Dignity in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.
“We may understand better, too, why my father was so fond of the story of the butler who failed to panic on discovering a tiger under the dining table; it was because he knew instinctively that somewhere in this story lay the kernel of what true ‘dignity’ is. And let me now posit this: ‘dignity’ has to do crucially with a butler’s ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits. Lesser butlers will abandon their professional being for the private one at least provocation. For such persons, being a butler is like playing some pantomime role; a small push, a slight stumble, and the façade will drop off to reveal the actor underneath. The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They will wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstance tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariable be when he is entirely alone. It is, as I say, a matter of ‘dignity’” (42-43).
Stevens admires the great butlers because they hide their emotions at all times, but while he does this, he subtly shows his insecurities. Stevens discusses the stories about the butler who stayed calm when he discovered a tiger and about Stevens’s father when he drove three drunkards and when he respected a general that he despised. Stevens compares lesser butlers to actors who play “some pantomime role” because both groups of people reveal their true selves when they make slight mistakes. He shows how good butlers never let anything affect the way they keep their emotions and true motives to themselves. Stevens also compares the way great butlers wear their professionalism to the way decent gentlemen wear their suits. Great butlers do not let any mistake reveal their innermost emotions to the public like decent gentlemen do not allow anything to ruin the suit or take it off him. Stevens uses the words “pantomime,” “actor,” and “stumble” to describe the lesser butlers and the way in which they do their job. These words show how the lesser butlers do trivial work compared to the great butlers, who are “professional,” are “decent,” and have “ability.” Stevens clearly despises the lesser butlers and idolizes the great ones because the great butlers do not hint at their true feelings in public, but keep on doing their jobs. Stevens continues to reassure himself that he is a great butler because he is the last of his generation of butlers and the Hayes Society, which uses certain criteria to admit high-class butlers, no longer exists. Stevens tries to prove he is better than the other butlers by showing that he is one of the butlers with “greater ability” than those who treat their job as a costume. This shows his uncertainties about his performance as a butler. Stevens reminds the reader and himself repeatedly about the great butlers, but no one else cares whether he is a lesser butler or a great one. By attempting to prove he is a great butler like his father was, Stevens makes himself look worse because his arrogance leads to the conclusion that he is being arrogant just to make himself look better. Stevens tries to reassure himself that he is in fact a great butler as his father once was. The need to reassure himself that he is a great butler shows how he is actually insecure about himself.