The Remains of the Day
What makes a great butler?
Stevens ponders the question afresh as he travels.
"Dignity," undoubtedly, is his reply. It is the hallmark of every great butler. Still, dignity alone is not a satisfactory answer. Further thought begs the question: What is dignity? Many long hours have been spent before, meditating on the question of dignity, but it presents itself to him again as he drives.
It is his first vacation from Darlington Hall, where he has served faithfully for thirty years. Presumably to document the English countryside he’s so pleased to finally see for himself, he makes the trip with a journal close at hand. No sooner is his journey underway than he finds himself preoccupied with reflections on his career.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and collect his thoughts, Stevens begins to write. Pause between thought is necessary when keeping a journal, in order so the pencil may keep up with the mind. Somewhere in those quiet spaces when the mind is still and fingers busied, new thoughts take the opportunity to arise, presenting angles never considered before. Stevens reiterates ideas apparently long held, as if subconsciously trying to persuade himself of something, or keep himself from thinking deeper on matters already decided. Not quite defensively, he repeats statements which would deny himself as an individual, instead assigning all areas of his life to the jurisdiction of himself as a butler.
Very little is mentioned of the splendid scenery. Instead, we find his journal dominated by reminiscence of the past, and solemn consideration of his present situation. His written thoughts show little emotion; he analyzes past and present with an impersonal sort of impartiality, almost as though he were no person of his own, and solely Lord Darlington’s butler.
But somewhere under what, casually observed, would be read as indifference, an undertone vulnerably human comes through. The lines are calm and collected, strictly professional, but read between them and perhaps there can be found whispers of creeping doubt, and faint echoes of something that might once have been love.
Allowing new thoughts to arise could shed a new light on all he has known. What if he were to see things differently? It might prove things to be something other than he’s believed. A man told Stevens that one cannot have dignity without freedom, and the ability to think and choose for one‘s self. His life was dedicated in it’s entirety to the service of Lord Darlington. Now, since His Lordship’s death, what has Stevens left to show of his own?