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"... despite the overwhelming evidence against his own misperceptions, Stevens emerges as a somewhat compassionate character."[Wong, 2000] Do you agree with this assessment of Ishiguro's representation of Stevens?

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Introduction

4th January 2002 "... despite the overwhelming evidence against his own misperceptions, Stevens emerges as a somewhat compassionate character." [Wong, 2000] Do you agree with this assessment of Ishiguro's representation of Stevens? Stevens is riddled with misperceptions about his work, his relationship with Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington. During the course of the novel, the reader is shown - not through what he tells us, but by what he doesn't - the truth behind them, and just how wrong he is. Stevens also realises the reality of his beliefs and his situation, but long after the reader. Despite his mistakes, as he begins to come to terms with the events of the past, there is a glimmer of hope that he will change and become a better person. However, he is still detached and at the end appears to return to his old, self-deceiving ways, escaping the responsibility of his mistakes. One of Steven's misperceptions is the importance of his work. For example, at the beginning of the novel, he is obsessed with the trivial matter of "what is a great butler?" [pg 32]. For Stevens, this is a matter of some importance, and shows he considers butlering to be more than just a job. This point of view is reinforced by the statement: The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost...they wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit [pg 43] His job is a way ...read more.

Middle

For example, when Darlington decides to dismiss the two Jewish maids, Stevens is determined to do so. Even though Miss Kenton tells him "it will be wrong, a sin" [pg 157] Stevens is still unwavering, reminding her: our professional duty is not to our own foibles and sentiments, but to the wishes of our employer. [pg 157] Stevens knows that what he is doing is wrong, what Lord Darlington doing is wrong, but he cannot disobey him. Despite Stevens' loyalty, and his claims that "I am today nothing but proud and grateful to have been given such a privilege" [pg 133], he clearly isn't. He twice rejects any association with Lord Darlington, and although he denies that he is ashamed of his previous employer and claims that he "chose to tell white lies in both instances as the simplest means of avoiding unpleasantness" [pg 132], it does not quite ring true. Stevens is very defensive of Lord Darlington, trying to clear his employer's tarnished name, but even he can't deny the facts. He tries to redeem Darlington by saying he did not have a "close association with...the British Union of Fascists" and that "Lord Darlington came to abhor anti-Semitism" [pg 145], but he cannot disguise the fact that Darlington did have fascist tendencies. Towards the end of the novel, Stevens' defence of Lord Darlington becomes a defence of himself. Because he has aligned himself so closely with Darlington and his morals, Stevens, despite his protestations that "it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account" [pg 211], is in fact deeply ashamed of his actions. ...read more.

Conclusion

Because he is so easily able to forget the part he played in his own unhappiness, as well the other important truths he had discovered, at the close of the novel, Stevens is no longer as compassionate a character as he had been. Throughout the novel, Stevens is not a particularly sympathetic character. To a modern reader, his repression of his emotions, his 'stiff upper lip' and his unquestioning devotion to his master are incomprehensible and alien to us. However, he is simply conforming to what is expected of him. Stevens really was doing his job, and doing it well. Instead of condemning him for his inability to express his feelings for Miss Kenton, we should pity him. The way Stevens tells his story is distorted and the facts are revealed in a roundabout manner. We can tell, from what Stevens is not telling us, that he is ashamed of his behaviour - and ashamed to admit it - before he tells us himself. Because of this, and because of the way he absolves himself of any blame at the end of the novel, it is difficult to see Stevens as he portrays himself - that is as the victim of forces beyond his control. However, the intimacy of the narrative entices the reader to sympathise with Stevens because we are able to see the story from Stevens (albeit biased) point of view. No matter how unpleasant his actions may have been, he still emerges as a compassionate character because of Ishiguro's narrative technique and pity. ...read more.

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