How can I prove that The History of Rasselas can be called an oriental novel?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To prove that The History of Rasselas is an Oriental novel, you must compare it to the structural and thematic elements of the Oriental novel genre. The Oriental genre was begun in English literature with the translation of The Arabian Nights. This collection of one thousand tales comes from oral traditions in such places as India, Mesopotamia, Iraq and others. The first written version know is Persian and dates from 225 to 250.

To show that Rasselas fits the Oriental genre, there are some specific things to itemize and analyze. the first is the setting. The setting for a book in the Oriental novel genre must be an exotic Asian (Oriental) locale and environment, such as a price of Persia, etc. The genre also requires a well-defined hero (or villain, if the villain is the primary character). Analyze the hero in Rasselas to determine if Johnson constructed a well-defined character. Also, this well-defined character must engage in great adventures. Does Rasselas's journey encompass great adventure?

Next in the elements of an Oriental novel comes the idea of theme. Oriental novels that follow the genre opened by Arabian Nights address "universal" themes that transcend time, place, language and genre. Such themes are life, death, happiness, love, immortality, fate, etc. Other themes addressed are the relationship between men and women; how women have strength in adversity despite subjugation and dehumanization; good versus evil; spiritual perfection; etc. In Oriental novels, good triumphs in the end and villainous protagonists see that justice and forgiveness are the superior forces. Humanity is lifted up. The power of art transforms evil to good, injustice to justice, revenge to forgiveness.

 

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Rasselas

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