Last Updated on December 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515
Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
Rasselas is the protagonist of the story. He is the fourth son of the king of Abyssinia. In his utopian home of Happy Valley, Rasselas finds himself to be anything but happy. He is expected to stay in the valley until it is his time to rule, but the twenty-six-year-old is discontent and seeks to see the world. His siblings seem relatively unbothered by their wealth and lack of purpose. With the help of a visiting sage and his sister, he leaves his home in the utopian Happy Valley in a quest to find a greater meaning to life than simple pleasure. While in the outside world, he discovers that unhappiness or human dissatisfaction finds people there, too. Throughout his journey to discover the key to human happiness, he discovers that life is full of possibility and this is what motivates people. By the end of the story, he has not found the tangible source of purpose he set out for. Instead, he returns to Happy Valley with a newfound understanding of the world—one that emphasizes the promise of tomorrow rather than achieving radical, unrealistic happiness.
Nekayah is Rasselas's sister. She is his favorite sister and accompanies Rasselas on his quest. With her background in Happy Valley, exploring the rest of the world is a sort of culture shock to her as she learns that wealth cannot buy happiness. When her maidservant Pekuah is captured, she suffers her loss greatly.
Imlac is the son of a merchant who has come to the Happy Valley only to find that life there is empty. He serves as Rasselas's guide. He is sagelike and philosophical, choosing to lead his life in pursuit of knowledge rather than wealth. It is he who prompts Rasselas to explore the world beyond the Happy Valley and seek meaning in it.
A friend of Imlac’s, the Astronomer has been so absorbed in his solitary studies that he teeters on madness. Imlac warns the group of the dangers of solitude. Rasselas, Nekayah, and Pekuah meet him in Egypt. The Astronomer is completely absorbed by his studies, but visits from Rasselas and the women help him discover that there is more to life than astronomy. With their company, he regains his sanity.
The Mechanist tries to invent wings that will allow Rasselas to fly out of the Happy Valley.
Pekuah is an attendant to Nekayah, working as her maidservant and favorite companion. After leaving the valley, she is kidnapped by Arabs for seven months.
The Philosopher is initially thought of as wise by Rasselas for his outlook and life. But, both he and Rasselas learn that his logic is no consolation on the death of his daughter.
The Hermit is another figure that Rasselas is drawn to at first. He admits to Rasselas that he is not happy in his solitude, though, prompting him to continue on his quest.
The Old Man
The Old Man tells Rasselas and Nekayah that old age is not the key to happiness.