Set in post war England The Remains of the Day is a pathos laden journey through a dying mode of life. The ageing Stevens is encouraged to take a road journey by his new American employer; this in itself a sign of the changing times. Stevens takes his employer up on his offer, which, given the inappropriateness (for Stevens) of such an act, enlightens us to the state of his mind. Stevens has persuaded himself that the trip is actually an errand for his employer, as he believes a letter from an old employee at the hall, Miss Kenton, hints at her wish to return to service.

The road trip is a journey into Steven’s past and we begin to understand his world, the attraction between him and Miss Kenton that he would never explicitly realise, as it was incompatible with his sense of ‘dignity’, necessary for a ‘great’ butler. And we realise how this is tied up with his father – in Stevens’ view – a ‘great’ butler, and his death, where Stevens carried on serving at an important dinner for his employer, as this is what dignity required of him. And keeping that dignity meant he had to believe in his employer – even when he appeared to be a Nazi sympathiser and dismissed servants for being Jewish, on the eve of the Second World War. It is only now, with the same errors creeping into his work as crept into his Father’s as he neared his end, that Stevens can bring himself to question his path in life and whether he has in fact kept his dignity and been great.

But the road trip is not wasted and at the end Stevens does achieve greatness through self-awareness, selflessness and the ability to follow his chosen path. What more could any of us do?

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