The Critical Beatdown discussion

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 21, 2009 11:34PM) (new)

okay. so on reading his schpeel on dignity.

it comes down to keeping your job and personal life separate. it's doing your job because it's your job, not merely a part you play. your personal life (your problems, your fears, apprehensions etc) has no business injecting itself into the things you do.


message 2: by Jane (new)

Jane (janeg) Did anyone else find this irritating? I kind of felt bad for Stevens because he got the short end of the deal--though believing that he was doing the 'proper' butler thing all along; must be that Old Fashioned English butler side of the brain.


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 25, 2009 12:44PM) (new)

i'm half way through. i can see how it can get irritating, but i think thats part of the experiece. for some reason im really compelled by it. it's a really modern way of writing and it kind of reminds me of As I Lay Dying.

edit: for whatever reason, the link to as i lay dying goes off to the sound and the fury.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

reading further, i don't know what to make of the father thing.

i feel like the more he talks about dignity the less of it he has. maybe it's because i'm reading a bunch of zen poetry & its messing with my interpretation, like a "the more you want, the less you have" kind of thing. stevens is not a very well centered being, is what i'm trying to say.


message 5: by Alethea (last edited Jan 28, 2009 12:04AM) (new)

Alethea A (frootjoos) | 19 comments Spoilers, in case anyone is more behind in reading than I am.




I don't think his father was very "centered" either, as you put it, from their stilted attempts at conversation where Stevens must refer to him as Father in third-person; to Mr. Stevens, Sr.'s attempts to circumvent the restrictions placed upon his service despite his ailing health; and culminating in Stevens' denial of weeping in the smoking room while his father is passing away in his attic room. This is the kind of roundabout tragedy Ishiguro excels at writing, and a brilliant expression of dignity as Stevens and his father have defined it through their demeanor, or should we say their profession? They are consummate butlers: Stevens, Sr. only wavers when death is imminent ("I hope I've been a good father to you. I suppose I haven't."--but this only after "Everything in hand downstairs?") and Stevens' final words to his father, "I'm so glad you're feeling better now"--why this choice of words, when clearly his father is unwell? Because anything else would be maudlin and certainly undignified.

And while Stevens retells those events to illustrate what he means by dignity, do we account for Miss Kenton's professionalism as well? What counterpoint does this below-stairs episode have in relation to Lord Darlington's conference, particularly in regards to M. Dupont and Mr. Lewis?


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 28, 2009 02:34AM) (new)

Alethea wrote: "Spoilers, in case anyone is more behind in reading than I am.

I don't think his father was very "centered" either, as you put it, from their stilted attempts at conversation where Stevens must ..."


i would say the father and miss kenton both have more dignity than stevens because dignity isn't something they are striving for. i think stevens' efforts to obtain this quality of dignity come off as pretentious, and in during the event of his father's death, a bit cowardly.

stevens is keen to adapt his style of service according to his appraisals of other butlers. so he borrows a little bit from his father, he borrows a little bit from his peers, and he becomes this "collage" of what he thinks is the perfect butler. this is why "dignity" is such a big deal to him. to him it is an observable and obtainable attribute/quality that all great butlers have. but it means that stevens is never himself, he is always just borrowing traits from everyone else (which is his tragic flaw).

in contrast, we have his father, who up until the very end was concerned only with his own ability to perform under any circumstance. to him, his performance did not grow out of external standards of service, but from his own internalized standards. he wasn't trying to be the perfect butler, he was trying to be the perfect version of himself. It's this quality of his father that eludes Stevens, and which he somewhat mistakenly describes as of "dignity". It's ironic that the quality that Steven's so revered in his father while recounting the story of the drunks in the backseat is the same quality that perplexes (and even annoys) Stevens while he is watching his father practice walking down the garden path.

EDIT: Reading further, Miss Kenton puts it bluntly to Stevens when they meet at the summer house. In my book it's pages 152-154.


message 7: by Alfonso (new)

Alfonso Dale wrote: "Alethea wrote: "Spoilers, in case anyone is more behind in reading than I am.

I don't think his father was very "centered" either, as you put it, from their stilted attempts at conversation where ..."


I definitely believe that Stevens father and Miss Kenton have more dignity than Stevens. He has a constant drive to be like his father and dignified and I think that he realizes that he lacks the dignity. By Stevens talking about dignity, I believe that he is trying to find something honorable about working for Lord Darlington. Stevens is always trying to emphasize on the importance of what is going on in the house with all of the conferences taking place. I think that he can see that Lord Darlington is wrong in what he is doing , so he needs to find the dignity in working for him.

As Stevens gives examples of what makes a great butler, he is tested when his father is dying. He does what his father thinks is right by staying downstairs and attending to his duties.





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