Mr. Stephen’s Dignity Essay, Research Paper
Ishiguru’s The Remains of the Day:
Mr. Stephens’ Dignity?
In reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, one is impressed by the apparent control of emotions Mr Stephens, the butler of Darlington Hall, is able to command. This apparent control can be viewed in a variety of ways. Jack Slay, Jr., in his article “The Remains of the Day” writes that Mr. Stephens has performed the ultimate sacrifice, in maintaining his control (his dignity) as his emotions would naturally wish to lead him otherwise. George Watson discusses the myth of the silent servant in his commentary “The Remains of the Day” and portrays Mr. Stephens as wimpy, one could say. I tend to agree more with Mr. George Watson; I see Mr. Stephens’ inability to come to terms with his emotions and feelings or at least to be able to confront them, and realize they are a viable part of his existence as an important character trait he should work on.
Inexperience can signify ignorance, according to Watson, and he feels that the novel portrays servants in a misguided way: he feels they (the servants in the novel) embody the myth that they are to be always-silent, and all-but-invisible beings (481). I can agree with this viewpoint, as Mr. Stephens demonstrates again and again that he is to merely serve the master of the house, and to wait on his guests with perfunctory and immaculate control and manners, despite his personal viewpoints or thoughts. Mr. Stephens does not allow himself to stray from this set commands. Slay also writes that Mr. Stephens “performs his job with selflessness and a ruthless suppression of emotion” (180).
Mr. Stephens, at one point in the novel, describes dignity as not taking one’s clothes off in public. But I think he means it to be much deeper than that, as expressed in his recollections on his life, when he ruminates on the night of his fathers death, and declares to himself that this was the epitome of his service, a “turning point in my life…as the moment in my career when I truly came of age as a butler” (Ishiguro 70). This sort of repressed emotion to me is not viewed as dignity, but rather as stoicism. It pained me to see that in that last moment, when the senior Mr. Stephens apparantly realized that there was more to life than being a great butler, that the Mr. Stephens junior was to blinded by his emotional walls to learn this as well. (The sins of the father, perhaps…poor fellows) Slay feels this moment establishes Mr. Stephens as the quintessential butler and, more importantly, now heir to his father’s name, as Mr. Stephens says that he considers his father to “indeed be the embodiment of dignity….at the peak of his career” (Ishiguro 34). Yet Watson criticizes Stephens for his thinking that “household duties [are] more important than attending the deathbed of his father” (Watson 481).
Slay concludes that Mr. Stephens sacrifices all to his service, to dignity, to becoming the perfect butler; that Mr. Stephens’ entire existence is founded on his butler’s profession. But, Slay does point out, rather poignantly, that in the end, Mr Stephens does find himself alone, and lonely but unequivocally worthy of his father’s title and name (182). Watson finds that the silence of Mr. Stephens’ emotions and voice is not only false, but rather tragic. I have to agree with Watson; I think Mr. Stephens is a rather tragic almost comic? figure, and I think that for all his talk on dignity and his profession, inside he’s a small boy, afraid to let go and be challenged by allowing someone into his personal life.