgic estate
5.2. Ishiguro and Thatcher – The politics of decline

6. Conclusion

List of Works Cited

Declaration of Academic Integrity

1. Introduction

1.1. Object of Investigation and Research Question

“Margaret Thatcher, who revived the ‘great’ in Great Britain and whose leadership was the gold standard…” (Waterford n.p.).

Margaret Thatcher’s reordering of the duties and responsibilities of the state, the privatization of state-owned industries, and the restrictions in the welfare policy were unique and caused a sensation in the European Community.

In her political agenda, the term ‘British Identity’ was highlighted, especially in relation to her foreign policy campaigns, like the Falkland’s War or her concerns about the European Community.

In his novel The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro establishes a set of typical English stereotypes. Those stereotypes cover a sense of nostalgia, which is, according to Su, “… essential in forming a national identity” (553). The nostalgia in the novel is established around the protagonist Stevens, who is obliged with the terms of dignity and Englishness.

Margaret Thatcher’s call for a return to ‘Victorian values’ is dedicated to such a nostalgia. Her aim was to redefine a national idea of Englishness. This redefinition of the Englishness and the way nostalgia is used in creating an idealized national identity is what Ishiguro worries about. In The Remains of the Day, those values of the past are mirrored through Stevens and Darlington Hall in a degenerative condition, both Stevens’ journey and the estate can be taken as a metaphor of Ishiguro’s worries about Thatcher’s nostalgia policy.

The question that therefore arises is “In how far does Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day function as a metaphorical critique to Thatcher’s nostalgia policy?”

1.2. Purpose and Structure

This paper sets out to analyze Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989) with a particular focus on the novel’s protagonist as a representation of typical English stereotypes.

The following paper is divided into five chapters. After a brief introduction in chapter 1, an introductory overview of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel follows in Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 tries to define the term Englishness as a national identity, based on the research of Pierre Nora, Christine Berberich, and Kathleen Starck, underpinned with examples of the novel.

Chapter 4 comprises a close reading analysis of the two major motifs in The Remains of the Day, illustrated by the butler Stevens.

In the fifth chapter, the author draws a comparison between the decline of Darlington Hall with the decline of the British Empire. Furthermore, he tries to emphasize in how far Thatcher’s policy is offended by Ishiguro’s novel. This chapter mainly relies on the work of John J. Su and Peter Clarke.

Chapter 6 will present a conclusion on the findings from the topics covered in this paper and gives a prospect on further research questions.

2. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day – Overview

The novel centers primarily on a motoring trip that the butler of Darlington Hall, Stevens, who is also the narrator and main protagonist, takes in July 1956. It is written in the form of a travel journal, which covers a period of a six-day excursion to the English West Country. An American, Mr. Farraday, now owns Darlington Hall and is Stevens’ new employer. Mr. Farraday, has to return to the United States for about five weeks, urges him to take this trip and even lends him his Ford, which first takes him to Salisbury, than Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, before ending in Weymouth.

The trigger for this trip is the arrival of Miss Kenton’s letter; she is the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, who left twenty years ago for marriage. Allegedly, Stevens’ intensions are highly professional. He wants to have Miss Kenton’s profession as housekeeper back at Darlington Hall, because, as Stevens explains in the Prologue, Darlington Hall is, compared to its heyday, understaffed. However, through the novel it gets clear that Stevens’ real intention is his love to Miss Kenton, which he never truly accepts.

Stevens’ journey to Miss Kenton, which takes place in the present and is set in an actual geographical space of England near Oxford, is framed by flashbacks that takes him back to the 1920s and 1930s, the glorious times of Darlington Hall. When Stevens sets off his journey, he depicts in some detail the places and houses he visits, but dominating in the novel are Stevens’ memories of the past. Stevens constantly switches between the present and the past through flashbacks. In these flashbacks, he tells the story of his former employer Lord Darlington, whom he portrays as an ideal gentleman. Those flashbacks fuel the ongoing question of the novel about the ideal, ‘who or what is a great butler’, and ‘how dignity serves to achieve this ideal’.

At the end of his trip, Stevens sits on a bench and recalls his meeting with Miss Kenton (she now in fact is called Miss Benn) in another flashback. Both inform each other how their lives went on, since Miss Kenton had left Darlington Hall, for about two hours in the hotel of Weymouth. Afterwards he drives her to the bus stop, Miss Kenton tells Stevens that she sometimes thinks she has made a serious mistake in her life and thinks about a life she might have had with Stevens. Stevens is heart-broken but does not show that to her.

When the flashback is over, Stevens tells an old butler, whom he meets on the pier, that his life was a waste and that he has no dignity at all. Stevens starts to cry, but the retired butler offers hope, encourage him to look forward and to enjoy the remains of his day. After the retired butler leaves, Stevens begins to think about the man’s words. He accepts the past, his past, and realizes the true value of banter, while listen to the people around him, and plans to practice banter so he can surprise Mr. Farraday when he returns from America.

3. Englishness a ‘National Identity’

The term Englishness refers to the national identity of England but although the question ‘what does it mean to be English?’ covered by many authors is not easy to answer. “[Englishness], like any other national identity, is a body of meanings with which people learn to identify … a body of meanings which seems natural and replete with common sense” (Starck 156).

Moreover, if a national identity is defined by a particular ‘body of meanings’ than this identity changes as soon as specific items[1] change. Therefore, a term like Englishness indicates a state of being rather characterized by its “fluidity” and “changeability” (Berberich 75-87). Even though, if these items represent a national identity, Englishness may be best defined by its proper representations.

One of such representations are the images of Englishness, manifests, by means of certain persons or landscapes, mediated through literature. Those images can be linked to Pierre Nora’s concept of lieux de mémoire (ibid.); in this concept, the images are fixed sites of memory of history but always a gateway to the past (Nora 16). Nora thinks about history “… as a construct that shows selective forms of the past.” (ibid.). This leads to the conclusion that if history is a selective form of the past than memory is a selective result and so are the images of Englishness. Compared to Stevens’ narration of his flashbacks, he selects his narrated memories, and this selectiveness is what makes him to an unreliable narrator.

In addition, Kathleen Starck pointed out that “[images of] national identities are not merely invented once, but instead are always reinvented repeatedly” (156). Those in power, to create a sense of belonging to a nation, and a sense of community, repeatedly summon up these selective images. It is important to realize that they also could be abused for political gain and spin (Anderson 7).

Randall Stevenson has pointed out “… a nation’s identity is inevitably entangled with images it has to adopt in presenting itself to the outside world …” (47). This is where Stevens, the butler and main-protagonist of Kazuo Ishiguro’s book The Remains of the Day, steps in. His national identity, and more precise his Englishness, is presented through the image of his profession as a butler. Stevens thinks of himself as a perfect English butler, he believes “… butlers only truly exists in England …” (TROTD 43). However, concerning Nora’s theory of the selection of memory, Stevens’ Englishness can be assessed as unreliable.

4. Motifs: Englishness and dignity

The novel uses several motifs. The two major motifs are the ‘image of Englishness’ and the concept of ‘dignity’. The narrator Stevens himself represents both images and as mentioned above, his relation to these motifs is unreliable so his representations of those motifs must be unreliable as well.

4.1. How does Stevens implement an ‘image of Englishness’?

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is predominantly concerned with quintessential English stereotypes. Typical ‘institutions’ of Englishness, such as the English gentlemen, the typical English butler, and, the most traditional English environment, the country house, are used to create an English setting. As Walter Lippmann points out “… stereotypes are pictures in our head which are generally fed to the public through the media” (213). The novel is constructed around these stereotypical images of England. Ishiguro uses those stereotypes and settings to question the immediate past, presented by Stevens’ flashbacks, and to give authenticity to Stevens’ journey. Interestingly enough, Ishiguro himself does not believe that the England he created in The Remains of The Day ever existed (Vorda 14).

In the novel the first stereotype of England, which occurs to the reader, is the setting of a country house, which is threatened by alien influences of the rich foreigners. This is a dilemma which many families from the landed gentry faced during the 1950s. Because estates could no longer be kept up, rich foreigners, like the fictional Mr. Farraday in The Remains of the Day, bought such estates as vacation homes. The places, which Stevens visits, seem to become more and more stereotypically English as the journey progresses.

A part of Stevens’ identity, which is bound up with Lord Darlington, is being English. Although Stevens was never outside Darlington Hall, he feels that the English countryside reflects the English people at best, with its “calmness” and “sense of restraint” (TROTD 28-9), and that other countries have “inferior” sights compared to England (29). Stevens not only thinks that the English countryside is superior compared to other countries; he also thinks that the English people are superior to foreigners, as he points out in a superior tone in the Prologue “ … American gentleman’s unfamiliarity with what was and what was not commonly done in England” (4). Even though, there is a clear hierarchy within the world of servants and masters, Stevens pretends to be a gentleman while he settles in the guest house near Salisbury. “The landlady … appears to regard me as a rather grand visitor … assuming no doubt that I was some gentleman …” (26). Stevens feels of himself to be on equal terms with a gentleman, and thus he can rate his new employer and other members of his profession.

Stevens transfers the image of a perfect English butler, or as Stevens says the image of a great English butler (29), to the reader. Moreover, Stevens connects the countryside of England, as one of the most used images of Englishness by many authors, to his ‘profession’ of being a butler.

What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint.

It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and

feels no need to shout it. … This whole question is very akin to the question that has caused much debate in our profession over the years: what is a ‘great’ butler (28-9)?

This leads to the conclusion that Stevens sees his profession as typical English. He even goes so far to say “… that butlers only truly exist in England. Other counties, whatever title is actually used, have only manservants” (43). This statement underlines his connection to his national identity of being English and to his identity of being a butler. Steven believes that a butler should “…inhabit his role, utterly fully” (169). He represses his own human identity and becomes a butler to the point of nothing else (Shaffer 67).

4.2. Stevens’ preoccupation with ‘dignity’

“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them” (Aristotle qtd. in McKeon 188).

Stevens seems to be preoccupied with the notion of dignity and being a great butler, because, throughout the novel, he is obsessed in finding a definition of dignity and what a perfect butler may is, in order to clarify his “professional values” (TROTD 35). Because for him those terms are all what his life is about. Therefore, Stevens’ problem is that he identifies himself so completely with his profession that without dignity he would be nothing. Stevens’ analysis of dignity is his attempt to answer the question “what is a great butler?” (31). For an answer to this question, Stevens mentions the “Hayes Society” article in the magazine “A Quarterly for the Gentleman’s Gentleman” that a butler “of only the very first rank” is defined by a “ dignity in keeping with his position.” (31-3). This leads to the question, as Stevens observes, “of what is dignity comprised?” (33).

Stevens’ own opinion is, “…that this dignity was something one possessed or did not by a fluke of nature” (ibid.). So, this can be seen as a biological determinism (Pizer 9), because it can be assumed that Stevens’ father inherited his dignity to Stevens. This assumption can be proved, if you analyze Stevens’ opinion of his father in a more detailed way. Stevens supposes that his “…father was indeed the embodiment of dignity” (TROTD 34); and sees his father, who demonstrates a “… ‘dignity in keeping with his position’ …” (35) when Mr. Charles praised his father or when the drunken gentlemen apologized to his father, as an example of a perfect butler.

Furthermore, Stevens links the concept of dignity with the concept of being a perfect butler, as he explains dignity has to do crucially with a butler’s ability 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; they will not be shaken out by external events … They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstances tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone. It is … a matter of dignity (42-3).


[1] traditions, culture, language and icons

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Remains of Thatcher. Is Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day" a metaphorical critique to Thatcher’s nostalgia policy?
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien, Abt. Anglistik)
British Heritage in Literature and Film
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ISBN (Book)
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Thatcher, Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day, Britishness, Heritage, Englishness, Nostalgia, Was vom Tage übrig blieb, National identity, Identity, political identity, victorianism, victorian values, stereotypes, Pierre Nora, Kathleen Starck, Lord Darlington, Dignity, counrty house estate, butler, Literaturwissenschaft, Literature
Quote paper
Sven Uhle (Author), 2016, The Remains of Thatcher. Is Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day" a metaphorical critique to Thatcher’s nostalgia policy?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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