Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Death

By Samuel Johnson

Death

If only we all had superpowers and could live forever. But we don't have superpowers, unfortunately. And we can't live forever, either. Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes" deals with the inevitability of death. It's always waiting for us, which of courseā€¦ is bad.

However, according to Johnson's speaker, our mortality can teach us a lot about how we should live our lives. Part of the reason we make such stupid decisions is because we forget that, one day, we're going to die. Johnson's speaker suggests that we should turn our attention on the next world, not on this one.

Questions About Death

  1. What attitude toward mortality does the speaker take? Is death considered a bad thing or a good thing, or both? How can you tell?
  2. How does the speaker describe the death of famous historical figures such as Cardinal Wolsey and the Duke of Marlborough? What does this suggest about the relationship between fate and mortality?
  3. What is the relationship between religious faith and mortality in the poem?
  4. Why, according to the poem, is an awareness of our own mortality important?

Chew on This

Spoiler alert: we will all die. Our inevitable mortality suggests the futility of all human endeavor.

Our mortality and death are the only escape from the suffering of this life. (Knit that on a holiday sweater, why don't you?)

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