After decades of striving to be the perfect butler, Stevens embarks on a drive through postwar England that prompts him to reflect on his years of service for “a great gentleman.”
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
“The Marshall Plan” explains the circumstances surrounding the eponymous proposal, which was designed to facilitate the economic and political growth of Europe following the extensive destruction caused by World War II.
Have students read “The Marshall Plan” before beginning the novel to give them context on Britain’s economic ruin and recovery following World War II. Ask students to discuss the effects of American influence in England, as personified by the relationship between Mr. Farraday and Stevens in the novel’s prologue.
In this excerpt from his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin discusses his efforts to better himself by developing different virtues.
Have students read “Excerpt from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” after completing the section from Remains of the Day titled “Prologue: July 1965 / Darlington Hall” to focus on Stevens's goals of self-improvement. Ask students to discuss how Stevens seeks to improve himself (professionally, emotionally, spiritually), and have them track how Stevens does this throughout the novel.
In May 1962, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) delivered this address to cadets at West point. A five-star general, MacArthur played a prominent role in the Pacific theater campaign during World War II, and from 1919-1922 served as the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Have students read “Duty, Honor, Country Address at West Point” after completing section “Day One-Evening / Salisbury” to focus on the novel’s themes of duty and professionalism. Ask students to analyze how MacArthur’s argument — for soldiers to focus on their basic duties while leaving greater questions on politics and progress to greater minds — fits within Steven’s philosophy of being the perfect butler. Students should readdress this question after reading each subsequent section of the novel, particularly “Day Two-Morning / Salisbury” and “Day Six-Evening / Weymouth.”
In “The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations,” this informational text explores how the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the establishment of the League of Nations failed to secure peace.
Pair the section “Day Two: Morning / Salisbury” with “The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations” to provide students with historical background on the treaty which is prominent in this section. Ask students to discuss how Lord Darlington views the Treaty of Versailles, and how his views further the plot’s development.
Dylan Thomas' most famous poem, written for his dying father, in which he urges him to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Have students read “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” after reading the section “Day Two-Morning / Salisbury” to help them reflect on the death of Stevens’ father. Ask students to compare the emotions of the speaker in the poem to Stevens’ emotions throughout this section of the novel.
Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, conducted an experiment to study the way people behave in groups. This article explores the study's findings, and what they can teach us about the science behind mob brutality.
Have students read “When Good People Do Bad Things” after completing the section “Day Three-Evening / Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon”. Have students focus on the growing understanding of Lord Darlington’s morality. Ask students to evaluate whether Mr. Darlington is getting “lost” in antisemitic, pro-Nazi groups. Students should reconsider this question at the end of the section titled “Day Four-Afternoon/ Little Compton, Cornwall.”
“Prufrock” was written by Eliot in the years leading up to WWI and was published in 1914 during what is referred to as the period of modernism. The poem is a dramatic interior monologue of an urban man, stricken with feelings of isolation and an incapability for action. Prufrock laments his physical and intellectual inertia, the lost opportunities in his life and lack of spiritual progress, of weariness, regret, embarrassment, longing, emasculation, a sense of decay, and an awareness of mortality.
Have students read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” after completing The Remains of the Day to focus on the novel’s themes of isolation, aging, regret, and unrequited romance. Ask students to compare the characters of Stevens and Prufrock with regards to the decisions they make and don’t make in love and life, and how they view themselves as a result.
In Jack London’s “Love Letter,” London expresses a romantic, introspective view into his feelings of tenderness toward a fellow writer.
Have students read “Love Letter” after completing The Remains of the Day to focus on the novel’s themes of expressing one’s love and emotions. Ask students to compare how London and Stevens think of and express their emotions after decades of self-repression.
In Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” the poet urges his audience to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”
Have students read “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” after completing The Remains of the Day to focus on the novel’s themes of living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Ask students to analyze Stevens’ reflections on his life in the final section “Day Six-Evening / Weymouth” in the context of this poem: how hopeful are the remains of his day? Of his life? How might his life have been different if he’d followed the poet’s advice in his youth?