Although Stevens has, by his own account, spent his life attempting to embody dignity, he also spends much of the novel pondering what precisely that means. To be a great butler, in Stevens’s terms, is to have dignity, but there is never one single definition of dignity given: instead, Stevens offers a number of examples and anecdotes as he feels his way towards an understanding of how he has structured his own life.
Stevens’s father…(read full theme analysis)
It is difficult to tell where Stevens’s professional commitment to discretion ends, and where the trouble he has with expressing his feelings in a private setting begins. Regardless of their origin, his shyness and social awkwardness become a source of regret as Stevens looks back on his life throughout the novel, and much of his regret has to do with things that went unsaid and events that could have gone otherwise—although how they could…(read full theme analysis)
The Remains of the Day is a deeply personal account of Stevens’s life that is staged alongside the histories of Great Britain and Europe in the years preceding and following World War II. Just as Stevens sometimes recalls his personal memories incorrectly to preserve a narrative to which he is attached, his staunch loyalty to Lord Darlington reveals a disjuncture between Stevens’s own characterization of certain political events and how those events appear to anyone…(read full theme analysis)
Stevens thinks of his identity as a butler as his full, authentic self. But there is also a deeply performative aspect to his role as a servant at Darlington Hall, as well as to the roles of the other employees at the estate. The novel examines how performance and authenticity are not, in fact, always in opposition: indeed, Stevens is an extreme case of the notion that performing a certain self can lead to becoming…(read full theme analysis)