In Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, what did Harold learn about himself and life while on his pilgrimage? 

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

British author Rachel Joyce's debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a very inspirational story about a man finding his lost self. In the beginning, the protagonist Harold is characterized as spineless, annoying, unhappy, and bored with his life at retirement age. However, his seemingly dull world is shaken up the day he receives a letter from a past affectionate acquaintance who is dying in a hospice and wrote to say goodbye. Harold quickly writes a postcard in response and promptly sets out to mail it, but his mailbox trek develops into a 627 mile pilgrimage on foot from his home in Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. His innocent, child-like rationale is that so long as he keeps walking towards Queenie, Queenie will live, as he expresses to his wife Maureen from a phone booth on the road, "I am going to walk and she's going to live. I'm going to save her."

Along the way, he learns many different things. The most important thing he learns is that there is still life worthy of being lived, or as Janet Maslin, book reviewer for The New York Times, phrases it, that "there is fresh air, scenic vistas and an open sky outside the confines of his unhappy home" ("Quiet Man Gets a Life and Also a Blister: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce"). He learns that happiness is really all about life's little trivialities. What's more, he rediscovers his past. He rediscovers that he does and always has had a need for his wife Maureen, and both rediscover their love for each other. He also remembers how happy he was to be a father, which helps him reconcile with his estranged son. All in all, he learns to discover new strength and is no longer the timid man we meet at the beginning; he is instead a self-possessed man fully aware of the richness of his own life.