The ‘Insider Outsider’ in Iris Murdoch’s Bruno’s Dream and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day
Nakanishi, Wendy Jones
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This paper compares and contrasts two novels that take as their theme the reflections and regrets of a lonely male protagonist entering the final phase of his life. The eponymous Bruno in Iris Murdoch’s Bruno’s Dream (1969) and the butler Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1990) resemble each other in living only peripherally in the present. Bruno and Stevens are mainly preoccupied in old age with memories of times past and of family and friends who are dead or simply absent. The novels are of similar length. They were both published in the latter half of the twentieth century, and both take place in England although written by authors who were actually born in other countries: Murdoch in Ireland and Ishiguro in Japan. Murdoch was taken to England as a baby and Ishiguro when he was six. This paper argues that Murdoch and Ishiguo both present life as a dream from which their protagonists struggle to awaken as they realize they are approaching their end. It is also apparent that Murdoch and Ishiguro both wrote their stories out of a sense of personal need, an attempt to deal with demons or insecurities that were related in part to their feeling of being ‘insider outsiders’ in their adopted country. Ishiguo has admitted impatience with critics who try to identify him as a Japanese author simply because he was born in Japan. He claims that, in The Remains of the Day, he was trying to write as someone more English than the English. His sense of ambivalence about his nationality arises in part from the fact that, from an early age, he was thoroughly immersed in English culture outside the family home while within it he was raised as a Japanese by parents who intended, one day, to return to their home country. In Stevens, with his obsession about work, Ishiguro managed to create a curiously Japanese figure. Iris Mudoch was similarly conflicted about her identity. She liked to think of herself as Irish despite living in England almost all her life. In Bruno’s Dream, she wrote of an old man possessed by memories and regrets. At the time of writing this novel, she was worried about losing or becoming estranged from friends and also hurt by criticism that the two novels she had just published, set in Ireland, betrayed a fundamental incomprehension of Irish history and culture. In being both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, Ishiguro and Murdoch were uniquely placed to describe Stevens and Bruno, characters who embody some of their own thoughts and feelings, who wrestle with their own concerns.