Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Nietzsche’s problem of the actor

Paul Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reads Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day in the light of Nietzsche's discussions of ‘the problem of the actor’ and the ways in which modern subjects relate to their social roles as actors in The Gay Science. The central character, Mr Stevens, holds strong views about what it means to be not merely a good but a great butler. His life is lived in role of butler and in the service of this ideal of greatness. He pays a high emotional and moral price for his commitment to this ideal, and at the end of the novel questions the value of the life he has lived, while also showing himself incapable of living otherwise. In this manner, the novel may be read as addressing the question of the relationship between personhood and the roles that we assume. To the extent that we are conscious of ourselves as performing a role, it raises profound questions about that nature of individual identity, agency and responsibility in the modern world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-23
Number of pages16
JournalForeign Language and Literature Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • social roles
  • identity


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