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As the majority of their readers acknowledge their unreliability, Dowell and Stevens fail overall with their attempted veneer of blamelessness for their unfulfilled lives. As Stang so perceptively writes, Dowell is ‘a master of obtusification, a manipulator of every trick.’ Stevens is similarly manipulative as Beech observes that ‘each journal entry becomes a mannered exercise in avoidance and protection.’ While Stevens’ language draws the reader’s attention to artifice, Dowell’s mistake lies in exposing the reader to his inertia by revising phrases in his stream-of-consciousness style. This process of development is best seen in the first paragraph of the novel as he attempts to disown his own tale:’This is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the Ashburnham’s for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme intimacy- or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove’s with your hand. My wife and I knew Captain and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. (…) Six months ago I had never been to England, and, certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows.’The blunt confidence of the first sentence, with Dowell’s attempt to ‘drop out’ from his own story, provokes the reader to question the artifice of ‘heard,’ and alerts them to the possibility of deceit. As he realises that the reader has been forewarned of his chicanery, Dowell immediately replaces this narrative tone with the timidity that characterises the following sentences. More obvious revisions can be seen with his retraction of ‘extreme intimacy’ for ‘acquaintanceship’ and the broadening of ‘we’ in the second sentence to ‘my wife and I’ in the third when he realises the benefits of distancing himself from the active participants in the story. In fact, his entire first paragraph is inherently contradictory as he misuses verbs (‘heard’, ‘sounded’) to dislocate himself from any activity in the story, yet evidently knows it well enough to attribute an emotional quality in the superlative tense, ‘saddest,’ to its events. It is ironic that he privileges knowledge in his first paragraph with the use of to know in four tenses, ‘known,’ ‘know,’ ‘knew,’ ‘had known,’ as he evidently has not yet formulated his own narrative voice. His return to the firmness of the first sentence with, ‘I had known the shallows,’ demonstrates his calculation that claiming to be a victim of society would benefit his case. The ‘glove’ of which he talks conceals Dowell’s hand, his role in the narrative, only to be removed by his own use of language. Unexpectedly, Dowell’s recasting of words acts in a similar way to Stevens’ overly-calculated narrative in provoking the reader to question the historical reality they present. The ‘telling defensiveness’ which McCulloch attributes to Stevens’ tone is a mild evaluation of his periphrasis: ‘It may be that you are under the impression I am somehow embarrassed or ashamed of my association with this lordship, and it is this that lies behind such conduct. Then let me make it clear that nothing could be further from the truth.’Stevens’ phrases are more strategically assembled than the reader would expect from a story composed of unanticipated moments on his impromptu journey. His characteristic narrative innocence with the adverb ‘somehow,’ is undermined by the fact that he second-guesses the reader’s reaction to his text. Because the modal auxiliary verb ‘may,’ makes the sentence hypothetical, it is evident that he has based the narrative on an evaluation of some knowledge which he has not shared with the reader. Certainly, the use of two adjectives, ’embarrassed’ and ‘ashamed,’ after feigning ignorance is similar to Dowell’s ability to apply ‘saddest’ to a story he claims not to know. As Ishiguro reveals in an interview, Stevens ‘ends up saying the sorts of things he does because somewhere deep down he knows which things he has to avoid,’ meaning that his discourse is driven by the information which he strains to keep out of the narrative frame. In fact, it is the material that he wishes to conceal which exposes Stevens as he leaves insistent semantic gaps in the text for the reader to fill. The use of ‘then’ is an example of one of these cracks in what Parkes labels his ‘carefully polished surface’ as he skips a step in the narrative and draws a consequence from omitted knowledge. Like Stevens’ misinterpretation of Miss Kenton’s letter, the reader responds to these pauses with their own preconceptions to produce ‘the inexhaustibility of meaning within the text’ and discover their opinion of the information that Stevens wishes to hide. As Dowell’s narrative revisions prevent the reader from sustaining a single opinion on his true self, Stevens fails to a greater extent to mask his false self-presentation. While Briony fails even more considerably than Stevens due to the fact she ‘has the absolute power of deciding outcomes’ and cannot give herself forgiveness, Charles succeeds to the greatest extent as there is only one piece of evidence indicative of his deception. In the same way that Stevens only momentarily drops his mask at one point in the narrative to reveal a more abrupt figure beneath (when he impatiently ‘resorts to the car horn’), Charles slips up once with Samgrass’ use of the collective possessive pronoun in ‘our little problem’ to refer to Sebastian. This link with Samgrass, strengthened by the fact that they stand arm-in-arm, insinuates that Charles also uses Sebastian to infiltrate the British aristocracy regardless of the effect it has on Sebastian’s alcoholism.

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