Ishiguro’s Mr Stevens and Madox Ford’s John Dowell look over the corpse-like ‘remains’ of their lives and are distressed by the lack of any deep human relationships or tangible achievements. The image of Stevens’ father ‘looking down at the ground as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he dropped there,’ poignantly characterises his own diary: a longing to salvage his lost love and ‘dignity’ while he suspects his life has been wasted. These pangs of loss are seen in Dowell’s narration where he reassesses crucial points in his life as if ‘looking for a lost object in dim light.’ This ‘persistence’ of particular memories, in both his and Stevens’ narratives, reveal the moments that they regret and continue to relive.
Dowell is tormented by the sexual inertia which has caused his unfulfillment, symbolised by Florence’s ‘enigmatic smile,’ just as Stevens is haunted by a literal ‘turning point’ on the threshold of Miss Kenton’s door. ‘Transfixed by indecision as to whether or not (he) should knock,’ Stevens’ memory also represents his remorse for moral paralysis as it is derived from the same night that Lord Darlington tries to convince the Prime Minister to accept Hitler’s invitation. Their first-person narratives are driven towards removing any culpability from themselves for this unfulfillment with deceptive self-presentations. Written in 1915, Dowell’s narrative casts him as the victim of powerful females (Florence and Leonora) to draw on the contextual ‘dread’ of men as their traditional patriarchal role was undermined by ‘10,000 war women workers.
‘ Similarly, the historical setting of 1956 (when Stevens writes his diary) feeds into The Remains of the Day with Stevens’ claim to having been metaphorically colonised by Miss Kenton. Both Dowell and Stevens strengthen these inferior presentations of themselves by preventing the reader from attributing any responsibility to them, Stevens by consistently appearing as the perfect manservant of unquestioning loyalty and Dowell by oscillating between two narrative masks. Despite their efforts, both Dowell and (to a greater extent) Stevens fail to certify the alternate selves they cast with the sympathy of the reader and cannot ‘retell the past as a strategy to redefine the present.’