Study Guide

The Remains of the Day Guilt and Blame

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Guilt and Blame

And when today one hears talk about his lordship, when one hears the sort of foolish speculations concerning his motives […] I for one will never doubt that a desire to see "justice in this world" lay at the heart of all his actions. (3.180)

Stevens takes on the question of Lord Darlington's guilt here. Was he in fact a Nazi, or were his intentions good? Was he simply misguided, tricked into supporting the German cause?

[…] it may be that you are under the impression I am somehow embarrassed or ashamed of my association with his lordship […] I have chosen to tell white lies in both instances as the simplest means of avoiding unpleasantness. (4.66)

Despite his protests that he is proud of his service to Lord Darlington, Stevens pretends that he never worked for him. Somehow, his excuses ring a little false.

In looking back over my career thus far, my chief satisfaction derives from what I achieved during those years, and I am today nothing but proud and grateful to have been given such a privilege. (4.66)

Stevens rejects the possibility that he may be guilty by association with Darlington. As an employee, Stevens does not feel responsible for his employer's actions.

It is, however, rather irksome to have to hear people talking today as though they were never for a moment taken in by Herr Ribbentrop—as though Lord Darlington was alone in believing Herr Ribbentrop an honourable gentleman and developing a working relationship with him. (5.20)

Stevens remarks here on how many others have conveniently forgotten their own support for the German cause before World War II.

"I am telling you, Mr. Stevens, if you dismiss my girls tomorrow, it will be wrong, a sin as any sin ever was one, and I will not continue to work in such a house." (6.26)

Miss Kenton denounces Lord Darlington's decision to fire the Jewish maids. However, see Quote #6.

"It was cowardice, Mr. Stevens […]. Whenever I thought of leaving, I just saw myself going out there and finding nobody who knew or cared about me." (6.43)

Although she threatened to leave over the Jewish maids' dismissal, Miss Kenton recognizes that, out of cowardice, she was unable to. Also, she might have stayed because she had the hots for Mr. Stevens.

It is hardly my fault if his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste—and it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account. (6.346)

Again, Stevens rejects the possibility that he is guilty for his employer's faults. But is he really so blameless? And does he believe his own excuses? (See Quote #9 below.)

"But I suppose you wouldn't, Stevens, because you're not curious. You just let all this go on before you and you never think to look at it for what it is." (7.172)

Mr. Cardinal challenges Stevens here: just because Stevens turned a blind eye on Lord Darlington's activities does not mean he is innocent. Stevens, according to Mr. Cardinal, is guilty of another failing: of refusing to do anything about an injustice.

"[…] You see, I trusted. 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?"

At this point, Stevens reevaluates his position and seems to have taken Mr. Cardinal's words to heart (see Quote #8).

After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? (8.84)

By this point, toward the end of the novel, Stevens feels pretty awful about his past with Lord Darlington and his behavior toward Miss Kenton. The question now seems to be whether it is possible to move on and, if so, how.