Merriam-Webster defines “dignity”
as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed”
( The
protagonist, Mr. Stevens, in The Remains
of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro however has a different definition. Stevens
believes that “dignity” is the “ability not to abandon the professional being
one inhibits. … One must inhabit their professional role to the utmost;
one will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming,
or vexing” (Ishiguro 50). This idea that dignity is equivalent to being
emotionally absent is consistently present in this novel in which readers
follow Stevens road trip to visit an old colleague. The novel is set in England
and takes readers through the 1920s to 1956 in the form of Stevens’
recollections of being a butler while serving his old master, Lord Darlington. On
his trip, consequently faced with several difficult realizations. Ishiguro suggests
through the psychoanalytic lens that remaining emotionally
distant in an emotional world will result in detrimental psychological effects.

This is depicted through Mr. Stevens inability to form intimate relationships,
his inability to adhere to the modernization of society, and his loss of

Due to Stevens desire to embody his definition of “dignity”, his ability
to connect with others on an emotional level is restricted and ends in regret.

This can particularly be noted by his relationships with his father and his old
colleague, Miss Kenton. When Stevens’ father dies, he immediately gets back to
work and supresses his sadness. This can be seen when Lord Darlington asks, “‘Stevens,
are you all right? … you look as though you’re crying.’ Stevens laughs and
takes out a handkerchief quickly wiping his 
face” He then says, “‘I’m very sorry, sir. The strains of a hard day'” (Ishiguro
129-130). Although one would expect Stevens to be distraught, he does not emit
any signs of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression,
and acceptance. By trying to fulfill his job “professionally”, Stevens does not
take the time to mourn his loss. Inevitably, the psychological toll catches up
to him.  Stevens begins to make small
errors in his work which are unusual for his character being that he is a
perfectionist. In addition, Stevens begins to weep on his lonesome almost two
decades after his father’s death because he is regretful that he never got the
chance to see his father in his last waking hours. He feels immense guilt that
he prioritized his job instead of his loved one, a decision that will be sure
to haunt him for the rest of his life. Similarly, Stevens’ relationship with
Miss Kenton remains strictly professional and is a missed opportunity of the
romantic relationship the two could have had. He is so in denial about his
emotions that Stevens displaces his memory of when he stood outside her parlour
and “it was not impossible that Miss Kenton … only a few feet from him, was
actually crying. The thought provoked a strange feeling to rise within him,
causing him to stand there hovering in the corridor for some moments” (Ishiguro
215). This displacement is important because he initially remembers Miss Kenton
crying over the death of a relative, but it is later revealed that she was
upset that Stevens was unable to talk about his feelings. Being invested in his
career causes Stevens to never evaluate his evident love for her. Alike to the
repercussions of his actions with his father, Stevens is remorseful of never
having had expressed his feelings. A key point to also consider is that through
his journey Stevens calls his colleague Miss Kenton despite the fact that she
has been married for over a decade and now goes by Mrs. Benn. This can be
because subconsciously he hopes that, after all these years, he may still have
a chance to be with her. Moreover, Scholar Wai-Chew Sim explicitly sums up in
his literary essay that, “Stevens chooses duty over personal feelings and responsibilities”
and in the end his life, “underscores a sense of waste … that he wrestles
with as he reassesses the choices he made in life” (Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 219, 92). As Sim points out, Stevens makes the conscious
decision to favour his vocation over anything else. When the story comes to a
close, he is faced with the reality that he is only to blame for his
unhappiness. Stevens finally understands the importance of stating his feelings
because he would have never known “at
the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever
irredeemable” (Ishiguro 252). In brief it is
evident, through his sorrowful character near the end of the novel, that
Stevens’ decision to become detached in relationships in order to excel in his
career is ill-advised.

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Another psychologically draining effect of remaining emotionally distant
is Stevens’ inability to adapt his nature in order to modernize. Specifically,
this is seen through the symbolism of the act of banter and the company Giffen
& Co in this novel. Stevens’ emotional distance disables his ability to
banter with his current employer, Mr. Farraday, who is an American. Wanting to fulfill
every need expected of him, he magnifies the effect of his inability, he
thinks, “It is quite possible, then, that my employer fully expects me to
respond to his bantering in a like manner, and considers my failure to do so a
form of negligence. This is, as I say, a matter which has given me much
concern” (Ishiguro 18). Bantering is a new, foreign practice, one
unfitting with traditional English ways. This is a sign of the British
aristocracy crumbling, which is something Stevens is unwilling to accept. Due
to his reluctance, Stevens’ increasingly stays stuck in his past. The fact that
Stevens is unable to adjust to this new form of socialization causes him severe
mental anxiety. He ultimately surmises, at the end of the novel, that he is
unable to “exhibit human warmth” (Ishiguro 233). Additionally, the terminated
silver-polishing company Giffen & Co also represents the advancement in
British society. Stevens thinks back to when the company “undoubtedly had the
finest silver polish available, and it was only the appearance of new chemical
substances on the market shortly before the war that caused demand for this
impressive product to decline” (Ishiguro 162). This is symbolic of the
essential essence the product once held in a distinguished household, however,
overtime it had become obsolete, just like Stevens’ profession. There are other
signs that butlers slowly became outdated: decrease in staff and the abundance
of retired butlers. The realization that he is not needed causes Stevens to
question his purpose: if he is no longer crucial for a house to continue
working, what is he to do? This is answered in the last scene of the novel:
Stevens contemplates his life and decides to make the best of “the remains of his days” because he is tired of
remaining withdrawn. Furthermore, Eli Kurland proves Stevens’ outdated nature
by stating that “Stevens, a relic of the old world, undergoes much social
anxiety about the transforming modern world as he is forced to re-evaluate the
construction of reality he used to make meaning of his life” (Analytical Literary: ‘The Remains of the
Day’ 1). To Stevens
“dignity” is a set list of principles, this includes following traditional
British methods. Seeing the change in his society means that he must redefine
what “dignity” is. This is especially difficult in 1956 England, where people
do not act as “proper” as they once did.  Fundamentally, Stevens nature to be stuck in
the past causes him to be an anachronism in England’s progressive society. He
is inescapably forced to assess his life and recognize that if he cannot adapt
to the new age, he will not survive.

            Lastly, Stevens’ attachment to being “dignified”, once again, causes him
psychological trauma, now in the form of his loss of individuality. This is
especially seen when looking at his relationship with his employer, Lord
Darlington. Although, Stevens does not agree with Darlington’s anti-Semitic
beliefs, he is still extremely loyal. After Darlington asks him to fire all
Jewish staff, Stevens is bewildered, but does not hesitate to obey because as
he sees it “there was nothing to be gained at all in irresponsibly displaying
such personal doubts” (Ishiguro 177).  Whilst
being unattached to others, Stevens holds his master in high esteem because he
believes that Darlington embodies his definition of “dignity”. Stevens mirrors
Darlington and becomes dismissive of his own character. It can be argued that
Stevens does not have a sense of individualism and that he is just an extension
of his master. Without individuality one loses a sense of their moral and
emotional worth. Despite the accusations and proof that Darlington is part of a
Nazi regime, Stevens does not believe that his employer has fascist intentions.

As Molly Hagan denotes in her critical analysis of characters from this novel,
after having blindly followed his lordship, “Stevens realizes that he is clinging
to a bygone era of allegiance to great men” (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, 4th Edition 2033). Not being
unique means that Stevens can be replaced at any time, by any butler. This
causes him to believe that he is not as worthy as he once thought he was. It is
this affiliation with Darlington that causes Stevens to question his purpose
later on in his life. At the end of the novel, Stevens sits outside on a bench
and talks to a man about his life. As Stevens talks a truth is revealed
about his feelings on his life’s purpose, he says “I trusted in his lordship’s
wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something
worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask
oneself – what dignity is there in that?” (Ishiguro, 295-296). Being solely
invested in his career causes Stevens to be extremely regretful: his
relationship with his father and Miss Kenton, the inability to speak for
himself, his two-dimensional character, and more. There are many what ifs in Stevens
life because he continually favours duty over desire. Finally, Stevens comprehends
that in order for him to exemplify what “dignity” is, he cannot remain
emotionally detached. It is his emotions and actions that define his character,
and ultimately whether or not he is dignified. In essence, individuality is
important in order for humans to distinguish themselves from others, and find
motivation and drive to keep living.

Evidentially, through Stevens detachment in personal relationships, his incapability
of advancing societally and mentally, and his lack of distinction Ishiguro
successfully exemplifies the purpose of The
Remains of the Day. The author proposes that there will be an irreversible,
negative psychological impact on one’s mind if they are emotionally absent.

Initially, Stevens’ emotional distance and focus on his career causes him to go
through life never truly connecting with his father or the love of his life,
Miss Kenton, which ends in regret. Furthermore, due to his past, in the present
Stevens cannot put aside his pride to adjust to the new age and accept that his
profession may not be as essential as it once was. Lastly, the realization that
he is a copy of his master causes Stevens to question his decisions and purpose
in life. Stevens’ character represents Sigmund Freud’s ego: he suppresses his
desires and does what he believes is morally right. To Stevens, focusing on his vocation to the utmost is righteous.

After his journey comes to an end, however, Stevens understands that it is
one’s capability to be emotional that allows one to be empathetic and connect
with other human beings. In the wake of a dark world filled with poverty,
hatred, and wars, individuals crave human warmth and affection. This is because
despite any hardship, one can count on their loved one’s unconditional love.

This is true for Stevens at the end of his journey: Stevens wants to be comforted
and is forced to weep to a stranger because he has no one else to go to. When Stevens
father has a stroke and falls down some stairs he constantly goes back to the
scene of the crime to find the cause of his fall, looking “down at the ground
as though he hopes to find some precious jewel he had dropped there”
(Ishiguro 57). This is symbolic of Stevens road trip; on his journey he
constantly refers to his past in hopes of finding the “turning point” that
leads his life astray. Stevens, also, looks at “dignity” as if it is a jewel
that will make him feel whole once he achieves it. In the end, however, he
gathers that the only way humans can fill their emptiness is not through
“dignity”, but by cultivating and maintaining relationships.



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