Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Speaker

By Samuel Johnson

Speaker

The speaker of this poem is a wise guy. He knows the world. He's surveying it all—and we do mean all—from "China to Peru." What's more, he doesn't like what he sees, because everywhere he finds greedy people or power-hungry people. Everyone else, according to this speaker, kisses up to those who have power and wealth.

In this sense we can view the speaker as a critic of human society. He's someone who thinks that people strive after all the wrong things. Instead of seeking wisdom, they run after money. Instead of being content with a humble, peaceful life, they chase power and status.

The speaker is also a religious figure. The poem ends, after all, with the speaker telling us that the only hope of happiness and peace we have lies in our religious faith. Yeah, this world is the absolute pits, so we have to look to the next one (i.e., Heaven) for guidance. And if we're really good, God might just give us a helping hand—in this life and the next.

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