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The Unreliable Narrato-in the Remains of the Day
来源   本站编辑:中华论文联盟 日期: 2013-01-01 11:56 点击数:

1 Brief Introduction of Kazuo Ishiguro and The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro, Japanese-born novelist, is one of the foremost Japanese British writers and winner of Booker Prize in 1989. He was presented with the Booker Prize with the novel The Remains of the Day, a "brilliant and quietly devastating novel" (Newsweek).

The Remains of the Day is one of the most highly-regarded post-war British novels. It won the Booker Prize in 1989 for Best Fiction, Since its publication in 1989, it has attracted considerable debate and evoked a locus of sentimental discussions. Up to now, the concentration on the novel’s connection with some Japanese element, the identity of the narrator, and the decline of Great Britain hold the largest share. So far, there is no specific study on the unreliability of the narrator Stevens in the novel.


2 Introduction of "Unreliable Narrator"

There are different types of narrators. According to Genette Prince, there are four types of narrators: first degree, heterodiegetic narrator, that is, a narrator who is, ’above’ or superior to the story he narrates is ’extradiegetic’, like the level of which he is a part. Second degree, intradiegetic narrator, that is to say, the narrator is a diegetic character in the first narrative told by the extradiegetic narrator. Third degree, hypodiegetic narrator and the fourth degree, hypodiegetic narrator. It is not difficult to find out that the narrator in The Remains of the Day belongs to the second degree, intradiegetic narrator. However, for intradiegetic narrators, it is very easy to be unreliable.

The nature of the narrator is sometimes immediately clear. For instance, a story may open with the narrator making a plainly false or delusional claim or admitting to being severely mentally ill, or the story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to his unreliability. A more dramatic use of the device delays the revelation until near the story’s end. This twist ending forces the reader to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In some cases the narrator’s unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving the reader to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted.


3Unreliability of the Narrator

The unreliable narrator is a name given by Booth in his 1961 study the Rhetoric of Fiction. The meaning of this term is that the words of the narrator cannot be taken straight. According to Booth, a narrator is "liable", when he speaks for or acts in accord with the norms of the work, unreliable when he does not" (Booth 58-59). This is very true with the narrator Stevens in the novel. This can be explained by his narration of Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington.

3.1 Interpretation of Miss Kenton’s letter

The narrator interpreted Miss Kenton’s letter very differently from what Miss Kenton thinks she has written. The contradiction shows that there is unreliability of the narrator. In the morning of the second day, when the narrator Stevens stays in a hotel in Salisbury thinking about the letter Miss Kenton has written to him, he thinks that Miss Kenton moves out to live with a friend and is going to leave her husband.

Of course, her letter has given me extra cause to continue thinking of her as ’Miss Kenton’, since it would seem, sadly, that her marriage is finally to come to an end. The letter does not make specific the details of the matter, as one would hardly expect it to do, but... (Ishiguro, 49-50)

And Stevens, the narrator, even thinks in his mind that Miss Kenton wants to go back to work in Darlington Hall from the hint of the letter. Stevens is the narrator of the incident, and Miss Kenton’s letter is the narratee, the reader of the letter is the implied reader. Stevens is not only the narrator, the reader of the letter, but also the hermeneutic. He makes full use of his role as a narrator and claims that Miss Kenton’s willing to go back to work in Darlington Hall is "unmistakable message". However, the reader, does not have access to the letter, could only accept the contents of the letter by Stevens’ interpretation, and actually could not have any doubt of the contents of the letter.

And it is easy to see how in such a frame of mind, the thought of returning to Darlington Hall would be a great comfort to her. Admittedly, she does not at any point in her letter state explicitly her desire to return; but that is the unmistakable message conveyed by the general nuance of many of the passages, imbued as they are with a deep nostalgia for her days at Darlington Hall. (Ishiguro, 50)

However, on the third day in Taunton, Stevens’ narration of the letter is changed.

For I must say I was a little surprised last night at how difficult it was actually to point out any passage which clearly demonstrated her wish to return. (Ishiguro, 149)

So there is a great distinction between what he has narrated, or even this distinction could be defined as a contradictory. In the beginning of his trip he says Miss Kenton’s desire to return to Darlington Hall is an "unmistakable message", however, he then says it is so difficult to find any prove in the letter to show that she wants to return to Darlington Hall. This difference appears in the same narrator Stevens, so it involves a great amount of difficulty to understand this. Not until at the end of the novel when Miss Kenton appears, do we find out the truth of the letter. Since the real writer of the letter comes up, Stevens loses his role as the "narrator of the letter". Then we can find out the real contents of the letter. The third days’ interpretation of the letter by Stevens turns out to be the one which conforms to Miss Kenton’s intention.

I learnt that her marriage was not in quite as parlous a state as might have been supposed from her letter; that although she had indeed left her home for a period of four or five days-during which time the letter I had received had been composed-she had returned home and Mr. Benn had been very pleased to have her back. (Ishiguro, 245-246)

In fact, it is just through this "misreading" or "underreading" that we discover the real reason of Stevens’ interpretation of the letter falsely and also learn his character. That is the writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing intention. Stevens always conceals his real emotion and he uses his words very carefully whenever he talks to others. Understanding his real intention from the surface of his narration or his words would be a rather difficult way, however, his real intention could be revealed by this "misreading" narration technique.

As a result, from the narration above, we can see that Stevens is an unreliable narrator. During the narration of the letter, he interprets the contents of the narrate-the letter on purpose according to different situations, which added to the misunderstanding of the reader. The truth of the letter is not revealed until the appearance of the writer of the letter-Miss Kenton. This narration technique used by Kazuo Ishiguro helps the reader to see through the surface in order to find out the real mind of Stevens.

3.2 Unreliable Narrations of Emotions towards Miss Kenton

The unreliable narration helps Stevens to hide his true feelings to the only loved one in his life. In fact, he did not consider his new master Mr. Farraday’s suggestion of taking a trip until he got the letter from Miss Kenton. From the letter, he sees the opportunity of working with Miss Kenton again. Then he decides to take a trip to the West Country, where Miss Kenton lives. However, he denies any personal feelings towards Miss Kenton. In fact, he justifies his visit as a professional necessity.

But let me make it immediately clear what I mean by this; what I mean to say is that Miss Kenton’s letter set off a certain chain of ideas to do with professional matters here at Darlington Hall, and I would underline that it was a preoccupation with these very same professional matters that led me to consider anew my employer’s kindly meant suggestion. (Ishiguro, 5)

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