The Role of Miss Kenton in the Characterisation of Stevens (in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day)

Term Paper, 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7




1. The explicit characterisation of Stevens through direct statements made by Miss Kenton

2. The relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton and what it reveals regarding the butler's character and emotional life
2.1 The relationshipof Stevens and Miss Kenton during their working together at Darlington Hall
2.2 Their relation after Miss Kenton's departure from Darlington Hall

3. The comparison of the contrary natures of Stevens and Miss Kenton and their function in the characterisation of the butler




Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day [1] revolves around the life of its central figure, a butler named Stevens. While he is going on a trip in his employer's Ford, he recalls the past decades he has spent as the chief butler at the manor house of Darlington Hall.

This retrospection gradually reveals Stevens' peculiar character. Accordingly, The Remains of the Day is a novel about the central figure's character and the change it undergoes in the course of the years. Characterisation plays a very important role in it. The use of diary-like entries for certain stops on Stevens' journey suggest the explicit characterisation of the figure through the first-person narrator[2]. However, the reader is confronted with an unreliable narration that combines homodiegetic and extradiegetic features in regular intervals[3].

Thus the reader cannot fully rely on the statements of the narrator in order to get a picture of his character. What is much more telling is the butler's way of hiding and overlooking things, his not-telling, which characterises him far better and more objectively than his own notion of himself does.

Due to the narrative perspective and Stevens' few relations in life[4] there are not many subsidiary figures who can serve as an additional source describing the butler's traits of character. Nevertheless, there is one figure in the novel which can give information about the former state and change of Stevens' character. This figure is Miss Kenton, who has been the housekeeper at Darlington Hall for many years and who developed a relationship to Stevens that can be called the most emotional he had ever had.

It is the purpose of this paper to analyse her role in the characterisation of Stevens. However, I want to stress that this paper is not supposed to be a full and exhausting characterisation of the figure of the butler. It is rather intended to deal with the different aspects the figure of Miss Kenton contributes to the characterisation and change of character Stevens undergoes in the course of the novel.

This will be done by focussing the following aspects:

1. Miss Kenton's direct statements about Stevens
2. The relationship between Stevens and the housekeeper and what it tells about Stevens' emotional life.
3. The interaction between the two figures. This aspect will briefly deal with their dialogues and will be combined with the comparison of Stevens' and Miss Kenton's highly contrary natures and what they mean with regard to the revelation of Stevens' character traits.

According to these aspects, my analysis will mostly remain on the story-level only. The discourse level might be touched as far as the narrative situation is concerned, since most of the information about Stevens is conveyed through his own narration.

1. The explicit characterisation of Stevens through direct statements made by Miss Kenton

As I already pointed out, few direct statements made by subsidiary figures can be found in Ishiguro's novel, since Steven's consonant first-person narration does not leave much room for any other figures in the book to impart their opinions. Miss Kenton, however, gets close enough to Stevens to criticise him. She is the only figure perceptive enough to realise the butler's blind trust in Lord Darlington's decisions and faces him with harsh words when he - without a second thought - complies with Lord Darlington's wish to dismiss two well-working maids from the staff because of their Jewish origin.

The argument which follows reveals Miss Kenton's criticism of the butler's blind obedience and his own queer notion of it. Stevens dismisses Miss Kenton's objections by simply stating his own definition of obedience:

"I have just this moment explained the situation to you fully. His lordship has made his decision and there is nothing for you and I to debate over. (...) If his lordship wishes these particular contracts to be discontinued, then there is little more to be said. (...) Surely I don't have to remind you that our professional duty is not to our own foibles and sentiments, but to the wishes of our employer." (RD <157>).

Thus Miss Kenton's reproaches, which are brought forward in a direct manner and refer to his irrational and pitiless behaviour, lead to the revelation of Stevens' own concept of a good butler: one that is always loyal to his master without asking any questions. A butler who trusts "in his lordship's wisdom" (RD <256>). This concept is an important part of Stevens' self-definition since "It is only through his master that Stevens can establish his own worth."[5] In Lord Darlington he has - to his mind - found a master of such greatness that he is worth being served without second thought.

About a year later Stevens gets into the embarrassing situation of revoking his former austere opinion of the matter as Lord Darlington himself expresses regret about the incident. Following Stevens' claim that the matter had affected him as well as her, Miss Kenton recalls his "positive(...) cheerful[ness]" (RD <162>) on the day of their argument, but finally believes him. Being asked, why he had not confessed it then, Stevens is "rather at a loss for an answer" (RD <162>). Miss Kenton responds by two inquiries, each starting with "Do you realise (...)?", an important question as far as Stevens' self-definition is concerned. Being too busy with trying to achieve the status of an excellent butler, he tends to forget or even to ignore his own feelings. But the problem is, that he does not even realise it until the end of the novel, until the end of his journey to the west-country.

Miss Kenton criticises him because of his pitiless behaviour towards her, since he knew of her distress concerning the matter:

"(...)You knew how upset I was when the girls were dismissed. Do you realize how much it would have helped me? Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend ?" (RD <162>)

Especially the last sentence is highly perceptive, since Stevens' life seems to be build on an overall-illusion. He is living the life of a man who has always been striving to reach the unobtainable: being a perfect butler. Feelings and rational decisions must fall by the wayside in the world of dignity and emotional restraint Stevens has erected around himself. Miss Kenton has hit the nail on the head, for she has seen through his masquerade, but she does not get any answer from Stevens who simply has not realised yet what illusion he is living in.

Some lines further in the text, when feeling the need of defending his former taciturnity in the matter of the dismissed maids, a simple switch of pronouns gives proof of his uneasiness of admitting his moral objections: Stevens shifts "from (an identifying) 'I' to (an impersonal) 'one'" (Petry <122>). With this, he distances himself from what he is saying, losing his credibility. On the discourse level this means a clear hint at narrative unreliability. (cf. Petry <122>)

Interestingly, the meeting takes place in the twilight of late afternoon, in the summerhouse, a refreshing experience "after many continuous days in the main building" (RD <160>). Darlington Hall itself seems to confine Stevens to his role, as his change throughout his trip to Cornwall shows. (cf. Petry <116f>)

Before the argument Stevens remembers their "often breaking off from [their] respective activities simply to gaze out at the views around" (RD <160>), an activity they both enjoy and share. But after the argument, the calm afternoon has changed into darkness and Miss Kenton - like their relationship - can only be seen "outlined against a pale and empty background" (RD <162f>). A foreboding hint that the shared future lies emptily before them.

A further hint at Stevens' hidden emotions is given during one of the times he and Miss Kenton meet for cocoa in her parlour. When the housekeeper takes to teasing him about his "curious aversion to pretty girls on the staff" (RD <164>), he is again incapable of admitting what the "guilty smile on [his] face" (RD <165>) already makes clear. Instead of admitting that Miss Kenton is right in suggesting that he "fears distraction" (RD <164/165>) from the work that is so essential to him, he keeps on dismissing the housekeeper's talk as nonsense and brings up professional arguments for his objection against pretty members of the staff. This is the only perceptible possibility of securing his role as a serious and conscientious butler without granting that he is "flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself" (RD <165>). He even has to play the amicable conversation down to "a little harmless talk" (RD <165>), although these evenings in Miss Kenton's parlour are characterised by a very intimate atmosphere - as the meeting-place already suggests.

When one of the maids runs off with a footman and Stevens' objections turn out to have been justified, he graciously comforts Miss Kenton, who has to admit that he was "right all along, as ever" (RD <166>). This might seem to be an unusual behaviour on the butler's side, but, viewed in another light, it gets quite clear that Stevens comforts the housekeeper by reassuring that she had done her best, not personally, but professionally. Anyway, he is able to comfort her here, but later on we will see, that he is incapable of giving any comfort in emotional matters - an aspect which perfectly fits into his scheme of himself.

Some of Miss Kenton's statements are made directly, but there is a hidden meaning underneath. Thus, on another of their meetings off-duty, she views Stevens as an "well-contented man (...) at the top of [his] profession" (RD <182>), who is not lacking anything in life. An honest, but trying remark. This is how Stevens might appear to the people surrounding him, but Miss Kenton has somehow pierced his masquerade. The actual function of the question is to lure the butler out of his emotional restraint and make him admit that there is something lacking: i.e. a female partner. But, predictably, Stevens does not get the message and comes up with his theory of a perfect and loyal butler who will just be contented, when his master is.

Small wonder, these words "for some reason displeased" (RD <182>) the housekeeper who, by then, is already in love with Stevens. Small wonder, that it was "not so long afterwards that these meetings (...) came to an end" (RD <182>). But this is only mentioned in one single sentence of Stevens' retrospection, giving evidence that he has not yet realised the obvious connection.

By way of conclusion, Miss Kenton's statements about Stevens serve to show the butler's hiding-shell of emotional restraint and blind, irrational obedience. The figure of Miss Kenton combines a provoking and perceptive interlocutor, who is able to look behind Stevens' mask, with a figure expressing the environment's view of Stevens.

Having already introduced Stevens' emotional restraint I will now elaborate on it further by having a look at the relationship between him and Miss Kenton.

2. The relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton and what it reveals regarding the butler's character and emotional life

Stevens' connection with the housekeeper is a dynamic one. In the course of his memories the reader is introduced to several important turning-points in their relationship. Basically, the relationship can be divided into two categories: While Miss Kenton's character does not change much throughout the novel, Stevens' character is absolutely static in the first part of their relationship (up to Miss Kenton's leaving the house in order to get married).


[1] I will use the following edition: Kazuo Ishiguro. 1989. The Remains of the Day. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as (RD <page>).

[2] cf. Fielitz, Sonja. 2001. Roman: Text & Kontext: Anglistik - Amerikanistik. Berlin: Cornelsen Verlag, pp. 76f.

[3] cf. Cynthia F. Wong. 2000. Kazuo Ishiguro. Horndon: Northcote House Publishers (Writers and their work), p.53. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as (Wong <page>).

[4] cf. Mike Petry. 1999. Narratives of Memory and Identity: the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. Frankfurt/M: Lang (Aachen British and American Studies 12), pp. 97f. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as (Petry <page>).

[5] David Gurewich. 1989. "Upstairs, Downstairs." The New Criterion Vol. 8 No. 4, p. 78.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Role of Miss Kenton in the Characterisation of Stevens (in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day)
RWTH Aachen University  (English Department)
Fictional Histories and (Auto)biographies: Julian Barnes - Kazuo Ishiguro - Graham Swift
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The term paper shows how the character of Miss Kenton in Ishiguro's famous novel "The Remains of the Day" is employed by the author to contribute to the characterisation of the main character, the butler Stevens. The analytic method employed is he method of "close reading".
Role, Miss, Kenton, Characterisation, Stevens, Kazuo, Ishiguro, Remains, Day), Fictional, Histories, Julian, Barnes, Kazuo, Ishiguro, Graham, Swift
Quote paper
M.A. Isabel Blumenroth (Author), 2002, The Role of Miss Kenton in the Characterisation of Stevens (in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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