Any work of literature would stain its reader.
There would always be things that would remain in a reader after closing a book. Often, these are the most beautiful chapters, the cruelest turns of events, the characters’ immortal lines, the undying themes, or the lasting emotions themselves. The brilliance of a literary piece would not let one escape from its lingering art.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day may well be assessed as one brilliant literary piece that presents a deep and heart-rending self-reflection, a sophisticated narrative that touches on the great question of life’s purpose. The greatest impact the novel leaves the reader is the profound character study of its protagonist Stevens to which any person could relate to. The philosophical argument on greatness one reader has against that of Stevens’ creates lasting thoughts, oftentimes insights. As Stevens comes to terms with his life, the reader also comes to certain realizations.
Stevens’ motoring trip is a significant metaphor for a life’s journey. The novel wonderfully presents this metaphor to point out that in this life, each individual has the responsibility to fulfill his/her duties and serve the world in every little way he/she can. Everyone is ought to make contribution for something true and worthy. Each individual however should not be forever jailed in such responsibilities; one also has the right to enjoy life and witness the wonders of the outside world literally and figuratively.
Another aspect that is considered in the assessment of the novel as brilliant is how Ishiguro fits its themes to the crafting of the chapters. The chapters are designed and titled in such a way that the time of the days are indicated, an intelligent intention to have the final chapter bear the title “DAY SIX — EVENING”. As the tale suggests, evening is the best part of the day when one looks back to how one’s day has been and how well one spends it. This insight is outstanding as it can also mean that night signifies another tomorrow. It is never too late for one to right his wrongs and better his ways – another insight that lasts.
How the whole story is narrated is, in addition, laudable. At first, Stevens seems leaving the reader no hint of emotional attachment to anybody in the novel. He also introduces his employer, Lord Darlington as someone very noble. But all these impressions are gradually destroyed; the careful destruction marks an astounding style and technique. “Ishiguro beds these clues in the narrative so cleverly that by the end it’s hard to believe anything Stevens says. Events are always proving him wrong, casting doubt on his original presentations and conspiring against him.” (Jordison, 2010)
In light of this review, contributions of this novel to literature are seen in its embodiment of ideals which role is shaping the reader’s own insights. It holds a legacy as discursive platform for issues of class, ethics and professionalism, and love surrounding artistic representation. It addresses history and memory, two of the universal themes of world literature. Furthermore, the novel, in its own way, diversifies world literature inasmuch as it is written by a Japanese who came to Great Britain and “has used his unique position and fine intellectual abilities to contemplate what it means to be British in the contemporary era” (Groes and Matthews, 2010). Who would think that The Remains of the Day is a work of an Asian with all its phrases for the English people and landscapes? Who would recognize that such western imagination is engendered from a Japanese’ mind? It contributes the idea that world literature transcends boundaries, that is to say, Asian writers do not write only Asian culture, American ones do not write only American, and so forth.
While this story is about the an English butler’s culture and times, it explores a basic point of human nature true to everyone given certain circumstances – the operation of repression.
How then does this operation of repression inform the work?
Stevens is trapped by his position, his idealization of his father and his employer, the circumstances and his character. He loves a woman he cannot pursue because of upholding the dignity he always wants to preserve. These develop his defenses: denial, projection, and fear of intimacy. Since these defenses can never eliminate desires and emotions, pain stays inside. Yet it is human nature to repress desires in pursuit of what one believes is greatness.
This basic point of human nature is best examined through a psychological analysis which holds that literature is fundamentally entwined with the psyche. Stevens’ id would tell him his true feelings for Miss Kenton. On the other hand, his superego would establish stagnating rules that stifle these feelings. Delving deeper into the motives of human behavior identified by human temperament, the novel illustrates the power of choices. These choices ultimately define Stevens’ character as self-contained and virtually apathetic which in effect hinders him from being true to himself and from enjoying life, hence the theme of lost opportunities and regret.
Stevens has chosen to be a servant of his profession besides being one to Lord Darlington. Dignity and greatness have always been the only bases of his decisions. Rooted in such ingrained system of behavior, Stevens deem his personal opinions unimportant. In terms of human relationship, this may not be considered as a logical argument but a personal or ethical one.
This analysis and the reading of The Remains of the Day in general help one view world literature through the microcosm of the real society and issues among people in the novel’s context. The way one understands world literature has a lot to do with the way one does a single novel of this nature and the behaviors, motivations and temperament of its characters.
Reading and understanding this novel entail as well reader’s awareness of subjectivities. In the story, honorability is most understandably subjective. The notion of greatness varies from one person to another. Standing by his commitments and living up to his responsibilities, Stevens makes admirably firm choices. Weighing priorities are relevant. Some would set them considering personal preference and individual perception. In a larger context of the world, many concepts and aspects of human life are subjective.
A single work such as this can be opened towards more pluralistic understandings of literature, its cultures and nations included. What remains in the reader’s mind about this work can be a strong springboard for analyses of other texts of the world of the same nature with the same themes and issues.