It is nearing the end of the evening, I have already turned in for the night, but sleep is non-forthcoming. So, I began to ponder upon the matter of dignity, and find my asking the weary question, once again, “What is dignity?” Upon asking myself this I remember an intriguing conversation between the respectable Mr. Graham and myself.
It was at one of Lord Darlington frequent gatherings that I happened to find myself with a short amount of idle time before preparations for supper began, and I decided to pleasure myself with an idle discussion with my reputable acquaintance, Mr. Graham. We enjoy debating the attributes of dignity required to make a truly great butler.
I find Mr. Graham lounging in the library, engrossed in piece of philosophical literature Lord Darlington favors, but he looks up and greets me upon my entrance. We exchanged pleasantries and formalities for a short time, then I presented the age old query, “What is required of a butler to allow him to be considered dignified?” Mr. Graham quickly replied with a most predictable answer, “You know when somebody’s got it and you know when somebody hasn’t.” (pg. 44). We continued to deliberate with for a little longer, but I was shortly called away to care to the task of maintaining the vibrant household of Lord Darlington, taking with me nothing of note from our conversation except Mr. Graham’s steadfast argument of either you have it or you don’t.
Upon remembering my conversation with Mr. Graham, his argument sets my mind to the task of answering the original question, “What is dignity?” Unlike Mr. Graham I believe that dignity is something that can be obtained if one properly conditions his mind to the task. In his later years my father, the only butler that I have personally known for any notable amount, seemed to have obtained this mischievously almost unobtainable quality of dignity.
He was a man that was truly dignified, in every miniscule aspect, even upon his death bed, he was nothing but a picture of calm, politeness. Another man that seems to have obtained dignity is Lord Darlington himself, a man of true honor and great repute. I must end with these thoughts though, the hour is nearing midnight and I plan to walk around Salisbury one last time before I continue on my journey tomorrow morning. I am not quite certain of the necessary ingredients that make a person dignified but it is something that I strive for hope to achieve before my time comes to an end. Statement of Intent:
For my creative writing piece, I placed Stevens in the evening lying in bed, after a long day of traveling, tired but unable to fall asleep. Throughout my study of the book Stevens’s reflections upon the meaning and requirements of the dignity of what makes a true butler really caught my attention. So I decided construct one of Stevens’s musings upon the matter. On page forty-three, Stevens mentions speaking with another butler acquaintance, Mr. Graham, that he had participated in previous conversations with, pertaining to the topic of dignity. In my writing piece I made it seem as if Stevens was recounting a previous conversation he had with Mr. Graham about the matter of dignity that was not already in the book. I then used the memory of the conversation to provide a train of thought that Stevens would be able to bring up the examples of Lord Darlington and his own Father as beings that he believed to have gained the aspect of dignity throughout their lifetimes.
The section of the book that I drew the majority of my ideas from was Day One-Evening in the town of Salisbury. This was the first time that Stevens brought up the subject of dignity and what it means to be a great butler and whether or not he qualified as a great butler. This section spoke to me because even as Stevens was presenting his examples of who were great butlers and those he thought truly had an air of dignity, he spoke with a tone that suggested that he was superior to every one of his examples and made it sound as if ‘he could have done it better.’
I did my best to capture this sense of superiority in the creative writing piece because I feel that Stevens’s sense of having superior intellect and standards is a crucial portion of his character’s personality, I believe that Stevens is similar to John Keats in this way. Like Stevens, Keats was a man that was extremely confident in his abilities and believed that almost no one could surpass his expertise. Stevens’s superiority is not his most defining characteristic though, his refusal to show or admit that he has any sort of emotional sensation is Stevens’s most significant standard that he writes with into his journal.
Stevens’s lack of emotion is what prompted me to view the book through a psychoanalytical critical lens that tends to lean towards deconstructionism. Stevens is a character that can’t seem to come to terms with a world that contains emotion, every one of his writings in his journal is spoken with the most proper language and views every event without a touch of emotion. Stevens does this partially because of his opinion on how a great butler with dignity should perform in life.
To Stevens, a great butler is a man that is always ready to serve his employer in the most efficient, calm, polite way possible. Stevens’s father, Mr. Stevens, often told him a story during his childhood, about a butler who found a tiger in the dining room and how he handled the dilemma. This story is a perfect representation of how Stevens feels a perfect butler should act at all times of the day and night. Not only did Stevens show a lack of emotion on his part, but he also did not recognize the emotions of those he loved or respected. This is why, for my creative writing piece, I had Stevens remember his dead father being polite and formal even on his deathbed. This lack of emotion was also Stevens’s internal defense mechanism.
Stevens’s deficiency of emotion was not represented in real life as it is in his journal entries, in real life Stevens probably acted a lot more ‘human’. I say ‘human’ for lack of a better word, I simply mean that he most likely showed more emotions in life that he does in his journal. Stevens used his journal entries to order his thoughts and emotions, and his writing without emotions was his way of keeping himself from having a mental breakdown. For example, Lord Darlington was recognized by the public as a Nazi sympathizer and not at all a kind person, whereas Stevens view Lord Darlington as a man containing the utmost honor and dignity, and throughout the book Stevens continually changes his definition of honor and dignity to allow Lord Darlington to be included in his definition of an honorable man.
Stevens writes without using his true emotions because if he did I believe that he would be forced to come to terms with the fact that he worked and sacrificed much of his life for a man with such an immoral stature. This is also the reason Stevens remembers his father as a formal, polite speaking, butler that was never once informal or a maker of rash actions, it is the reason for the missing journal entry too. Ms. Kenton rejected Stevens, and just as with his father he was not emotionally competent enough to handle his own overwhelming grief.
I believe that he was not physically able to write a journal entry without completely breaking down and losing his sanity, because instead of choosing address his emotions, he hides behind his mental defenses and acts as if he is devoid of all emotion. Stevens’s refusal to acknowledge his emotions is the cause of why he is in such mental turmoil over the matter of dignity and the reason he gives the impression of being an outsider. I use the word outsider because of Stevens’s lack of ability to emotionally connect with people. Throughout the book, Stevens does not mention one person that he can truly call a friend. Stevens is lonely because of his lack of emotion and he uses his lack of emotion to hide himself from the fact that he is lonely.
Courtney from Study Moose
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