1. On 2680-82 (Chs. 1-2), Johnson describes the young prince Rasselas' childhood environment with much care. What state of mind does this setting allude to? What is the relationship between Rasselas and the world around him at the outset of the story?
Rasselas' environment definitely alludes to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. He and other sons and daughters of Abyssinian royalty are confined to this private palace in a spacious valley that can only be entered through a cavern that passed under a rock. The entry is concealed by a thick wood in which no man can get through without some sort of engine or machine. This indicates the exclusiveness of it all, the fact that no others may enter. The lake in the middle is inhabited by "fish of every specials, and frequented by every fowl whom nature has taught to dip the wing in water." The sides of the mountains were abundant with trees and a vast array of flowers; "every blast shook spices from the rocks, and every month dropped fruits upon the ground." No beasts were able to get to the animals of the mountains. One side held birds and herds while other had "all the beasts of chase." Like in the Garden of Eden, "all the diversities of the world were brought together, the blessings of nature were collected, and its evil extracted and excluded." The place was secure, perfect, and harmonious; where the children were given all that they needed or desired. Rasselas knows nothing else but the perfection of which he resides.
It's interesting that the place could be seen as so perfect, but still, people are different. There's bound to be some conflict amongst the people that reside there. Isn't it?
2. On 2682-86 (Chs. 2-4), what causes Rasselas to become discontented with the way he lives? Why aren't his paradisal surroundings enough for him? What does his unhappiness have to do with the ancient problem of desire?
Rasselas becomes discontented with the way he lives when he begins to meditate and take solitary walks. He grows weary of what has been given, comparing himself to the animals of happy valley. He has the same needs as they do, and when the needs are met, rest comes. Yet, Rasselas does not rest. He is not satisfied with just being "full," something within him wants more. The things that he used to enjoy do not seem to please him anymore. He seems to be bored with the perfect routine of his life. He speaks to the goats saying that they do not envy him and he does not envy their felicity, "for it is not the felicity of man." He has distresses that they do not, he fears pain when he does not feel it, shrinking "at evils recollected, and sometimes start at evils anticipated." Rasselas then concludes that "Providence has balanced peculiar sufferings with peculiar enjoyments." When his teacher speaks to him in Ch. 3, the teacher tries to convince Rasselas that he has been given everything a man would need to be happy, asking him what else he could want. Rasselas tells him that he does not know what he wants and finally concludes that in order to truly be happy with what he has been given, he needs to "see the miseries of the world." He wastes 20 months trying to figure out his new question and feels regret for the first time.