The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day Study Guide

Remains of the Day, published in 1989 is the third novel by Kazuo Ishiguro after A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World. Remains of the Day has since become a modern classic after it won not only the Man Booker Prize in 1989, but also was turned into an 1993 film by James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, which went on to win a slew of major international awards.

Ishiguro had already developed a penchant for first-person narration, which Remains of the Day epitomizes through its stream-of-conscious writing. Indeed, Remains of the Day seems similar to epistolary novels, comprised of letters, in that it renders clearly the thoughts of a hero with no objective reporting from the outside world to verify or disprove given assumptions. Though Remains of the Day was faithful to this first-person trend in Ishiguro's work, it departed in that it was not based in Japan or involved a Japanese main character.

Historical context is a key aspect of Remains of the Day, and in this case, the novel takes place during the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, major sections of the novel consider Lord Darlington's response to various climaxes of the war - specifically the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt unfairly punished Germany and set out to ruin the country economically. The purpose of this historical context is to suggest that the main character had a front seat to major goings-on during this crisis in international affairs, while also symbolizing the deterioration of 'old Britain.' Most crucially, it is important to note that Stevens' employer - Lord Darlington - seems to be a sympathizer of Hitler, adding more burdens to Stevens as an employee who must cast off his boss' political allegiances. At the same time, the novel's title - The Remains of the Day - serves to highlight the decline of British aristocracy, linked specifically to an act of parliament in the early 20th century which levied large inheritance taxes to break up the manorial estates which had become a major source of accumulated wealth.

Ultimately, Remains of the Day doesn't necessarily reflect Ishiguro casting negative aspersions or nostalgia upon a time in Britain's history when the aristocracy ruled so dominantly. That said, Stevens' deep examination of the aristocracy's place in England suggests that the novel is less a critique of imperialism and more a struggle to evaluate its legacy.