Rasselas (RAS-eh-luhs), fourth son of the king of Abyssinia. Like his brothers and sisters, he is reared in the luxury of Happy Valley, a remote mountain-rimmed vale whose only entrance is closed by a guarded gate. The royal children live a life of pleasure and entertainment, which everyone but Rasselas finds sufficient. In his twenty-sixth year, he finds his mind unchallenged by this life of pleasure, in which every want is met or anticipated. Feeling that he is something more than a beast of the field, content with sensory pleasure, he lives with his uneasiness until at last he plans to escape into the outer world where, he hopes, he will be able to exercise his choice of life. With a few companions, he finally reaches the outer world and there questions many persons in the hope of learning how to live a contented life. Though he travels great distances and talks with many people, he can find no easy solution to his problems. Everyone seems unhappy. Rasselas begins to dream of establishing a little kingdom, a utopia, which he can rule with justice; but he finally realizes that such an ideal can never be reached, and he decides to return to Abyssinia.
Nekayah (nehk-AY-yah), one of Rasselas’ sisters, who is invited to join in her brother’s escape. Nekayah proves a happy choice as a companion for Rasselas, for she is an intelligent and observant young woman. She takes the lower classes for her special field of study in the hope of learning how human beings may be happy. Her observations, particularly of domestic life, provide her and Rasselas with much material for thought and discussion. Nekayah finally forms the opinion that knowledge is the key to human happiness. To this end, she makes plans to learn all the sciences and then to establish a college or community of learned women, over which she...
(The entire section is 788 words.)