The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia

The search of happiness is the central theme in Dr. Jonson's Rasselas. Discuss

search of happiness

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Samuel Johnson’s “The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia” is a fascinating way to present someone who is in search of happiness and ‘choice of life.’ Rasselas points out that he is discontented with the current situation he is in while living at the ‘happy valley.’ He says, “…I should be happy if I had something to pursue” (Johnson 663). After, Imlac, Nekayah, and Rasselas decide to escape from ‘happy valley’ they meet a variety of people such as shepherds, a young man, wise man, a hermit, people of high rank, families, an astronomer etc. They question these people about their lives in hopes to find true happiness. Rasselas is determined that happiness must be found somewhere: “I have here the world before me; I will review it at leisure: surely happiness is somewhere to be found’” (Johnson 677). Rasselas clearly knows the type of happiness that he wants to discover. “ ‘Happiness’, said he, ‘must be something solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty’” (Johnson 677). Rasselas and his sister Nekayah demonstrate great determination in their search and do not want to give up. Nekayah, “…had yet the same hope with himself, and always assisted him to give some reason why, though he had been hitherto frustrated, he might succeed at last” (Johnson 683).

I found the decision and debate about marriage between Rasselas and Nekayah interesting. Nekayah says: “Some husbands are imperious, and some wives perverse: and, as it is always more easy to do evil than good, though the wisdom or virture of one can very rarely make many happy, the folly or vice of one may often make many miserable’” (685). This caused Rasselas to question whether one should marry at all. However, Nekayah explains that “Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures’” (685). This indicates that either choice can have difficulties. They discuss the disadvantages between earlier and later marriages. The earlier marriage has rivalry and in the later marriage people are sometimes unable to enjoy their grandchildren (688-689). “I believe it will be found that those who marry late are best pleased with their children, and those who marry earlier with their parents’” (689). Resselas argues: “Perhaps there is a time when marriage might unite them, a time neither too early for the father, not too late for the husband’” (689). These view points and arguments on the subject of marriage demonstrate the complexity of marriage. The ending of the story is interesting in that they do not find true happiness in the world. Nekayah believes that happiness may be found instead in the eternal life. “To me’, said the princess, ‘the choice of life is become less important; I hope thereafter to think only on the choice of eternity’” (709). Each concludes a resolution about what they intend to do with their present situation.

This story was an excellent way to present a search for happiness in life. In reality people are in search of things that make them happy and may ask similar questions in order to discover their own true happiness. Nekayah points out that “…the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again” (706). In other words, people can be in a continual search for what makes them happy.