The Depiction of Women in Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia Analysis

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The Depiction of Women in Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia Thesis Statement: Samuel Johnson presented through this novel that women, amidst their vulnerability, strengthen men in times of weakness and despair and thus, are essential to men’s sense of happiness and contentment.

The role of Nekumah in Rasselas’ Happiness D. Women subordination reflected on The History of Rasselas III. Conclusion [Name] [Professor/Instructor] [Subject] [Date of Submission] The Depiction of Women in Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia Samuel Johnson was not a lucky fellow who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was born in a humble home in September of 1709 in Lichfield, England.

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He was the child of simple people. His father was a bookseller who nevertheless brought him up well. He attended Pembroke College in Oxford, but due to lack of funds, he was forced to leave school even before he graduated (Lynch). He was a humble and simple man who went through very tough and challenging trials in life which molded him into what people now see as a profound and optimistic novelist.

Despite his humble background, Samuel Johnson can be considered as one of the most values and renowned English writers of the eighteenth century (Lynch).The entire century was even popularly named as “the age of Johnson” due to his impeccable works which have been widely admired and respected during that time (Lynch). Truly, an individual’s humble and small beginnings never define what he or she could be in the future–how Johnson lived his life is a testament to this. He struggled to become a known writer by writing simple yet outstanding works such as biographies, satires, and debate reports.

All of his efforts paid off when he became known in 1738 through his first masterpiece entitled London which appears to be an imitation of a poem by another great Latin poet, Juvenal (Lynch).Following this was another great hit entitled The Vanity of Human Wishes which was published eleven years later his first major work was released. After these successful attempts, he eventually succeeded in making one of the works which posed an eternal impression in the world of literature which was The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (Lynch). This work of Johnson was one of those most valued works of literature which were seen to portray a special kind of happiness and meaning in life, as well as a different depiction of women’s role in the society.

He also presented, through this novel that women, amidst their vulnerability, strengthen men in times of weakness and despair and thus, are essential to men’s sense of happiness and contentment. Women Portrayed in The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia The first thing that may come to a reader’s mind after reading The History of Rasselas could be that it reflects the different ways on how people strive to fulfill their life’s desires and fantasies that eventually give them happiness. This is the most apparent theme of the story.However, if readers would only analyze the portrayals of the characters in the novel, it would be noticed that Johnson also made an interesting depiction about the roles of women in the society and on men’s happiness.

In the novel, the woman who appeared essential to the plot was Princess Nekayah, Rasselas’ (the main protaginist) sister. The story mainly recounts Rasselas’ journey with his sister and a philosopher named Imlac in search for the real source and meaning of happiness in the world.Although Rasselas and Imlac’s characters are the dominant characters of the novel, the character of Nekumah also gives the story a softer and a more sentimental touch. As the story revolves around Rassela’s journeys in and out of Abyssinia, the characters in the story found the women to be one of the men’s primary source of happiness and strength, if not the sole source.

As the story explores mainly Rasselas’ voyages with his companions, it also reveals the different way on how people strive for happiness in life.These are mainly through labor which pays them enough to keep them alive (which is happiness for some), while some strive to get married and have a family which can give them pleasure and happiness throughout their entire lives. This idea roused Nekayah’s curiosity as to whether marriage is really a great source of happiness (Tullis). At this part of the story, Rasselas debates with Nekayah as to whether or not marriage and having a family would be the best key to people’s happiness.

This part of the story gives an allusion to how women are seen during those times. As reflected on Nekayah’s character, it appears apparent that women tend to be more appreciative of commitments such as marriage compared to men. Thus, it appears understandable that Nekayah would fight for the idea that marriage is a good way to happiness while Rasselas would oppose it (Tullis). This also implies that, based on how Nekayah was portrayed in the story, women also appear to value commitments more than men do.

They are the ones who are most likely to be the caretakers of the relationship and similarly, they are also the ones who are most likely to try keeping the commitment strong and steady. Nekayah was also seen as the main cause of Rasselas’ amusement and delight. It was clear in the story that in their voyages, it was Nekumah which kept Rasselas happy who loved her most among all his sisters. This was also the reason why he did not hesitate to take Nekayah with him on his voyage when she proposed that she should go with him.

This was evident in these lines from the story, “The prince (Rasselas), who love Nekayah above his other sisters, had no inclination to refuse her request, and grieved that he has lost an opportunity of showing his confidence by a voluntary communication” (Johnson 52). Hence, this passage as well as the part of Nekayah in Rasselas’ happiness is a reflection of how the author himself sees women in his life as well as in the society. In one way or another, this also illustrates Johnson’s impression of women and what he thinks are their true roles and functions in the society.Thus, this suggests that Johnson believes that women are in several ways the source of men’s happiness through their simple, feeble, vulnerable yet compassionate and caring ways.

However, it may appear unjust to some especially to the feminists or to those who fight subordination of women that Nekayah’s role is this novel was not depicted as equivalent to the literate and philosophical characters of Rasselas and Imlac. In the story, these two characters were depicted as curious, dominant, and knowledgeable (Konzett 2).Nekayah’s character, on the other hand, being the only female character which played a major role in the story, was not portrayed to be inquisitive, intelligent, dominant, or inclined to philosophy. Moreover, it was also not mentioned in the text that Nekayah was able get connections or access to philosophical ideas as compared to Rasselas who was portrayed with such inclination to philosophy.

This would in some ways still imply that females, during the time Johnson wrote the novel, were still regarded as the inferior gender in the society.Thus, this portrayal of women also show in some ways how women were generally seen during the eighteenth century in England that, although they were thought of as a compassionate and loving homemaker, they were still not given equivalent academic privileges the men enjoyed. Similarly, they were also not regarded as dominant and powerful as the men. Nekayah’s character, as well as all the other female characters of novels during that time, was always the supporting characters behind these intelligent, powerful, and dominant male protagonists.

The reason behind this seemingly undying impression about women’s subordination to men’s domination in the society as reflected in the eighteenth century literature may appear to be incomprehensible even today. As it appears, the real root of this inequality in the society will always stay blurry for people since even the philosophers from that time found it hard to explain such reality. Nevertheless, this issue was not in any way the focus of Johnson’s work.It was just apparent that like all the other literary works of that time, Johnson also regarded women as less dominant and authoritative than men as reflected on the roles of the characters he made.

Thus, this novel illustrates that it will always be difficult and challenging for people to achieve the true essence of happiness, as people have the natural tendency to have unending wants and wishes which make contentment almost impossible to achieve. As what the character of Rasselas depicts, a person must first learn what happiness means to him or her and then work for it in order to achieve it (Jackson).Likewise, even if people would try to go on journeys and explore the “the best of all possible worlds” in order to find the true meaning of happiness just like what Rasselas did, they would definitely have a hard time finding it as well since the true meaning of happiness lies on how each person finds it inside his or her heart (Conway). It was also fascinating to discover the role that women played in Johnson’s idea of happiness, which is clearly reflected in how he molded the character of Nekayah in the novel.

Nekayah, who played a significant role in his brother’s happiness, represents all the other women who appear to be the happiness behind men. Also, it was interesting to realize that women’s idea of happiness, portrayed as rather simplistic and naive, appears to be the most sincere and pure idea of happiness in Johnson’s work. Thus, regardless of how complex and complicated happiness is for some, at least, according to Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, women, amidst their vulnerability, will always be the source of strength for men in times of weakness and despair. Thus, women appear to be essential to men’s happiness and contentment.

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The Depiction of Women in Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia Analysis. (2017, May 04). Retrieved from

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