Study Guide

The Remains of the Day Society and Class

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Society and Class

Membership […] remained closer to nine or ten. This, and the fact that the Hayes Society tended to be a rather secretive body, lent it much mystique for a time. (2.30)

The butler profession is a microcosm of society. Just as in the larger society, the butlers also have their elite, the members of the Hayes Society.

[…] I can declare that he was a truly good man at heart, a gentleman through and through, and one I am today proud to have given my best years of service to. (3.105)

Stevens suggests that Lord Darlington is not only a gentleman by birth, but also by virtue of his character. He's a good dude, in other words.

I must say, something about this small encounter put me in very good spirits; the simple kindness I had been thanked for, and the simple kindness I had been offered in return. (3.171)

Stevens's random encounter with a villager on the road impresses him with the kindness of ordinary people. But can this "simple kindness" carry over into politics as well?

[…] we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity. (4.2)

Stevens distinguishes his generation from his father's by stressing how important a gentleman's moral character is.

Butlers of my father's generation, I would say, tended to see the world in terms of a ladder […]. Our generation, I believe it is accurate to say, viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a wheel. (4.4)

Stevens's father's generation saw the world as having a clear hierarchy, with the gentlemen at the top and the ordinary people toward the bottom. Stevens believes his generation views the world as a wheel, where one's value is determined by how close one is to the hub of influence, not by one's social standing. Ooh, Stevens just reinvented the wheel.

"[…] There are many thing you and I are simply not in a position to understand concerning, say, the nature of Jewry. Whereas his lordship, I might venture, is somewhat better placed to judge what is for the best." (6.27)

Cringe—this is not one of Stevens's finer moments. It's an instance when Stevens's trust in Lord Darlington's judgment is seriously misplaced.

"That's what we fought Hitler for, after all. If Hitler had things his way, we'd just be slaves now. The whole world would be a few masters and millions upon millions of slaves. And I don't need to remind anyone here, there's no dignity to be had in being a slave." (6.238)

Mr. Smith, a villager Stevens encounters on his journey, draws a clear line between democratic English society and Hitler's Nazi state. We see here an ordinary man who seems to have a better understanding of politics than Lord Darlington. The word "dignity" ties this quote right back to Stevens's reflections on professionalism. For more, see our discussion of the theme "Principles (Duty, Dignity, Professionalism)."

[…] the likes of you and I will never be in a position to comprehend the great affairs of today's world, and our best course will always be to put our trust in an employer we judge to be wise and honorable. (6.346)

This statement is ironic in a way that Stevens doesn't seem at all conscious of, given everything he has told us about Lord Darlington's flirtation with anti-Semitism. Contrast this attitude with Mr. Smith's in Quote #7.

"[…] Well, I have to say, Stevens, that American chap was quite right. It's a fact of life. Today's world is too foul a place for fine and noble instincts. […]" (7.176)

The American senator was portrayed as an unsympathetic, shifty character earlier in the novel. But here Mr. Cardinal seems to find some truth in his words, as he worries about Lord Darlington's dealings with Herr Ribbentrop, the German ambassador.

The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. (8.84)

Oof. Stevens continues to believe that it's better to respect your employers at all costs, even when your employers are hanging out with Nazis.