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Idealistic Thought and the Remains of the Day

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Idealistic Thought and the Remains of the Day The novel, Remains of the Day poses as the memoirs of an elderly British butler, Mr. Stevens, who is taking a motoring journey across England to visit the former housekeeper of his staff. Through the nostalgic reminiscing of this character, the reader slowly comes to realize that Stevens has served in the household of an important aristocrat, Lord Darlington, a figure who played - in the fictional world of the novel - a major role in formulating the British policy of appeasement towards the Nazis. This Darlington, in the post-war period in which the novel is set, was publicly excoriated for these unofficial diplomatic activities, and has recently died. As Stevens travels across the country, he wrestles with the guilt he feels over his own role in helping Darlington undertake his diplomatic activities, and tries to reconcile his portrait of Darlington as benevolent employer with the postwar public vilifications of his character. ...read more.


Expounding on the theme of "dignity," a word Stevens had used to describe excellence in the performance of his job, Smith argues that the word could rightfully be used to explain the importance of a democratic system: "Dignity's something every man and woman in this country can strive for and get" (186). He argues that World War II was fought to preserve this dignity and democratic freedom. Stevens, encouraged by his experiences as a butler at a manor where he witnessed the wisest of political figures debating the "great issues" of the day, believes that Smith is incorrect to argue that ordinary people can successfully engage in politics. In fact, as his recollection of this encounter with Harry Smith progresses, it becomes clear that Stevens's views on this point have been greatly shaped by Lord Darlington, who claims "Democracy is something for a bygone era" (198). ...read more.


As far as I understood, I wasn't taking part in a vendetta against the German race" (73). His actions throughout the novel - seeking to bring together like-minded public and private individuals, conducting diplomacy geared toward the resolution of world conflict through greater understanding and interaction, and even his concern for the poor of the Weimar Republic - reflect the thinking predominant among idealists of the interwar period. Yet, at the same time, Darlington adopts attitudes that clearly do not reflect idealist sentiments. His dismissal of democracy (Ishiguro 1989, 198) and his work promoting "secret diplomacy" as opposed to Wilsonian "covenants openly arrived at" are two such examples. Darlington offers no discourse on what assumptions underlay his theory. The sources of his idealism appear to be threefold: a sense of noblesse oblige, his personal experience in the war, and his relationship with a German friend who dies as a consequence of the worsening economic conditions in Germany. ...read more.

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