Stevens is a lifelong butler, devoted to his trade and the man he serves, who begins to doubt the value of his work after 34 years. Stevens is a gifted butler who has served two generations of aristocrats in a large manor house in England. While journeying to meet the house's former housekeeper, he reminisces on his work, weighing the value of his contribution to humanity and to his masters. He suspects that the woman he is visiting, Mrs. Kenton, is considering a return to the house due to a failing marriage. As he travels, he recalls the lavish dinner parties he served during the time of the manor's original owner, Lord Darlington. Stevens' devotion to his service blinded himself to his master having been a Nazi sympathizer during the second World War. Though he never admits as much, it becomes clear that Stevens' interest in Mrs. Kenton is romantic. He recalls stories when they worked together in the estate. They would often disagree on protocol and unimportant matters in a way that revealed mutual affection. When Kenton and Stevens finally meet she admits to him that her life would have been better had she married him instead of the man she is now divorcing. Kenton becomes agitated and is unable to admit his own feelings for her. He leaves the house and returns to the estate, more devoted than ever in the Herculean effort of becoming the perfect butler. He focuses his attention on improving his skill at "banter", the kind of jocular small talk his new American master employs that is so foreign to his stoic and professional nature. Any explicit regret over his missed opportunity with Mrs. Kenton are never uttered.
Best part of story, including ending:
Stevens' perspective on his job is nearly that of a monk or a mystic. He takes it to such a level of perfection that it is often sublime.
Best scene in story:
The tension between Mrs. Kenton and Stevens is so intense that it is riveting and uncomfortable to read.
Opinion about the main character:
Stevens' self-denial is so complete that it is sad to think of what his life could have been.