Stevens sums up the ideas of "greatness" and "dignity" by saying that while some people may certainly be more naturally inclined to be dignified, dignity is also a quality that one can, and must, strive to attain.


The fact that Stevens thinks that a "restrained" landscape is beautiful is not at all surprising, given that he himself is the embodiment of self-restraint. In this regard, the landscape is a symbol of all that Stevens stands for. The qualities that make the landscape "great" are the same qualities that Stevens thinks make a butler "great."

Stevens has to stop and stretch his legs because he needs to take a moment to adjust to seeing unfamiliar landscape. The fact that this unfamiliar landscape is only a few minutes' drive from Darlington Hall demonstrates how enclosed Stevens's entire existence has been; due to his incredible professional commitment to Darlington Hall, he has hardly ever ventured into the outside world. However, the fact that his travels are limited never bothers him; it would never even occur to him to allow himself to feel discontentment at his confinement, as he believes a butler's greatest fulfillment is the graceful execution of his duties for his employer.

Stevens's story about the tiger describes a butler acting with perfect poise under great duress. For Stevens and his father to feel dignified, they must, like that butler in India, succeed in acting unruffled even in the hardest of circumstances. The stories concerning the general and the reprimanding of the drunken guests are similar: all three examples involve the butler's negation of his own feelings in order to promote the harmony of his employer's household. This ideology is an extension of the customs in English culture at that time: servants were commonly thought of as inferior not just as workers, but as people. As inferior beings, they were expected to exist solely to serve the household in which they worked.

Though Stevens provides these examples as an illustration of the triumph of the butlers involved, we may just as readily view the stories as pathetic. According to Stevens, a dignified butler is never able to freely express himself: the butler in the tiger story cannot acknowledge the urgency and bizarreness of the situation, just as Stevens's father must put up with annoying houseguests without ever expressing his dislike for them. Butlers cannot choose whether or not to react to any given situation; they are always expected to repress their own feelings. Furthermore, the third example demonstrates Steven's father's loyalty to his employer, Mr. John Silver, at the total exclusion of his own personal pain and feelings. Stevens himself feels the same unquestioned loyalty for Lord Darlington.

Stevens's lengthy discussion of dignity may appear a bit extraneous to the plot, as he presents it in this section as a sort of mental digression. However, Stevens's concept of dignity is vital to understanding his motivation for his actions, both past and present. The narrative has not, as of yet, raised any doubts as to the wisdom of Stevens's beliefs. However, the lengthy explanation of these beliefs suggests that they later become essential to decisions Stevens makes that shape the plot of the story as a whole.