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What Does the Concept of Dignity mean to Stevens?

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Introduction

What Does the Concept of Dignity mean to Stevens? Stevens is a unique character whose life evolves solely around his profession and how he can both maintain his dignity and become recognised through his work. The concept of dignity has ruled his entire life and he believes it his duty to remain dignified in all circumstances in order to be classed as a "great butler". His metaphorical journey however reveals that in trying to accomplish this, he has lost the vital element which must be sustained in life, human warmth. Stevens defines dignity as, "Something one can meaningfully strive for throughout one's career", compared to Mr Graham's views that "dignity is something one possesses," which seems more reasonable from the reader's point of view. The critic Richard Locke asks what dignity there is in not making one's own mistakes and refers to the consequent sorrow and remorse that follows, saying "such rueful wisdom much be retrospective." This certainly explains Stevens' unemotional behaviour in his mission to attain dignity because he has since regretted not "making his own mistakes" and living life to the fullest. Instead, he delicately portrays his Father's views, who was "indeed the embodiment of dignity", because he is not able to conceive his own opinions having followed Lord Darlington's orders all his life. Furthermore, Stevens has incorporated the Hayes Society perspectives of dignity and related them to that of his father stating that he had, "Dignity in keeping with his position", again proving that he can not form his own views and has again had to use someone else's. ...read more.

Middle

Dignity means everything to Stevens, it being all he has and hence his profession becomes his life, unable to even call holiday clothes by their true name but instead a "costume." A costume implies a disguise worn to hide the true person underneath thus stating that Stevens is not the person to undertake holidays as it distracts him from his work. Another significant point demonstrating Stevens' unreliability is his relationship with former employer Lord Darlington. Everyone must feel good about themselves in order to remain optimistic in life and Stevens accomplishes this by feeling good about being a good butler working for a good master. Despite dedicating the best years of his life to Lord Darlington, Stevens is then quick to deny any knowledge of his former employer once we hear of his connections with the Nazis in World War Two. At Mortimers Pond significantly halfway through the novel, another butler of a lesser stature than himself attends to his car and he asks if he actually worked for Lord Darlington, to which Stevens replies, "Oh no, I am employed by Mr John Farraday." Stevens is deliberately misleading about his past relationship with Lord Darlington because of his associations with the Nazis, as the truth would have severely damaged his self-esteem. However, the reader is first given a hint of Stevens' unreliability through his deliberate changing of his mind and misinterpretation of events which have occurred. ...read more.

Conclusion

He says, "We must not let sentiment creep into our judgement", but ironically it is his higher regard for dignity which has ensured that he avoids sentiment throughout his entire life, and once again the reader becomes aware of Stevens' outdated response because he is prepared to place dignity above what is right. Furthermore, he ironically says that dignity is "not removing one's clothing in public". Whether he is attempting to banter is left deliberately ambiguous, however what he says is ironic to the reader because he does not remove his clothes in private and maintains his professional persona even in his social life. To remove clothing suggests relaxation and freedom, a characteristic the reader never associates with Stevens because of his overwhelming obsession with dignity which has cost him so much. Stevens views dignity as a key to success, living his whole life by it and striving to remain dignified in every single possible circumstance he is subjected to. In his fixation with dignity, he has ultimately committed the deadly sin of pride and has thus condemned himself to a life of emptiness. He is deliberately aiming to aspire to the stature of his father, Stevens believing that he achieved so much acclaim through his dignified manner. However, at the end of the novel, it is left ambiguous whether he will strive to maintain his dignity or seek to change his ways and become more intimate and emotional with people when he discovers that "bantering is the key to human warmth." BRADFORD GRAMMAR SCHOOL 37137 Candidate Number: 7345 Dominic McGrath L6MJB ...read more.

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