Study Guide

The Remains of the Day Politics (Fascism, Anti-Semitism, Englishness)

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Politics (Fascism, Anti-Semitism, Englishness)

It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term "greatness." (2.29)

For Stevens, Englishness is synonymous with greatness. This greatness is self-evident, he believes, to anyone, "any objective observer," even those who are not English.

Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are as a breed incapable of the emotional restraint which only the English race are capable of […]. In a word, "dignity" is beyond such persons. (2.56)

This is cringe-worthy, given all the associations of racism with Nazism in the novel, as well as the association of the word "dignity" with general human worth. C'mon, Stevens—you're better than this.

It was completely contrary to Lord Darlington's natural tendencies to take such public stances as he came to do and I can say with conviction that his lordship was persuaded to overcome his most retiring side only through a deep sense of moral duty. (3.105)

According to Stevens, Lord Darlington is a typical Englishman: someone who is typically restrained ("retiring"), but might be reluctantly drawn into public life not by passion or emotion, but by a sense of "duty."

" […] It does us great discredit to treat a defeated foe like this. A complete break with the traditions of this country." (3.175)

These words indicate that Lord Darlington was initially motivated to become involved in politics not by any sympathy with Nazism, but by his very English sense of fairness toward the Germans following their defeat in World War I.

He opened by expressing his gratitude to all present that the discussions during the previous two days, "though at times exhilaratingly frank," had been conducted in a spirit of friendship and the desire to see good prevail. (3.342)

This toast expresses Lord Darlington's fondest hopes, but as the events of World War II will bear out, his dream of "friendship" is a hopeless delusion.

Rather, debates are conducted, and crucial decisions arrived at, in the privacy and calm of the great houses of this country. (4.5)

Should politics be conducted simply by the powerful, the "great" men who live in "great" houses? The novel certainly seems to take a critical attitude toward this form of governing.

"[…] And it's one of the privileges of being born English that no matter who you are, no matter if you're rich or poor, you're born free and you're born so that you can express your opinion freely." (6.238)

Mr. Smith, the villager, has a very different notion of Englishness from Stevens—his is emphatically democratic. He thinks that Stevens should have spoken out against working for a kinda sorta maybe Nazi sympathizer.

"[…] For the likes of yourself, it's always been easy to exert your influence. You can count the most powerful in the land as your friends […]. It gets easy for us here to forget our responsibility as citizens […]. This is a democratic country we're living in." (6.263)

Here Mr. Smith criticizes the kind of political elitism we get in Quote #6.

But life being what it is, how can ordinary people truly be expected to have "strong opinions" on all manner of things—as Mr. Harry Smith rather fancifully claims the villagers here do? (6.310)

Stevens's comment is hilarious, given that Lord Darlington is demonstrated to have strong but utterly misguided opinions. He is no better than the ordinary man in this respect.

"I'm very sorry, sir," I said, "but I am unable to be of assistance in this matter." (6.317)

This is Stevens's refrain when one of Lord Darlington's guests asks him for his opinion on economic and political questions. It's taken by the guests as evidence that the ordinary man doesn't have the intelligence to deal with important political issues. Those jerks.