Samuel Johnson's Rasselas: The Duplicity of Choice and the Sense of an Ending
Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, Vols. 19/20, pp. 75-99, 1989-1990
13 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2010
Date Written: 1989
Samuel Johnson's philosophical novel, 'The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, deals with 'The Choice of Life.' This phrase, which is emphasized several times throughout the novel, is also its shortest conceivable summary. The issue of that choice, however, is not clear. In spite of Johnson's well-turned aphorisms, Rasselas' choice of life remains inconclusive. Worse still, a study of the response to the work throughout its life reveals that the readers of the book have interpreted this inconclusiveness, and the doctrine of the book as a whole, in widely different ways - the implied authorial attitude of the work has proved difficult to discern. These disagreements reveal some tensions in the thematic structure of the novel and in Johnson's system of morals. The status of Johnson's novel as a literary artifact seems to work against its purported moral content. A comprehensive interpretation of Rasselas cannot see it as the seamless product of its author's intention.
Keywords: Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, Philosophical Novel, Choice, Intention, Closure
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