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Institutional Discourse and Power Shift in The Remains of the Day


Institutional Discourse and Power Shift in The Remains of the Day

Ibrahim Srour (PhD)([1])


This article studies the institutional discourse in Kazou Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day, in order to reveal notions of institutional representation and power shift among characters. The aim of the present article is to examine whether there is power representation, equal distribution, and/or power shift between specific characters such as Stevens and Lord Darlington on the one hand, as well as between Stevens and Miss Kenton on the other hand. The researcher adopts an interdisciplinary descriptive approach in order to achieve this purpose. The data of analysis include the interpersonal communication between the characters.  Thus, the researcher employs the notion of Institutional Discourse as a field of study, in particular the definitions of institutional discourse (Fairclough (1989, 1996), Sarangi & Roberts (1999), and Freed (2017)) in addition to the five principles of Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP) proposed by Locke & Budds (2020, p.238).

          Key terms: Institutional Discourse, Power Shift, Critical Discursive Psychology.


The Remains of the Day, henceforth (TROTD) includes many turning points that distinguish the writing style of Kazou Ishiguro. One of the turning points in the novel is Stevens’s encounter with Miss Kenton. Stevens’s position as a butler dictates that he shows firmness. Such a personality trait has affected his persona by creating a shield of stiffness regarding his emotions and emotional interaction. However, one encounter is not sufficient to pierce into Stevens’s hardened feelings. So, many encounters take place between the two and the one encounter which reveals Stevens in his true colour is when Miss Kenton catches him ‘off guard’, i.e. when he takes off his mask.  This is where his emotional shield starts to shake through the rest of the novel in his encounters with Miss Kenton. Therefore, the conversations between the two are interactional and as such include interpersonal discourse. Also, both Stevens and Miss Kenton belong to the same institution, Darlington Hall, and they are co-workers. Hence, their discourse includes institutional qualities. Furthermore, since their discourse is one of the turning points, the analysis of such a discourse aims to reveal that it plays a decisive role in shifting and relocating the power between the two characters.

In addition to the afore-mentioned discourse types, the novel exhibits notions of power through many literary and rhetorical devices such as imagery, metaphor, symbolism, and certain themes. For example, there are metaphors in the description of certain nature images, there is the image of the mask and its symbolism, the symbolism of the title of the novel, and there are important themes such as the theme of identity (when Stevens impersonates others), and professionalism. Hence, the above devices help, together with the interpersonal and the institutional discourse, in showing power relation as well as power shift in the novel. Moreover, such devices are important because they form the vehicle through which these discourses interact together to portray the psychological state of the characters and convey the notions of power. In fact, the analysis of such literary and rhetorical devices in addition to the various discourse types are at the heart of Critical Discursive Psychology.

Institutional Discourse

According to Sarangi and Roberts (1999), institutional discourse is defined as a verbal exchange between two or more interlocutors. Such an exchange occurs in certain events as follows. First, there is at least one representative of an institution (related to work). Second, the language used in the interlocution, the goals of the interlocutors as well as the nature of the exchange, all are to some extent determined and regulated by the institution to which the interlocutors belong. Third, there is a minimum of one speaker who frames the interlocution as a work or doing something related to work.

Freed (2017) believes that Institutional Discourse is a field of study that is interdisciplinary in nature. It is a field which springs out of, and is strongly tied to various research traditions such as conversation analysis, speech acts, pragmatics, sociology, sociolinguistics, critical linguistics, and discursive psychology. Furthermore and in relation to above definition of institutional discourse, Ehrlich and Romaniuk (2013), define discourse as language which lurks between the layers of the social interaction. Hence, institutional discourse engulfs social interactions that are focalized in specific settings, whether these are physical, institutional, or simply ‘workplace’ locations. As such, Freed (2017) believes that the interactions which occur in the workplace settings include common interactive elements which specify them as institutional rather than being ordinary social interactions or conversations. Thus, in institutional discourse:

“Work-based exchanges can be described as social interactions that involve some combination of institution-specific questions and answers, narratives that construct or recount work-related situations, and/or discussions of the business of the organization.” (p.809)

            The globalization of English and the economic situation have put social interaction on a wider rout of institutional interaction, which in turn has led to a change in the nature of the institutional discourse itself. Fairclough (1989, 1996) describes institutional discourse as evolving and he uses the term “conversationalisation of institutional discourse,” (1996, p. 76). He posits that there is a tendency towards interactions which are established to mimic ordinary social exchanges, in order to give the impression of the existence of a more “equal” relationship between interlocutors of high and low status. These interlocutors reside in workplace and their social roles include doctors, patients, supervisors, employees, students, and/or teachers. Thus, in order to specify such a practice, Fairclough (1989) uses the phrases “synthetic personalization” (p.62) and “simulated equalization” (p. 221). Accordingly, Fairclough describes conversationalisation as “a compensatory tendency to give the impression of treating each of the people ‘handled’ en masse as an individual” (p. 62), where power is balanced in a conversation, between the speakers, who are of different statuses.

          Moreover, in order to gain a full insight into what takes place in any interaction, be it social or otherwise, an analyst must consider the wider social, cultural, and ideological context/s in which the interlocutors are participating in.

Since the field of Institutional Discourse is tied to Conversation Analysis, it follows that some notions must be considered when analysing institutional discourse. The notions comprise turn-taking, flouting or abiding by conversational maxims, the organisation of the exchange, the timing as well as the sequence of turn-taking. Also, an analyst must pay attention to the forms of questions asked, the answers, the actions executed upon asking questions as well as the reactions elicited as a result of the overall interaction.

Critical Discursive Psychology

Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP) is one form of discursive analysis which harbours various principles from discursive psychology. It is driven by conversation analysis, as well as Foucauldian Discourse Analysis which is grounded in post-structuralism (Wetherell, 2015; Wiggins & Potter, 2017). According to Burr (2015), one of the foundations of CDP is social constructionism. Such an approach must be viewed both, in terms of a precise representation of the thoughts or feelings of the social actors and in terms of the notion that language is a prime means for constructing social reality. As a result, investigating discourse becomes a focal purpose of CDP, where language and discourse intertwine to create and constitute how one perceives the surrounding social reality.

Furthermore, since CDP is also tied to a Foucauldian approach to discourse, then CDP itself involves pinpointing those discourses which are available to speakers in an interaction; i.e. the discourses which help the social actors understand their surrounding world. Moreover, Foucault (1978) views that discourse is closely knit to power and as such, discourse has many implications. Chief of these implications include social practice, subjectivity, and agency (Willig, 2013).

According to Wiggins (2017), Discursive Psychology (DP) stresses the notions of text and talk as being major aspects of social interaction and social practice. Also, DP focuses on what speech ‘does’ to social actors or what it enables them to do, i.e. its performativity. In other words, discursive psychology is concerned with what people do with words which triggers a particular psychological reaction or impulse. Thus, psychological concepts are quintessential to DP when analysing text and talk. As such, Wiggins believes that DP targets issues of how interlocutors can adapt to specific social practices or conform to personal understandings and position their discourse within the frame of interactional communication. As a result, Locke and Budds (2020) believe that such a personal discourse is constructed at the interaction level.

Edley and Wetherell (2001) clarify the notions that take place within CDP by stating that:

“On the one hand, we try and study how talk is organised as social action in its immediate context, the subject positions in play and the rhetorical and interactional consequences of this organisation, focusing on participants’ orientations to clarify and identify these elements. On the other hand, we assume that talk assumes regular patterns that reveal the shared sense-making resources of a sample or which may be specific to a site, institution or characteristic of a broader social context and historical period.” (p. 441)

Locke and Budds (2020) posit that (CDP) is an analytical tool which amalgamates the micro elements of Discursive Psychology with the macro elements of the social, cultural and historical contexts of discourse which are exemplified in Post-Structuralist approaches. That is, the micro structures target the ways in which interaction and discourse are a form a social action. As such CDP enables the analyst to conduct an almost ‘complete’ analysis of the subject under examination. In addition, Locke and Budds state that through CDP the agency of individuals is revealed as well as how discourses are used within interaction for the purpose of achieving various social practices.

Furthermore, Edley and Wetherell (2001) believe that in its explanatory aspect CDP is based on interpretive repertoires which stress the notion of agency in the construction of discourse during a social interaction. Thus, CDP tackles questions about the kind of reality which is being constructed during conversation as well as the kind which is resisted. Hence, in order to achieve this, CDP relies on discursive accomplishments through pinpointing the linguistic and the rhetorical elements of text and talk. This helps in conveying how discourse is constructed in a specific manner.

Review of Literature

This section of the article presents some of the studies conducted on Ishiguro’s novel in relation to many interdisciplinary fields. Some researchers analyze the novel in terms of the theme of discipline. Others trace development of the notion of persona through from the point of archetype. Also, certain researchers conduct a critical discourse analysis of the novel in order to expose the power relations between the two countries Britain and America, whereas other analysts read Ishiguro’s novel from a modernist view.

Zhen (2021) analyzes The Remains of The Day from a ‘discipline power’ standpoint. The purpose is to reveal the effects of such a discipline on the characters of the service staff. To achieve this purpose, Zhen analyzes the novel according to Foucault’s notion of power, where the focus is on the notion of discipline. What Zhen’s analysis targets is the different destiny of each of the characters as well as their response to ‘discipline power’. Zhen believes that many scholars have analyzed the traditional hierarchical power which is the power existing between master and servant. Because of this, Zhen’s contribution is the focus on how the discipline is internalized in the service staff which enables them, unconsciously, to be controlled.  Moreover, Zhen’s analysis takes Darlington Hall as a locus for analyzing the disciplinary function of the ‘place’ in general as well as the disciplinary behavior of its staff in particular. Then, the analysis moves to the central character of the novel which is Stevens, the butler who resides in Darlington Hall and whose actions are a portrayal of how he is shaped by discipline.  Later on, Zhen tackles the character of Miss Kenton by analyzing the relation between her and Stevens. Zhen’s article presents solutions to the issue of power control which exists between the two by showing how Stevens rekindles his relationship with Miss Kenton as well as how their identities are renewed. According to Zhen, such a renewal mirrors the attempt of Ishiguro to shed light on the fate of the marginalized social members in order to console them.

Ghariri (2020) analyzes The Remains of the Day according to Jung’s notion of archetypes in his theory of individuation. The purpose is to pinpoint the extent of archetype distortion which takes place as a result of the absence of a ‘real self’. As such, Ghariri examines the persona in the novel under the lens of archetype.  In her analysis, Ghariri posits that Ishiguro’s novel traces the journey that Stevens undergoes. Such a journey is not only physical but it also occurs in Stevens’s unconscious as a materialization of his quest for his real identity which as a result will reveal his real self. Furthermore, Ghariri analyzes another notion of archetype which is the shadow. This notion cannot be separated from the persona and in turn it helps the audience to see the real Stevens and his true nature which has been hidden because of his adoption of a misleading persona. Thus, Ghariri states in her findings that through memory a real sense of self is discovered and hence persona comes to light. Accordingly, such a persona is examined as being one of the marvelous abilities of the person’s unconscious which allows social members to conceal many notions about their true self and hide behind it. This behavior, Ghariri believes, is a constant reminder to the audience that appearances can be deceiving and as such we as audience must not be deceived.

Dweedar (2020) analyzes Ishiguro’s novel from a critical discourse analysis perspective by adopting Van Dijk’s notion of Discourse and Power. The focus is on the political assembly which Lord Darlington holds at Darlington Hall between the British and the American camps. The purpose is to highlight how the receding power of the British Empire is directly related to the emerging American dominance. Accordingly, Dweedar selects particular conversations between the members of each of the camps. These encounters are examined in order to unveil how discourse asserts domination through manipulation. The findings of Dweedar’s study reveal that the American rise in power is resisted by the English butler, Stevens who is a steadfast believer in the firmness and greatness of Britain. Also, the findings show that Stevens employs specific strategies which position him as a dominant person over his American employer. This takes place because of Stevens’s cunningness, despite the discrepancy in the social status between the two persons. As such, Stevens uses knowledge in a manipulative way and turns it into a weapon in order to fight back the American delegation as well as assert his domination over his employer. In addition, Dweedar conveys how the American delegation representative uses knowledge to portray America as the notable and the focal master in the unfolding political situation. Therefore, the final finding of Dweedar is that knowledge is a double-edged sword in the war of domination and power assertion.

            Patrick and Adetuyi (2019) conduct a modernist reading of Ishiguro’s novel. This reading focuses on Stevens and how he interacts and reacts to the events occurring around him. The purpose is assess the novel in terms of how convergence and divergence are reflected in it through the modernist thought. Thus, Patrick and Adetuyi utilize George Lukas’s framework of ‘Ideology of Modernism’ as well as Virginia Woolf’s concept of modernism. The findings of the study reveals that The remains of the Day is a modernist novel through its inclusion of many modernist elements such as a dysfunctional character, a retrospect narration, alienated existence, a nostalgia for the past, two conflicting English generations: the old and the new, sense of loss, denial and mental repression, self-deception, and open-endedness.

Methodology and Theoretical Framework

          This paper adopts the notion of Institutional Discourse as well as the five principles of Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP) by Locke and Budds (2020). The aim is to uncover the existence of institutional discourse and how such a discourse contributes in power representation, imbalance, or power shift in the interpersonal communication between Stevens and Lord Darlington as well as between Stevens and Miss Kenton. The researcher chooses CDP because first, it enables the analyst to represent the thoughts or feelings of the social actors. Second, it considers language as a prime means for constructing social reality, and third, because it depends on identifying the linguistic and the rhetorical devices used in interpersonal communication. Such devices help in exhibiting how discourse is constructed in a particular way, which in turn allows the researcher to show whether there is power maintenance, power regulation, or power shift between interlocutors.

Locke and Budds (p.237) highlight the tenets of CDP discipline, which are three, as follows. First, discourse shapes the many ways in which people are able to comprehend the world. At the same time discourse enables individual members to construct many versions of the world in order to achieve interactional social practices. This enables the analyst to pinpoint the subject position of the individuals in an interaction. Such a notion is strongly dependent on the topic of discussion. Second, discourse cannot be separated from the social context. That is, discourse can be produced rhetorically which paves the way for producing various or alternative versions of an argument. Thus, CDP helps in analyzing how a single version is constructed as ‘accounted for’ and how other versions can be ignored. Third, CDP reveals how the action during an interaction is oriented, and who is accountable for what. That is, CDP conveys how interlocutors manage their agency. This is done through the use, for example, of excuses, justifications, blames, or even a retelling of a social event or practice. Accordingly, CDP rests of the following premises:

  1. It adopts a relativist perspective which considers language as a means of

    constructing reality.

  1. It adopts a critical realist perspective which considers language itself as

    constructing social realities but are framed by material constraints.

  1. Its theoretical framework depends on interpretivism which seeks to understand

    and interpret the text and/or talk under analysis.

  1. It focuses on the interlocutors’ responses.
  2. It adopts the qualitative research design method (Locke & Budds, 2020, p.238)

Analysis and Discussion


Stevens as a butler has learned from his father to hide his emotions and to carry out his duties professionally under extreme emotional situations. Even when Stevens’s father is on his death bed Stevens does not “abandon the professional being he inhabits”(TROTD, p. 33). That is, in the most strenuous situations, he keeps up his dignity. In addition, dignity is shown not only through keeping one’s professional “face”, but also by exercising “emotional restraint”(TROTD, p. 34). Accordingly, even emotions are not allowed to come to the surface. However, these restraints are and could be abandoned, and the mask is taken off only when one is “alone” (TROTD, p. 34).

Furthermore, Stevens does not get emotionally attached to a woman because he believes this to be “a serious threat to the order in a house” (TROTD, 38) and has a “disruptive effect on work” (TROTD, p. 38). It is as if this attachment takes away the Power Stevens has through his job. The use of the nominal expression “order in a house” is expressive and symbolic. First, it is expressive of the discipline inside Darlington Hall and is symbolic of the institutional power which is acquired by the high status members of the Hall. By semantic extension, this expression enables Stevens to have some sort of institutional power. It’s a power through his status as a butler: a power over his staff. Accordingly, Stevens is in control of his staff.

“I would be very glad to be of assistance, sir.”

“I’m sorry to bring up a thing like this, Stevens.… “You are familiar, I take it, with the facts of life.” (TROTD, p. 65).

These lines are from a long conversation between Stevens and his employer, Lord Darlington. Such an encounter is of essence because of the following. Stevens sees his employer’s order to explain the “facts of life” to a young gentleman as a “mission” and not an ordinary “task” for a butler. This implies that Lord Darlington is giving Stevens the “Power” to achieve and accomplish something, i.e. to relate the facts of life to a son of a powerful politician. Furthermore, in this long conversation, Stevens complies with Lord Darlington’s demand by replying the affirmative statement “Indeed, sir” five times. This reveals his agreement with all what his employer says; although he sometimes might indirectly be required to give an answer or an opinion. Hence, the affirmation shows how committed and professional Stevens is.

          Moreover during their conversation, the institutional power assigned to Lord Darlington because of his social status shifts to Stevens where he becomes equal to his employer. This is revealed in the following lines:

“If you don’t mind, Stevens. Be an awful lot off my mind. Sir David

continues to ask me every couple of hours if I’ve done it yet.”

“I see, sir. It must be most trying under the present pressures.”

“Of course, this is far beyond the call of duty, Stevens.”

“I will do my best, sir. I may, however, have difficulty finding the appropriate

moment to convey such information.”

“I’d be very grateful if you’d even try, Stevens.

Awfully decent of you. Look here, there’s no need to make a song and dance

of it. Just convey the basic facts and be done with it. Simple approach is the

best, that’s my advice, Stevens.”

“Yes, sir. I shall do my best.”

“Jolly grateful to you, Stevens. Let me know how you get on.” (TROTD, p. 67)

The expressions “I’d be very grateful if you’d even try”, “awfully decent of you” and “If you don’t mind” are polite forms utilized by Stevens’s employer. Such expressions signify the notion that Lord Darlington does not use strong words that designate authority on his part in the relationship with Stevens. Accordingly, the reader does not sense an authoritarian discourse between the two, which usually exists between an employer and an employee. Such an authority is not totally spelled out because the discourse between Stevens and Lord Darlington is somewhat informal, and this conveys a sense of friendliness. This is attributed to the notion that Lord Darlington is first a gentleman, and second, a Lord, and as such he knows his way with employees like Stevens. As a result, such discourse helps Stevens to accomplish any task or duty, whether within or outside his realm.

Hence, by using a friendly approach and tone, Lord Darlington is employing what is called “consent discourse” in order to “make” Stevens indirectly implement any order. The act of “making indirectly” can be said to be coercion by consent. This is also backed up and is mostly achieved by the total politeness which Lord Darlington uses in his interaction with Stevens. That is, he issues an indirect command through a polite request. As a result, Lord Darlington’s request affects Stevens’s psychology and as a result he complies with Lord Darlington’s demand. Therefore, the politeness principle in such an interaction mitigates the power relationship between Stevens and Lord Darlington, and puts it on almost an equal basis. Thus, there is a balance of power between the two which is symbolically presented in the discussion of a minute topic, but which is of a great essence to Lord Darlington “under the present pressures” (TROTD, p. 67).

 “I felt something touch my elbow and turned to find Lord Darlington.

“Stevens, are you all right?”

“Yes, sir. Perfectly.”

“You look as though you’re crying.”

I laughed and taking out a handkerchief, quickly wiped my face. “I’m very sorry, sir. The strains of a hard day.” (TROTD, p. 87)

In the above lines Lord Darlington talks to Stevens in the most caring manner when he catches Stevens ‘off guard’. Stevens apologizes for his tears and attributes them to “the strains of a hard day”. The fact is that Stevens cries. Thus, he seems to have feelings. Although he cries, he does not really reveal the actual reason behind his tears, which is his sadness for the loss of his father. Actually, Stevens notices that others have seen his tears and as a result he tries to mask the real reason for the crying. Consequently, he does this because at this specific moment he has exposed himself and reflected his image as a powerless person. However, in order to shield his emotions again, Stevens wears the mask of professionalism when he gives the surface reason behind his crying.

In addition to Stevens’s encounter with Lord Darlington, the encounter between Stevens and Miss Kenton is of essence to be examined in terms of interpersonal interaction. The following is a conversation between Stevens and Miss Kenton when she comes in to his room without any prior notice. She holds a large vase of flowers and says with a smile:

“Mr. Stevens, I thought these would brighten your parlour a little.”

“I beg your pardon, Miss Kenton?”

“It seemed such a pity your room should be so dark and cold, Mr. Stevens,

when it’s such bright sunshine outside. I thought these would enliven things a


“That’s very kind of you, Miss Kenton.”

“It’s a shame more sun doesn’t get in here.

The walls are even a little damp, are they not, Mr. Stevens?” I turned back to

my accounts, saying: “Merely condensation, I believe, Miss Kenton.”

She put her vase down on the table in front of me, then glancing around my

pantry again said:

“If you wish, Mr. Stevens, I might bring in some more cuttings for you.”

“Miss Kenton, I appreciate your kindness. But this is not a room of

entertainment. I am happy to have distractions kept to a minimum.” (TROTD, p. 39)

These lines are important as they are a portrayal of two opposing images: the image of Stevens as a firm professional and the image of Miss Kenton which designates happiness. She comes in to the room in order to ‘brighten’ and ‘enliven’ the room of Stevens. These action verbs appeal to the senses and thus they affect one’s psychology be adding an atmosphere of vitality. As such, the flowers are a symbolic tool which Miss Kenton uses in order to spread her positive effects around Stevens. However, Miss Kenton’s vitality is opposed to the “Dark and cold” atmosphere where Stevens resides. “Dark and cold” are adjectives used not only to describe Stevens’s room, but also to describe himself. Stevens is “dark” as in mysterious, and he is “cold” in terms of emotions. So, Stevens does not reveal his emotions. He always shields himself from emotional interaction, and only allows a small pace for human interaction and communication just in terms of professionalism. Unfortunately even beautiful things like flowers are considered a distraction for him.

In terms of power, Stevens makes use of his institutional power by shunning Miss Kenton from further contributing to the happiness of the place by saying: “But this is not a room of entertainment”. First, Stevens considers Miss Kenton’s request for bringing more flowers to the room as a ‘threat’ to his position and an invasion to his ‘supposed’ happy and calm state. For this reason he shuns her from continuing her attempt to vitalizing the surroundings. Second, the use of the coordinating conjunction “but” shows that Stevens is indirectly stopping Miss Kenton from any additional pleasant behavior. Then, the use of the negation “not” is a clear indicative that Stevens is exercising his power over her. Thus, his negation statement shows an institutional domination on the part of Stevens over Miss Kenton.

“Good gracious, Mr. Stevens, it isn’t anything so scandalous at all. Simply a sentimental love story.”

“I believe it was around this point that I decided there was no need to tolerate any more. I cannot recall precisely what I said, but I remember showing Miss Kenton out of my pantry quite firmly and the episode was thus brought to a close….There was a simple reason for my having taken to perusing such works; it was an extremely efficient way to maintain and develop one’s command of the English language. It is my view – I do not know if you will agree – that in so far as our generation is concerned, there has been too much stress placed on the professional desirability of good accent and command of language; that is to say, these elements have been stressed sometimes at the cost of more important professional qualities” (TROTD, p. 134).

The above lines indicate three things. First, that Miss Kenton surprises Stevens while he is ‘off guard’ and catches him with the mask of professional firmness off. Second, she still attempts to initiate a state of affection with Stevens and third, he insists on keeping up a pretense of superficial power, hiding behind his professionalism. Miss Kenton becomes infuriated upon knowing that Stevens is not telling her why he is reading a romantic novel. Her utterance “Good gracious, Mr. Stevens, it isn’t anything so scandalous at all. Simply a sentimental love story” expresses that human beings, especially men, have feelings.  This is supported by the phrase “simply a sentimental story” which reveals that the action of reading such a genre is normal. Pragmatically, Miss Kenton’s words are an indirect command for Stevens to confess his likability to read romance stories.

          Contrary to Miss Kenton’s expectations, Stevens continues to give justifications and in particular, professional ones, even when it comes to reading a love story. Thus, he reads romance stories in order to “maintain and develop one’s command of the English language” (TROTD, p. 134). From what is revealed of the character of Stevens, this sentence is an irony because he is not maintaining his command of the language but he is ‘maintaining’ his false appearance and institutional image of the strong butler. Accordingly, Stevens is such a strong head because he “would not have wasted one moment on them were it not for these aforementioned benefits” (TROTD, p. 135). So, upon Miss Kenton catching him with no mask at all, Stevens refuses to admit his emotions and firmly dismisses her. The importance of these lines is that Stevens feels insecure the moment he senses that others are trying to enter his personal world; i.e. when they try to know Stevens the person, and not Stevens the butler. Thus, in this “episode”(TROTD, 134) with Stevens, the power has shifted from him to Miss Kenton, who has power over him. This is symbolically revealed when she personally takes the love story out of his hands:” She reached forward and began gently to release the volume from my grasp.” (TROTD, p. 134).

“You don’t consider any changes necessary to the present staff plans on account of the recent arrivals?” (TROTD, p. 143). In these lines the power shifts from Stevens to Miss Kenton upon asking her of her opinion about changing the staff. This means that he has given her the authority to choose her working staff. Hence, Stevens is giving Miss Kenton the floor to express her professional opinion as well as the Power to decide on the staff plan and act accordingly. This is clear in this encounter, and it is the only one where Stevens does so with Miss Kenton. However, in most of the meetings with Miss Kenton, Stevens exercises his power indirectly through implication or directly through emphasis.

Although the institutional power shifts to Miss Kenton, she also has the power to know what Stevens really is and through this she reveals something about her internal psyche too, in the following lines:

“I have noticed one or two things have fallen in standard just recently. I do feel you might be a little less complacent as regards new arrivals.”

“Whatever do you mean, Mr. Stevens?”

“For my part, Miss Kenton, whenever new recruits arrive, I like to make doubly sure all is well. I check all aspects of their work and try to gauge how they are conducting themselves with other staff members. It is, after all, important to form a clear view of them both technically and in terms of their impact on general morale. I regret to say this, Miss Kenton, but I believe you have been a little remiss in these respects.”

…, Miss Kenton looked confused” (TROTD, p. 143).

Miss Kenton knows the reality of Stevens, i.e. he is human after all who is capable of feeling and sensing emotions. She can see through him beyond the mask of professionalism. In this conversation, Miss Kenton alludes to the notion that Stevens used to be indirectly interested in her when she was once beautiful. Accordingly, Miss Kenton is portrayed as jealous of the pretty girls in the staff. Thus, the external agents who are the “new arrivals” trigger a psychological reaction from Miss Kenton towards Stevens. This uncovers the fact that she still has feelings for him. Thus, in terms of ‘emotions’ power both characters stand on equal ground.

“Miss Kenton’s footsteps came to a sudden halt, and I heard her say:

“Are you not in the least interested in what took place tonight between my acquaintance and I, Mr. Stevens?”

“I do not mean to be rude, Miss Kenton, but I really must return upstairs without further delay. The fact is, events of a global significance are taking place in this house at this very moment.”

“When are they not, Mr. Stevens?” (TROTD, p. 178).

By saying these words Miss Kenton is indirectly seeking either Stevens’s advice or companionship. Throughout their encounters, it is always Miss Kenton who paves the way for a personal relationship with Stevens. However, it is he who regularly pushes her away from him and treats her in a strictly professional manner: “I really must return upstairs without further delay” (TROTD, p. 178). Therefore, he does so because first, he is afraid of change, of revealing his emotions, and second because he views such relationships as a source of distraction which destroys his sense of “professionalism”. As such, Stevens is so keen that his mask does not crack so that no one sees his inner self. Thus, he hides his emotions because he believes that a true butler never gets emotionally attached. Accordingly, he sees them as a sign of weakness. Hence, his clinging to institutional rules gives him the sense of institutional power and control. That’s why Stevens does not compromise his profession in order to embark on a sentimental relationship.

Interpretation and Conclusion


          The analysis of the two types of discourses, mainly the institutional and the interpersonal discourse present in The Remains of the Day reveals many aspects about the power relations among particular characters: Lord Darlington and Sevens on the one hand, as well as Stevens and Miss Kenton on the other hand. Such power relations exist as a result of institutional status which in turn gives rise to discursive power at the interpersonal level. Moreover, the power among the specified characters is not fixed but it is mobile.  In fact, what catalyzes the power to shift is the social interaction in addition to the particular events unfolding in the novel such as the passing of Stevens’s father, Stevens reading a romantic story, and the conference itself being held at Darlington Hall.

Following the definition of institutional discourse put by Sarangi and Roberts (1999) and Freed (2017), such a discourse is an exchange which takes place in particular events according to the following. First, there exists at least one representative of an institution who is related to work. So, Stevens is a butler at Darlington Hall who is assigned by Lord Darlington to run the whole staff of the Hall, including Miss Kenton. Accordingly, Stevens’s position dictates that he follows certain rules and abides by a specific institutional behaviour.

Second, the language used in the interpersonal communication, the goals of the social members in the communication as well as the nature of the exchange, all are determined and regulated by the institution to which the social members belong to. Thus, Stevens’s institutional behaviour includes the use of professional discourse which has a high degree of formality and eloquence. Such a discourse not only affects Stevens as a professional butler, but it also plays a role in his personal affinities with others, as in his relation with Miss Kenton. It is clear from the analysis that Stevens takes his profession too serious and extends this seriousness to his personal encounters. As a result, such a rigidity shuns him form any emotional interaction.

Third, for institutional discourse to exist there must be one speaker who frames the interlocution as a work or doing something related to work. Therefore, Stevens is always occupying himself with overseeing the domestic chores of his staff and checking in every nook and cranny if the work has been properly accomplished. An example of institutional discourse is when Stevens talks to Miss Kenton about the new recruits and says: “whenever new recruits arrive, I like to make doubly sure all is well. I check all aspects of their work” (TROTD, p. 143).

          Another important aspect conveyed in the analysis is that Stevens wears a mask to avert any of his own ‘feeling’. However, this means that his psychology is affected by various outside emotions that are dictated on him by the masks he wears. Accordingly, we as readers do not have a direct access to his genuine feelings. We notice his true feelings in only two occasions: the first is when his father passes away and the second when Stevens sits alone reading a romantic story. The mask, hence, is symbolic of living life through others. But, at the end of the day Stevens takes it off and reveals that he is capable of ‘emotional’ interaction.

          Moreover, the title of the novel itself is symbolic: ‘The Remains of the Day’.  The day represents one’s prime age, life, and vitality. The morning is when one is energetic, vivid as well as when one gives his/her best. This symbolizes youth. Contrary to such liveliness, there is the image of the evening, which is a symbol of old age and a stage at which one is bound to retire for relaxation. However, Stevens sees it as “the best part of the day” (TROTD, p. 196). Accordingly, it is the part when the person does the things that were not done in “the morning”. Hence, the evening is the remains of the day and what one aspires to, in the end, after a long day of hard work.

          In the novel, power is like a pendulum. The analysis portrays the relationships among characters such as Lord Darlington and Stevens on the one hand, and Stevens and Miss Kenton on the other hand, as always being unstable in terms of power. The discourse of their interpersonal communication shifts the power existing among them. The elements that contribute to this shift are the events, the language used in the interlocution, and the institutional role that each member is assigned. Accordingly, every member experiences an aspect of having less power or being in full control.

To conclude with, from what has been presented, this paper goes in line with the study of Zhen (2021) in terms of two points. First, in the existence of power because of discipline which is a result of the positions of social members inside Darlington Hall, and second, in terms of Stevens’s attempt to keep his authoritarian grip over his staff. However, the present paper contradicts Zhen’s study in terms of the traditional hierarchical power which is the power existing between master and servant. First, the analysis reveals that such a power diminishes in many encounters between Lord Darlington and Stevens. Sometimes Stevens has the upper hand and the power, although this power is symbolic. This is because of the amicability of Lord Darlington who was almost a friend to Stevens than an employer. Second, the encounters of Stevens with Miss Kenton reveal that his power as ‘her boss’ is breeched many times, and thus, a shift of power from Stevens to Miss Kenton takes place.

The present paper parallels in some aspects the results of the study conducted by Ghariri (2020) in terms of the following. First, there is an almost total absence of Stevens’s real persona. This absence is because of his impersonation of others and his constant wearing of masks. Second, Stevens is emotionally rigid in many encounters, especially when he is with Miss Kenton, and third, Stevens’s impersonation changes his real persona and enables him to conceal many feelings and hide behind them. However, this present paper does not go hand in hand with the study of Patrick and Adetuyi (2019) as well as that of Dweedar (2020) because the researcher does not conduct a critical discourse analysis and examine the power relations among the characters assembling in the conference, nor does he analyze Ishiguro’s novel from a modernist view by tackling Stevens’s reactions to the events of his surroundings.

Therefore this paper concludes on two remarks. First, the most important notion is the novel’s thriving in institutional as well as interpersonal discourse which play an essential part in shifting the discursive power among employers as well as the power existing between employer and employee. Second, the paper recommends that further studies be conducted on Ishiguro’s novel under the lens of sociolinguistics in relation to the psychological effects of the sociolinguistic discourse among the characters.



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[1] – Associate Professor, Lebanese University Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, Department of English Language and Literature (Fifth Branch)

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