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Sunday, 16 January 2011





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The noble servant –Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Stevens’ in The Remains of the Day

(Part 3)

Defining the distinctions of ‘distinguished’

On his conceptualization of the theorem of what constitutes a butler to be one that can be viewed as a ‘great butler’, Stevens presents a number of aspects that can be treated as characterising a butler worthy of being thought of as exponential and at the very apex of the profession and thereby a venerable figure who should be thought of as an uppermost role model.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Citing the Hayes Society’s criteria for membership is where Stevens’ deliberations on the matter begin with deep focus at the very start of the chapter titled –Day Two Afternoon, Mortimer’s Pond, Dorset.

The Hayes Society seems to be a guild of sorts, of professional butlers, and sets down certain guidelines to consider where the standing of a butler would be in terms of his professional status.

This association has a certain set of criteria to be met for an applicant to be considered for membership and the primary of them is that ‘the applicant be attached to a distinguished household’ it is this very primary requirement that Stevens questions to embark on his contemplative deliberations to present his views on the matter. His analysis begins with critiquing what might be interpretable by the term ‘distinguished household’.

Analyzing this term which is at the crux of the definitive is what marks a discourse on the part of Stevens to elaborate from a point of personal views and convictions of how values and ideals that are bound with generationally marked perceptions come into play.

Stevens tells the reader that what constitutes the notion of ‘distinguished’ would not be one and the same as with his generation of professional butlers and that of the preceding generation being of course that of his father.

The factors of distinguishing the ‘distinguished’ is presented in relation to how English society views (upward) mobility within the class system. Stevens says that his father’s generation viewed the society as being hierarchical in the very classic sense of the system with the monarchy and the nobility with its peerages forming the apex and then the rest following the line downwards where the primary factor to mark ‘distinction’ was birth and thereby the business class would always rank lower than the peerage holders. Stevens however presents the reader with what seems a far more liberal outlook on the matter where his views include certain ideals that are linked with the belief of social progress being part of the picture.

Serving those who serve progressiveness

“Where our elders might have been concerned with whether or not an employer was titled, or otherwise from the ‘old’ families, we tended to concern ourselves much more with the moral status of an employer. I do not mean by this that we were preoccupied with our employers’ private behaviour. What I mean is that we were ambitious, in a way that would have been usual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity.” With these words it is evident that Stevens views favourably towards progressive movement in society and further states that he believes that he finds a ‘worthier calling’ to serve a gentleman who would have been of humble beginnings and not donned with titles if he was one whose work contributed better to the wellbeing of humanity. This is held by Stevens to be worthier than to serve an employer whose only virtue would be the laurels of high birth and idles his time away in unproductive luxuriating and indulgence and thereby represent the quintessential ‘decadent feudalist’.

Therefore, it is evident that the views of Stevens and what he appears to present as his generation had ideals that clearly mark a sense of nobleness in them when one looks at the ideal that they held as convictions.

By being in the service of such gentlemen whose efforts help the furtherance of humanity’s wellbeing ones such as Stevens believes that they too serve a noble cause and have contributed to the larger picture in some modest way.

Another interesting aspect in the views of Stevens in this line of discussion is how he presents his views on the structures of power dynamics in society. From the hierarchical setup that was perceived by his father’s generation, Stevens says that he comprehends the structure to be more of a wheel with the power holders whose decisions shape the world of tomorrow at the very centre forming a ‘hub’ with the rest forming the outer sphere, and one may presume in concentric placement occupy proximities from the centre. It is with this scenario in mind that Stevens indicates that this over the stringent hierarchy view allows more mobility through progressive developments to those who are in the outer ground to come closer to the centre and indeed in the case of commoners who rose up to be great statesmen become part of the ‘hub.’

Stevens’ outlooks of society as a ‘wheel’

Stevens’ conceptions of the structure of society in the more progressive developments of England through the ‘wheel’ simile has stark resonance of the ‘centre and periphery theory’ that illustrates the systems of capitalist production in the global context. The centre and periphery theory is also an approach to analyze international affairs in the discipline of International Relations especially within the areas of imperialism and colonialism.

It can also be viewed as a theoretical approach in the post-colonial context to assess the levels of independence that a post colonial nation would have (or not). Of course whether or not Ishiguro intended to reflect this theoretical grounding and thereby make a statement of imperialist/colonialist mindsets of England is another matter for debate. The allusion to the centre and periphery theory based on Stevens ‘wheel’ analogy is of course what one may read into the text as a reader.

What is commendable about the character of Stevens in this line of discussion of commentary and analysis is that Stevens is one firmly entrenched in his values and ideals and aspires through his profession to serve a higher cause one in which he sincerely believes as salubrious rather than be preoccupied with how best to make profit of his skills by marketing himself to the best paying employer.

In the chapter titled –“Day Three –Morning Taunton, Somerset” Stevens clearly indicates that he does not believe that to the ideal of his professional skills being for the service of that may which serve a worthier cause, as fanciful.

“There are a certain number of our profession who would have it that it ultimately makes little difference what sort of employer one serves; who believe that the sort of idealism prevalent amongst our generation –namely the notion that we butlers should aspire to serve those gentlemen who further the cause of humanity –is just high-flown talk with no grounding in reality.” And in the course of serving the persons whom the likes of Steven believe to be furthering the cause of humanity’s wellbeing, Stevens displays what is a most noble trait and one hard to come across in employees –loyalty.



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