Session #6: The Unreliable Narrator (and the epistolary novel) April 1st, 2009

Kazuo Ishiguro (b.
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In today’s session, we read an extract from Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel The Remains of the Day, as an example of “the unreliable narrator” technique.

We also read an extract from Michael Frayn‘s The Trick of It (1989), as an example of the epistolary novel.

We had a long discussion about The Remains of the Day, with different opinions about Mr Steven’s character, personality, and morality.

The BBC interviewed Kazuo Ishiguro in November 2004, and you can listen to the interview here (in English only, and no text, unfortunately). There is a 2006 interview with Ishiguro published in Japanese here (no audio; text only).

A famous example of an exchange of letters which I referred to today was 84 Charing Cross Road (I believe I told you “85” and that was incorrect). This is not fiction, however, so it cannot accurately be called an epistolary novel. (It was made into a movie in 1987, which, like the movie Remains of the Day also starred Anthony Hopkins.)

The next session will be April 22nd, and the topic will be “Defamiliarization” (in Japanese 異化).

Once again, thanks for coming and for joining in and making it such a lively event.

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8 thoughts on “Session #6: The Unreliable Narrator (and the epistolary novel) April 1st, 2009”

  1. after reading Marc’s comment,I understood that principle is unchangeable moral rule and it never influences our job.but I cannot actually understand it.
    I tried to change Mr.steavens for Miss.Kenton in their position as thinking the problem of Jewish girls.If Kenton is a butler and Steavens is a house maid.I think Kenton probably acted the same as Steavens, Steaven said probably the sane things as Kenton.
    We sometimes cannot act in concordance with our principles especially in a job.We love our job/ We aer proud of own job/and need a job for a living.

  2. “My country, right or wrong.” Let me clarify what it means. My country is first and foremost important, regardless of right or wrong? Blind love to my country? If so, it’s a dangerous slogan.

    I’m not still clear about the meaning of the word “principle.” I understand “principle” is “a belief that guides our conduct.” Is there any difference betwen when used “principle (singular)”and “principles (plural)?”

    It seems to me that the firing of two Jewish girls is a matter of principle for Mr. Stevens, while a matter of conscience for Miss Kenton. I think people should act, on serious matters which need careful and thoughtful consideration, according to their conscience instead of sticking to their own principles.

    1. Hm. What forms the conscience if not principles? Perhaps the difference between Miss Kenton and Mr Stevens can be seen in their different VALUES. I don’t think there is a difference in meaning between “principle” and “principles”; however, there is a difference between SCIENTIFIC principles (e.g. water freezes at 0 degrees) and MORAL principles (I was referring to moral principles). I thought Mr. Stevens’ believed in the principle of “my employer, right or wrong”.

  3. I ’ve never read プリンシプルのない日本 but read 次郎と正子―娘が語る素顔の白洲家, which is written by the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Shirasu.

    Mr. Jiro Shirasu, he is handsome, cool, dandy and dignified, and Mr. Yusuke Iseya looked right actor for the job in his role of Mr. Shirasu, when I saw the first part of the drama. Unfortunately I missed the second part. The third part seems to be scheduled to be on air in August due to the delay of shooting because one of actors is ill.

  4. This is an interesting discussion. I think, as a Westerner, that my interpretation of Steven’s behaviour, and of the meaning or message of the Ishiguro’s novel, is influenced by two things:
    1) the historical fact that those people who suggested peace with Hitler were shown to be wrong and to have been deceived (therefore Stevens’ admiration for his employer is suspect), and
    2) by the Western importance placed on principles – what are Stevens’ principles? In the episode about the firing of the two Jewish girls, it is clear that Stevens’ “principle” is that his employer is always right. In other words, he does not think for himself about whether what his employer is doing is right or wrong. Miss Kenton, on the other hand, appears to have a stronger character, a character with principles.

    On Japanese television recently was a series about Shirasu Jiro, who wrote a book (which my wife has, but which I have not yet read) called プリンシプルのない日本

    Did any of you see it? I wonder what you think about “principles”?

    And what do you think of the saying, “My country, right or wrong“?

  5. To foresee might be more difficult job than complate dedication in any cases though the time was so unpredictable then.
    Self-deception sometimes gave such a perfectly dedicated man a shelter I suppose.

  6. In the interview of BBC World Book Club, Kazuo Ishiguro says like this that in many ways we are all butlers, in a sense, serving up our contributions to somebody upstairs, to an organization or a country, managing to do well the job.

    It is a poignant moment when Stevens realize the reality. Stevens’ blind loyalty and self-deception not only lead to failure in his romance and life but cause destructive result in the world though not directly.

    Personally I take Stevens as a compassionate man at heart. What is to blame is his blind obedience in the name of “dignity.” I’ve remembered “selfless servitude” in The Fountainhead.

  7. It was gorgeous time! Personally I understand Stevens’feeling although he is clumsy to express himself.

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