Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The themes of Rochester's Satire Against Reason and Mankind include reason, man's position among beasts, and religion.

The faculty of human reason (referred to in the poem's title) is, according to Rochester, no cause for celebration. It makes men think that they are better than they are, and it inspires them to aim for things that are impossible to achieve. The poet claims that books give men false hope, which makes them struggle in vain (20). Reason is without merit, as it often contradicts the five human senses.

The poet claims, in the beginning of the poem, that he would rather be a beast. Lest this seem like a superficial trope, the poet picks up this theme later by comparing a hound with a statesman, claiming that the former kills a hare more efficaciously than a politician conducts business and so is truly smarter.

Rochester supplies an interlocutor who claims that the "great Maker" (62) took care to make man with reason, and so reason should be exalted. The poet refutes this, saying that reason is no cause for exaltation, as reason causes men to betray one another with "smiles, embraces, friendship, [and] praise" (135). It is vain, according to Rochester, for a clergyman to suppose that he is better than the rest—and in doing so, he is made more foolish. If a truly "honest" and "humble" (212) man existed, he would have a great following.

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