Two Ideas for Paper Proposals: Mind/Place in Rasselas Vs. Deferred Violence in GT

by Sophia Natasha Sunseri

For my final paper, I would like to further explore Rasselas, focusing on the relationship between mind and place (throughout my reading, I was constantly reminded of the following quote from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”). Within Johnson’s text, obtaining a broader knowledge of the external world seems paradoxically linked to retreating inward. Rasselas’ venture into the outside world, when he leaves the Happy Valley, is prefigured by “solitary walks and silent meditation” (6). His bouts of “solitary thought” and his eagerness to “retire[d] gladly to privacy” are what ultimately lead to him “picturing …to himself that world which he had never seen” (7).
The mind/place binary also comes into play when Imlac and Rasselas are discussing why Europeans are more “powerful” (21) than Asians and Africans. Imlac links Europe’s dominance to “knowledge” and wisdom (21) (and not physical prowess or might). In this instance, Imlac draws a connection between mental fortitude and colonialist expansion.
I wonder whether we could interpret the interplay between mind and place in biographical terms, based on what we discussed of Johnson’s life in class. It seems significant that as Johnson’s own mother was facing imminent death, Johnson had his protagonist flee from the Happy Valley, a Garden of Eden- type place, teeming with life. The text’s preoccupation with the mind (and reason) also seems relevant in light of Johnson’s own physical disabilities.
Another idea I had for a paper topic – wholly unrelated: exploring representations of deferred violence in Gulliver’s Travels, focusing on the Houhynmns and their inability to arrive at a definitive conclusion with regard to exterminating the Yahoos. I am particularly drawn to the formal and rhetorical functions of such representations. One way in which the Houhynms manage to seduce Gulliver –to be so persuasive—is through the repetition of deferred violence. Through these acts of repetition and deferral, Gulliver gradually becomes inculcated with the idea that the Yahoos are less-than the Houhynmns and somehow deserving of whatever violence they may have enacted against them.

Does one topic seem more engaging/original than the other?