What is the major theme in Chapter 4 of Rasselas by Samuel Johnson?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The overall theme of Chapter 4 of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas is summed up in the last line: "He, for a few hours, regretted his regret, and from that time bent his whole mind upon the means of escaping from the valley of happiness." At the start of Chapter 4, the Prince has an epiphany that one's life can be of value to other people. Following this revelation, he sets about contemplating all the felicitous ways in which he might do good for individual people and for humanity at large. He has such a vivid imagination that he passes twenty months in this manner. He gets so good at his role playing in envisioned instances of need that he actually responds physically to his own imaginings. In this manner he one day finds himself halted at the foot of the mountain that borders his life and is halted in the hot pursuit of a villainous lover--who doesn't exist anywhere but in the Prince's wild imaginings. At this point he contemplates the reality that he has been bound by the mountain from fulfilling his desires. After another four months of regret at having lost twenty months, he learns from a house maid that what can't be repaired mustn't be regretted. He resolves then and there to find a way to establish his plans. He has thus established the theme that in order to begin one's desires and life's ambitions, one must begin: One must find or develop the means of escape from inertia's inaction.

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