Study Guide

The Remains of the Day Repression

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Repression

[…] my pondering over the implications of Miss Kenton's letter finally opened my eyes to the simple truth: that these small errors of recent months have derived from nothing more sinister than a faulty staff plan. (1.9)

We readers can probably see through Stevens's remarks here as easily as Mr. Farraday, his new American employer. The "simple truth" of Stevens's feelings for Miss Kenton eludes him; he thinks it's just a question of a "faulty staff plan." Yeah, right.

[…] what I find a major irritation are those persons—and housekeepers are particularly guilty here—who have no genuine commitment to their profession and who are essentially going from post to post looking for romance. (3.14)

These comments seem a bit sexist: women don't make good employees because they are susceptible to "romance." Ironically Stevens seems to entertain some romantic tendencies of his own.

"Sir David wishes you to know, sir, that ladies and gentlemen differ in several key respects." (3.247)

This is Stevens's very circuitous attempt to initiate the birds-and-the-bees talk with Mr. Cardinal. As a young man engaged to be married, Cardinal probably knows way more about the topic than Stevens does.

"Miss Kenton, please don't think me unduly improper in not ascending to see my father in his deceased condition just at this moment. You see, I know my father would have wished me to carry on just now." (3.395)

Stevens represses not only his attraction to Miss Kenton but also his emotions at the loss of his father. Not surprisingly, he also lists emotional restraint as another quality of a great butler. We have to say, though, we're going to use "that deceased condition" in more sentences. "Whoa, check out that poor deer by the side of the road. It's in a deceased condition."

"[…] Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" (6.50)

Miss Kenton calls out Stevens on his emotional restraint, which, as she points out, is actually a kind of lying or pretense: he is unable to be honest and sincere about his feelings.

"[…] You do not like pretty girls to be on the staff. Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction? Can it be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself?" (6.67)

Miss Kenton has a little fun here with Stevens, who is flustered by her teasing. Stevens might not be able to fully trust himself, but he can definitely fully restrain himself.

Then she was standing before me, and suddenly the atmosphere underwent a peculiar change—almost as though the two of us had been suddenly thrust on to some other plane of being altogether. (6.120)

"Some other plane of being" has to be one of the most euphemistic ways of suggesting sexual tension of all time. Stevens can't bring himself to say words like "sex," "love," or "attraction," no matter how many romance novels he reads (see Quote #8 below). He does say, "thrust," though. Heh, heh. "Thrust."

The book was, true enough, what might be described as a "sentimental romance" […]. There was a simple reason for my having taken to perusing such works; it was an extremely efficient way to maintain and develop one's command of the English language. (6.125)

One could think of a thousand other ways of mastering the English language, right? Perhaps Stevens reads sentimental romances because he likes them, pure and simple. But he would never be able to admit this to himself.

It is a recollection of standing alone in the back corridor before the closed door of Miss Kenton's parlour; I was not actually facing the door, but standing with my person half turned towards it, transfixed by indecision as to whether or not I should knock; for at that moment, as I recall, I had been struck by the conviction that behind that very door, just a few yards from me, Miss Kenton was in fact crying. (7.33)

Why doesn't Stevens open the door? Why is he unable to overcome his emotional restraint in order to comfort Miss Kenton, even in a purely friendly way?

Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed—why should I not admit it?—at that moment, my heart was breaking. (8.52)

Only in the last chapter of the novel can Stevens bring himself to admit his feelings for Miss Kenton.