“The Remains of the Day”
Postcolonialism, discussed from a literary approach, deals with the literature produced in countries that were colonies and by the colonized peoples responding to the colonial legacy by what the British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie called “writing back”, and thus confronting colonial cultural attitudes through literature. However, it may also refer to the literature written in other countries, which takes as its subject-matter the idea or experience of colonialism.
Postcolonialism includes a vast array of writers and subjects. In fact, the very different geographical, historical, social, religious, and economic concerns of the different ex-colonies dictate a wide variety in the nature and subject of most postcolonial writing. We can talk about postcolonialism from different points of view. . This diversity exists because the term postcolonialism is used both as a literal description of formerly colonial societies and as a description of global conditions after a period of colonialism. In this regard, the notion of the “postcolonial” as a literary genre and an academic construct may have meanings that are completely separate from a historical moment or time period.
Postcolonial literature, a category devised to replace and expand upon what was once called Commonwealth Literature, beginning with the 1980s, gived birth to the “postcolonial criticism” which, in a way, overlapped “postmodern criticism”. Postcolonial criticism is one that goes beyond the border of western culture and investigates the non-Western products of culture and traditions.
The postcolonial fiction is characterized by its unity in diversity. Each culture has contributed to the general outcome specific aspects and particular life styles. Thus, we can, for example, speak of certain general topics, or themes, that are common to most of the writings: the effect of the colonial experience, migrations, traumas from childhood caused either by the feeling of inferiority, poverty, or by rejection and the consequent alienation, the relationship society-individual, loneliness and loss of dignity. In most of the post-colonial novels certain aspects that can be discussed: integration or passing, social marginalization, ethnic conflict, interaction between people of different social backgrounds, the relation between the English and American culture.
Postcolonial literature has enriched world literature with outstanding pieces of writing, that can always stand next to the great masterpieces of traditional literature. One of this great pieces of writing is “The Remains of the Day” written by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Kazuo Ishiguro is now one of the most successful contemporary novelists writing in English, not only because of the books themselves, but also because of the films that were made after his novels. “The Remains of the Day “(1989), has been made into a famous film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Kazuo Ishiguro may be regarded as a representative of the post-colonial novel in English, and a representative of the international novel. Of Japanese descent he manages a bitter, ironic analysis of the British society seen from a double perspective: that of an “insider”, (he was only five when his parents brought him to England, hoping that one day they would return to Japan) and an “outsider” by birth. The famous “myth of return” is present here, too, only not with the novelist himself, but with his family. He sounds like a political dissident whose work is a kind of reaction against the British Empire, and his energy, imagination and dynamism seem to spring from this very revolt. It seems, though, that Ishiguro is actually revolted against himself, a revolt that he transposes against the establishment. He, just like most of his characters, is in search of himself, he is not capable of deciding whether he is an English or a Japanese subject, so he oscillates between these two positions, and looks for the correct answer in the personages he creates, each of which is a part of himself, although he will never admit this.
Kazuo Ishiguro is considered an international writer set in-between two culture (Japanese and British) because he has an European education, American attraction, because we wrote novels with a variety of themes and also a typical English novel(“The Remains of the day”) and, last but not least because he has Japanese origin.
The attention paid to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels on publication owes much to the phenomenon of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), as both writers have exploited some aspects of post-colonial fiction, such as the creating through art of imaginary homelands for their exiled and deracinated characters. Just like in Rushdie’s case, Kazuo Ishiguro is trying to create a world in which these characters might feel “at home”. The search for a “home” is one of the basic topics of Ishiguro’s novels which are imbued with a sense of past losses and traumas. Each character has lost something: dignity, in the case of Stevens, honour in the case of Ono from An Artist of the Floating World; child and husband, in the case of Etsuko – A Pale View of Hills so they all have a scar that will never disappear but which they try to heal as well as possible.
The search for home is also one of the most obsessively recurrent themes in the postcolonial literature. Barry Lewis begins his critical study on Kazuo Ishiguro with a definition of “home”. He says”;Home; is a simple noun-with tentacles. Home is many different things to many different people.. It is an origin, a base, a shelter, a returning point. It is a house, a town, a country, an ideology. You are ;home; were we feel comfortable, and it is where you want to be when things go wrong”.
Ishiguro has transcribed his own state of “displacement” to most of his characters, and that of Stevens from The Remains of the Day is definitely a special one. At first sight one might think that Stevens has found his home, that he is happy and secure at Darling Hall. This is not true at all. Darling Hall is not his “home”, it is a place which carries him farther and farther away from himself. He senses the fact that is something false in his life, and keeps looking for his “dignity”, the feeling one may only have when one has a real home, a family to belong to. The author is actually interested in the way in which the characters react to what happens , the way in which they preserve their “dignity” and not in what happens to them. “Home” in the novel loses its simple meaning of walls that usually shelter a family. It comes to mean peace of mind, comfort and dignity.
The Remains of the Day is a book written in the recognizable English tradition. Even the title and the opening lines sound like a classic written a century before: “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days”(Ishiguro). What Stevens is talking about is a journey his master suggested that Stevens should take in his American car after forty years loyally spent at Darlington Hall. The title of the novel can refer to several things: to evening, when a person can reflect on a day’s work, to the last vestiges of Great Britain’s grand houses(Stevens is part of these “remains,” paralleling the other trace remains of Britain’s overseas empire),but also to Stevens future service with Mr. Farraday.
When reading The Remains of the Day one is surprised by its roundness, by its perfect shape, that is, the writer starts at a certain moment in time, goes farther and farther into the past, only to return to the starting point, and he does this with grace and sparseness. Bearing in mind the glory of the past times, The Remains of the Day starts with the end: the end of an epoch, of a time of glory and traditions. It focuses on the period that goes back, and there are frequent hints at the differences between those times and the present. There is a time span of thirty-four years, which means that the chronological order of the events takes us back to the period soon after the First World War, although most of the narrative refers to Stevens’s work at Darlington Hall during and soon after the Second World War. He describes the large, elaborate dinner parties, and the elegant personages who came to these parties or to stay at the Hall.
The novel begins with a “Prologue” which sets the time and place: July 1956, Darlington Hall. Lord Darlington is dead, and now the Hall is the property of Mr Farraday, a wealthy American, obsessed (like all Americans are) by the traditions and the stylish life from the past, but who would now want to turn the property into a lucrative business, that is a theme-park, run with barely enough staff to take care of it, but with a “genuine old-fashioned English butler”. (Ishiguro)
The novel opens with Stevens receiving a letter from Miss Kenton, in which she describes her married life and “hints” (or so it seems to Stevens) at her unhappy marriage. The letter is only the spark that ignites Stevens’s imagination (because, this is what he really wants to believe) that he might turn back the time and start his life afresh from the moment when she left Darlington Hall. Still, he is incapable of admitting even to himself how he really feels, and finds excuses in his professional duty towards the house and his new master: “what I mean to say is that Miss Kenton’s letter set off a certain chain of ideas to do with professional matters here at Darlington Hall, and I would underline that it was a preoccupation with these very same professional matters that led me to consider anew my employer’s kindly meant suggestion.” (Ishiguro) These “professional matters” together with his idea of “responsibility” are the pretence that he always uses when he wishes to hide behind words. So he sets out on his life journey at the end of which he meets Miss Kenton, or rather Mrs. Benn. But even before leaving, his own departure brings back to his mind Miss Kenton’s departure almost twenty years before.
Each of the six days he spends on the road bears the name of one of the places he visits: Salisbury, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, and eventually Weymouth; and these names also represent the subtitles for the six sections that make up the novel. However, there is little he tells us about any of these places, because each stage of the journey takes him back in time to a moment from his own past life at the manor.
One has to read the whole novel in order to understand what The Remains of the Day stands for. It is like in a scientific experiment, in which you work on something for years, and discover what it really means only at the very end. The whole story of The Remains of the Day is a search for self-discovery. Stevens, the English butler, another icon of “Englishness” takes a six-day trip in the country-side, and at its end he discovers who he really is: just another ordinary human being, with his own good and bad sides, a human being who has once had feelings of genuine love for some people (his employer, Miss Kenton, his father) but who has continuously refused to admit it. After his meeting with Miss Kenton, Stevens realizes for the first time that life is worth living, that it is very short, and that he, himself, is slowly approaching its conclusion, so he should do his best to enjoy what is left of it. He has not yet realized that he has been living in the past, in a past that was nothing more than an illusion, pretence. Now, just before this journey of a life time comes to its end, he meets Miss Kenton, probably for the last time in his life; Miss Kenton who seems to be the embodiment of his smothered dreams of love and understanding, the woman whom he secretly loved and cherished, and whom he let go in the name of some false honour and loyalty. It is for “the remains of his life” that he will use the past, in order not to repeat the same mistakes.
Part of Ishiguro’s appeal is his reserved style. He also reveals parts of his plots gradually, so the reader almost feels like a detective uncovering clues. That style could be a product of the manner in which the novelist works. Ishiguro is a slow writer, and the books do not come easily for him. “Every time I’ve got another novel to write I just can’t believe that I ever managed to write the one before. I do desperate things. I make notes. I spend a lot of time thinking. I’d do almost anything to get it going,” he says. “I’m not the kind of writer who can put a sheet of paper into the typewriter and improvise. I have to know more or less the whole structure of the book beforehand.”
Another appealing aspect of Ishiguro’s work is his characters, not many. They tend to come from experiences much different from his. Moreover, he tends to concern himself with older characters in historical contexts, all of whom have done things they regret. Stevens, the main character is truly Englishmen and when we say Englishmen we can think at many things like: reserved, loyal to the extreme, terse and full of dignity. Stevens possesses many qualities that makes him a great person and more , a great butler.
Stevens is a typical example of self-imposed reticence. He thinks it would show him as less than perfect if he ever let his feelings be seen by others. Nothing for him comes before his duty and loyalty to his master. This extreme form of loyalty may not be quite “English”; there must be some sense of the duty taken from the writer’s Japanese ancestry, too.
Stevens behaves as if he belonged to the nobility, speaks like a member of the high society, he even manages to deceive some people, who take him for a gentleman, a confusion which he actually enjoys (let us remember the attention with which he has chosen the clothes exactly for a case like that, how carefully he prepared his departure, maybe feeling that, because of the car he is driving and his own personality he might be taken for what he, deep into his soul has always considered he deserved), and has no wish to correct. In everything he does he wishes to meet the requirements of being a person who resides at Darlington Hall.
One of the main themes of the novel is the fall of the great noble houses, and their purchase by the Americans. These houses are another sign of Englishness, as they attract even nowadays lots of visitors eager to see with their own eyes what the “greatness” of England was about. The matter of “greatness” is an idea Stevens keeps coming back to over and over again only for him it is rather the idea of a “great” butler that is the more important, and only secondly that of a great house, which actually, according to the criteria imposed by the Society for a great butler one prerequisite for a “great” butler, was that he “be attached to a distinguished household” (Ishiguro).
The trip around the country-side gives Stevens the opportunity to reflect again on his favourite topic: what are the qualities a “great” butler must have. Driving around the beautiful landscape he comes to the conclusion that its main characteristic was best defined in one word “greatness”; a greatness that corresponds to the greatness in nature in general, a greatness that can be attributed to such people as those who also possess it, and which then extends to all those who did something for their country. What Stevens is actually thinking of is that he is a great butler, because he meets all the requirements imposed by the Hayes Society, because he has acquired something that only the noblemen possess: that sense of reserve, the knowledge such a person should have, the language required in such a society, and the necessary moral status. He includes himself in the category that comprises his masters’ guests. He considers himself as part of the “great” people of the country, a representative of a generation that noticed that the “great” things were decided on in the private houses in the country-side, and what happened later in public was just the final phase of these happenings: “It is my impression that our generation was the first to recognize something which had passed the notice of all earlier generations: namely that the great decisions of the world are not, in fact, arrived at simply in the public chambers, or else during handful of days given over to an international conference under the full gaze of the public and the press. Rather, debates are conducted, and crucial decisions arrived at, in the privacy and calm of the great houses of this country. What occurs under the public gaze with so much pomp and ceremony is often the conclusion, or mere ratification, of what has taken place over weeks or months within the walls of such houses.” (Ishiguro)
Moreover, Stevens considers it his duty to show Mr Farraday “all that is best about service in England” (Ishiguro) as he thinks that Mr Farraday, being an American is incapable of spotting a shortcoming. However, the Americans are the only ones who still have the financial resources for a house like Darlington hall, and besides, Stevens does not have any reasons to complain about his new master, although for Farraday he is nothing more than “Part of the package” (Ishiguro)
It is at the very end of the novel that Stevens’s opinion of his master changes completely; namely when he comes to understand how important bantering in someone’s life can be; that it means communicating, showing your feelings, and eventually being a human being. So he comes to the conclusion that bantering is part of his duties as a perfect butler, and that he needs to do that more often to please his master: “It occurs to me, furthermore, that bantering is hardly an unreasonable duty for an employer to expect a professional to perform(…) Perhaps, then, when I return to Darlington Hall tomorrow- Mr Farraday will not himself be back for a further week- I will begin practising with renewed effort. I should hope, then, that by the time of my employer’s return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him” (Ishiguro)
As we have already mentioned before, “The Remains of the Day” ends in an optimistic note namely, Stevens, after a serious talk with Miss Kenton and himself, comes to realize that he must stop living the life of others, especially that of his masters: “You see, I trusted I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really- one has to ask oneself- what dignity is there in that?”(Ishiguro) Stevens urges himself to try and change his life, in the sense that he intends to live more for himself, but apparently, he is incapable of doing this, as he will remain for ever a “perfect butler”, willing to please his master, even ready to learn the new “art” of bantering.
Ishiguro’s novel grows out of several traditions within English literature. In some ways it is a kind of novel of manners, reminiscent of a writer like Jane Austen; in other important ways it is an historical novel, weaving personal and world histories in a manner similar to Graham Swift’s Waterland. Along very different lines the novel partakes, if only ironically, in the popular genre of “butler liteterature,” especially popularized by the series of novels about Jeeves the butler, by P. G. Wodehouse. Finally, the novel’s style of narration is reminiscent of the tradition in narrative poetry of the dramatic monologue. That is, the speaking narrating voice in the novel is not only in the first person, but addresses an implied narrater whose “active absence” structures a motivating tension that requires self-explanation and examination, moving the speaking character to some moment of revelation or self-discovery.
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, the character of Stevens the butler presents us with another example of misguided attempts to define strength. Stevens spends his life in the pursuit of greatness, which he defines as “dignity in keeping with his position”. Every day of Stevens’ existence is geared toward the realization of this goal; as a result, he closes himself off to everything on the periphery of this single objective. Stevens’ perception of strength turns out to be a weakness, as he realizes toward the end of the book that in pursuing greatness he has closed himself off from all human warmth.
Regarding historical background, history plays a very subtle role in the structures of Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day. At many levels the novel is very much about the repression and reclamation of history, both global and individual. For the butler, Stevens, the evaluation of his own personal history is inseparable from the evaluation of his master’s role in the important events of global history. One might say that the presence and absence of history rely upon each other within the novel the same way that the individual and the societal rely upon each other within the story’s development. The forces and events of history are powerfully present in the novel, while at the same time being submerged within the unfolding of an individual’s experience with them. The technique of suppressing powerful historical events behind the dramatic representation of an individual’s personal feelings is characteristic of Ishiguro.
“The Remains of the Day” is Kazuo Ishiguro’s third novel and one of his greatest achievements that earned the 1989 Booker Prize, England’s highest literary honor.
Kazuo Ishiguro together with many other great writers of the 1980s like Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, represent through out his extraordinary works Postcolonialism and even more than that.