While perhaps not seemingly the typical “quester” character, Kazuo Ishiguro turns his protagonist in Remains of the Day, Stevens, into just that. As stated in Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like A Professor, traditionally younger people are prime characters to embark on quests. (3) Stevens, however, is a post-middle aged, painstakingly formal, self-proclaimed dignified English butler. But because Stevens was, essentially, born into his profession, it is all he has ever known; his father was also a butler, “mercifully free of confusions of professional values.” This sheltered life and some level of naivety puts him on par with teenagers and young adults in terms of self-realization, therefore making him perfectly suitable to take such a journey.
Structurally, every quest must have a destination. (Prof. 4) In Remains of the Day, the physical layout of Stevens’ journey is very simple; he intends to take a road trip across England. Over the course of 6 days, Stevens intends to see as much of the English countryside as possible, eventually ending up in West Country, England.
The next essential part of a quest is a “stated reason” for embarking on said quest. (Prof. 4) In Stevens’ case, there are several factors pushing him to take this journey. It begins with Mr. Farraday, Stevens’ employer, suggesting that Stevens take some time off in order to relax and enjoy the countryside. Stevens also became enamored by the region he intended to visit upon looking through the “marvelous descriptions and illustrations” (12) in a travel guide by Jane Symons. However, neither of these factors completely convince Stevens to take his journey; the real reason behind Stevens’ leaving (or so he believes) is to visit Miss Kenton, an old colleague, after receiving a letter that he believes contains “distinct hints of her desire to return [to Darlington Hall],” (9) Besides his feelings that Darlington Hall is understaffed and although it goes unstated, it seems as though Stevens has romantic feelings toward Miss Kenton, and is excited to see her as he believes that her marriage may be coming to an end.
Despite some small difficulties, such as car troubles and literal obstacles such as animals in his path, (68) most of the obstacles Stevens encounters are not physical, present problems on his journey. Considering his end goal for the journey is to be reunited with Miss Kenton, bring her back to Darlington Hall and possibly have some sort of romantic relationship with her, he recounts several stories from decades ago that prevent that from ever happening. Not only did Stevens prove unresponsive to any advances Miss Kenton may have made-for example, the scene in which Stevens was reading a love story and it was apparent that Miss Kenton was “flirting” with him- he also proved to her several times that he was incapable of having a loving, emotional relationship with anyone. This was clear when Stevens’ father died, and Stevens chose to continue about his work as if nothing had happened.Stevens was consistently rude and condescending when talking to Miss Kenton, as demonstrated on page 53 when he chastises her as one would a child or someone lower in superiority for calling his father by his first name. His social ineptitude is probably the most clear and omnipresent obstacle in completing his quest.
As in every quest, (Prof. 4) Stevens’ journey had the unstated purpose of self-discovery and reflection. Throughout the novel, Stevens had been obsessed with the idea of dignity. Dignity was the one thing he strived for above all else, and he believed it was achieved in dedication to one’s profession and loyalty to one’s employer. However, toward the end of the book Stevens begins to realize that his life may not have been as fulfilling as it could have been because of his undying desire to possess what he at one time considered dignity. Not only does Stevens realize that Lord Darlington perhaps does not deserve the place on the pedestal that Stevens gives him, but that in devoting his life to blindly following a man does not necessarily make him as dignified as he once believed. Among other things, it is revealed on page 137 that Lord Darlington was an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer, qualities that do not necessarily embody the idea of proper decorum that Stevens holds. Stevens is forced to reconsider his definition of the word “dignity,” a word that had been the basis of his professional career and personal life for so many years.
The novel does not end on a positive note, and in fact the ending has a somewhat sad tone; for Stevens, self-realization came too late. (A clue as to why quests are generally left to younger characters.) At this point in his life, he has made all of his mistakes and it is too late to undo them. He will return to Darlington Hall and attempt to incorporate his discoveries into his future work-he even plans on trying to banter with Mr. Farraday- but is distraught by all of the time he essentially wasted. The novel ends proving that a quest, although always taken in order to gain self-knowledge, (Prof. 3) does not always lead to positive change for the quester.