This study will compare three works based on quests---John bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. The study will argue that Johnson's book most accurately portrays the human condition, that Bunyan's book is fairly good but less accurate, and that the anonymous author of Sir Gawain depicts the human condition most inaccurately of the three.
By "accurate" this reader means not necessarily true, for Bunyan's Christian allegory may, after all, be true. However, the "human condition" includes far more non-Christians than Christians, and surely the majority cannot be considered outside of that condition. By "accurate" picture of the human condition, then, it is meant here a picture which most realistically portrays what the average human being finds in the world as he or she goes about his or her own quest, self-discovery, relationship with the world and others, etc.
The quest of Rasselas as depicted by Johnson, then, is most accurate because it is most down-to-earth. The human condition is first of all human, which means that it is a condition shaped by what happens to the human being on a day-to-day basis, what he or she does, thinks and feels in relation to the world around him, which is most often mundane.
Using such a standard in measuring the accuracy of the quest for individual meaning and identity in human life, it is obvious that the quest of Sir Gawain is absurdly unrealistic and inaccurate, that the quest of Bunyan is more realistic but still marked by grandiosity and authorial dogmatism, and that Rasselas in his quest represents most accurately the human condition as it is played out in real life on earth.
This is not to say that the quest of Rasselas is not exaggerated by Johnson for novelistic and dramatic purposes, for it clearly is. But at least we do not find in Rasselas the dragon-slaying and superhuman fights to...