Discuss how Samuel Johnson uses the convention of Juvenalian satire and imitation to present a cultural critique of English values under threat.

To discuss how Samuel Johnson uses the convention of Juvenalian satire to critique English values, think about how Johnson’s “The Vanity of Human Wishes” calls out greed and accumulation with biting, acute language.

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To discuss how Samuel Johnson uses the convention of Juvenalian satire to critique English culture, it’d probably be a good idea to define Juvenalian satire first. The term is tied to the Roman poet Juvenal. His poems featured strong attacks against the alleged wrongdoings of his time (around first century AD). As Juvenal did not tread lightly with his reproofs, a Juvenalian satire does not try to mitigate its indignation.

Centuries later, In “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, Johnson employs Juvenal’s stinging form of satire to his own time (London in the mid-1700s). One of the main values that Johnson takes umbrage at is the preoccupation with money. According to Johnson, it’s gold that causes the solider to draw their sword (do violence) and it’s gold that propels the judge to skew the law (act corruptly). Johnson warns readers that this infatuation with wealth will not lead to security. As Johnson quips, “The dangers gather as the treasures rise.”

As the poem unfolds, Johnson continues his critique of the mindless accumulation that he believes has infected English society. Think about the part where the “dotard” appraises his bounty. He has lots of meat and wine. Yet the meats are “tasteless” and the wines are “joyless.”

Indeed, with Juvenalian satire, Johnson explicitly shows his contemporaries that values centered on amassing goods, gold, or both don’t come with substantive fulfillment or peace of mind.

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