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The Remains of the Day: Seeing and Blindness (Light and Darkness)

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Lucinda Pain

on 4 October 2011

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Transcript of The Remains of the Day: Seeing and Blindness (Light and Darkness)

The Remains of the Day: Seeing and Blindness (Light and Darkness) The theme of sight, seeing and light and darkness is a key idea that occurs all the way through the novel.
Light and darkness is used to show either contentedness and contemplation or anger and frustration; whenever the image of light is used, the situation is calm and/or Stevens is seemingly contented or Stevens is reminiscing; for example when he is by the lake the image of light is used is almost every paragraph.
But, when the image of darkness is used, Stevens or someone else is angry and the situation is frustrating for him, for example when he is arguing with Miss Kenton in the dark corridor, Stevens describes it as being, "so dark that the effect was like walking through a tunnel."
Occasionally, light and darkness are used together, which possibly indicates Stevens' confusion, when Stevens and Miss Kenton are watching his father walking up and down the steps in the garden, Stevens describes how "the shadows of the poplar trees had fallen across much of the lawn, but the sun was still lighting up the far corner." this is the scene where instead of talking about his own feelings towards the situation, Stevens tries to guess how Miss Kenton would be feeling, as though he is confused. This links with the theme of sight and blindness; how it is interoperated and Stevens' blindness to his emotions and those of others and his ignorance to the outside world. When first embarking on his "Motoring trip" Stevens stops to admire the scenery. He makes it clear that he only assumes that he is correct in guessing what he sees "I thought I could see the square tower of a church." he perhaps thinks he sees a church etc because he probably has never really seen one. He compares his trip and when he starts to see unrecognisable surroundings to "setting sail in a ship, when one finally loses sight of the land." Ishiguro uses this theme particularly to highlight Steven's ignorance to his and other people's emotions and the outside world. We as readers are put under the impression that Stevens is quite blind to his own feeling and those of others. At some points, light and darkness are used together to create juxtaposition with seeing and blindness to represent Stevens' confusion, particularly with emotions. When Stevens' is remembering the time when he denied ever working for Lord Darlington, the image of light and darkness and sight is used, "So thick as practically to blot out the sun altogether, and one found one's eyes struggling to cope with the sudden contrasts of bright sunlight and deep shade." This is a description of Stevens’ “pantry” and shows the reader how confined he is by his role as a butler, it does not allow him to live a full existence, as shown by the lack of “light” and reference to a “prison cell”. Ishiguro extends this idea by having Stevens read a “sentimental love story”. The references to “light” and a “love story” make it clear to the reader that Stevens could have had a great relationship with Miss Kenton. We can tell that he experiences the same feelings and emotions as everyone else, but, tragically, has to find less than ideal outlets for them. This may be because he does not know how to deal with them, or because he views them as unprofessional, and both of these ideas can be linked to the likely rigidity of his upbringing.
Interestingly, there is a critical view that challenges the idea that that tragedy of the novel lies in Stevens inability to act upon his feelings.
“...probably the most interesting thing about the book is that Stevens' tragedy isn't as straightforward as he suggests. Hindsight has made the butler feel like one of history's victims, his life swept into crepuscular shadows by forces beyond his comprehension. But this is a novel as much about foresight as hindsight – or rather the protagonist's lack of it. Stevens is clearly more culpable than he suggests: he could and should have seen more.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/nov/26/booker-club-remains-day

With this viewpoint in mind, a key question could be:
How far is Stevens responsible for the tragedy that befalls him?
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