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Pope Essay On Man Theme

Transcript of "An Essay on Man"-Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope
An Essay on Man
"An Essay on Man"

The poem is an attempt to "vindicate the ways of God to Man," a variation on Milton's attempt in Paradise Lost to "justify the ways of God to Man" (1.26).

Pope`s philosophy
The natural laws consider the Universe as a whole a perfect work of God. To humans it appears to be evil and imperfect in many ways; however, Pope points out that this is due to our limited mindset and limited intellectual capacity.

Major Ideas
A God of infinite wisdom exists
Part of the essay’s greatness is Pope’s unity of structure and theme.
First Epistle
Ana Strbac, MA English language teacher
Pope gets the message across that humans must accept their position in the
"Great Chain of Being"
which is at a middle stage between the angels and the beasts of the world. If we are able to accomplish this then we potentially could lead happy and virtuous lives.
He created a world that is best of all possible ones.
The plenum, or all-embracing whole of the universe, is real and hierarchical
Authentic good is that of the whole, not of isolated parts.
Self-love and social love both motivate humans' conduct.
Virtue is attainable
The poem’s orderly exposition of ideas, its concentration on universals rather than specifics, and its heroic couplet verses, reflect the ideas of balance, subordination, and harmony better than even the finest prose.
Written in the form of epistles: term that is historically used to describe formal letters directed to a specific person.
Second Epistle
Third Epistle
Fourth Epistle
Human beings must accept that their existence is the result of a perfect creator who created everything as perfectly as it can possibly be.
The second epistle describes the relationship that man has with his own desires, mental faculties, and spiritual aspirations.
The impiety of putting himself in the place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice of his dispensations.

1. One who realizes his proper place in God’s creation will be happier; it is “In pride, in reasoning pride” alone that humans lose their way to God (l. 123).

2. "In Pride, in reasoning Pride, our error lies;". (123) How so, according to Pope?
3. Man should not reach for something he is not meant to be.
4. "And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of ORDER, sins against the Eternal Cause." (129-130)

Pope again reinforces the idea that humans cannot fully understand God, but he also claims that self-love and reason can help man understand himself.
The first epistle looks at man's relation to the universe in order to present the concept of harmony that is referred to throughout the rest of the poem.
The third epistle deals with how the individual interacts with society.
Pope argues that, in addition to the insight that it can offer regarding a person's relationship with himself, the cosmos offers insight into how individuals can find harmony with society and the natural world.
The fourth epistle is concerned with happiness and our ability to apply our love for ourselves to the world around us.
Happiness, Pope argues, can be achieved by all people through the process of living a virtuous and balanced life.
If a person understands that he or she cannot understand God, then he or she will not attempt judge other people.

1. God has created a unique place for each of his creations. We must begin by admitting we can only perceive a “part . . ., and not a whole,”

2. Man is not capable of knowing his relation to the rest of the universe.

3. Man is part of a system where there are weeker things below him and stronger above him.

4. "Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right, as relative to all." (51-52)

5. Read verses 61-68. How is the human condition comparable to that of an ox and a horse?

6. Read verses 69-76. What's Pope's reply to those who say that man is not perfect?

1. Even less “civilized” humans (the “poor Indian” of line 99) accept that Nature is the best way to understand God.

2. "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate,"

3. Pope suggests that it's better that we don't know our fate. Our "blindness to the future" is a kind gift. Explain the example with the lamb. (81-84)

4. Would man be happy to know his own fate?

5. Heaven treats mankind equally with other being in the
universe. (86-89)
6. What role does Hope have for man? (90-98)

That we can judge only with regard to our own system, being ignorant of the relation of systems and things.

1. Pope poses the essential question: is Man, who can only see his immediate world, actually capable of understanding God’s plan for the whole universe?

2. Man is limited in what he knows, and so can judge only from what he knows.

3. Man's reason is powerful, but limited, and the limit is imposed by God.

4. What does the Great Chain of Being refer to?

5. "... can a part contain the whole?"

The poem is not solely Christian, however; it makes an assumption that man has fallen and must seek his own salvation.
The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written in heroic couplets and published between 1732 and 1734.
The great chain of being is a strict, religious hierarchical structure-concept derived from Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus of all matter and life, believed to have been decreed by God. The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, commoners, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals
Pope`s philosophy
According to Pope LIFE is really divinely ordered - God exists and is what he centres the Universe around . The limited intelligence of man can only take in tiny portions of this order and can experience only partial truths, man must rely on hope which leads to faith. It is man's duty to strive to be good regardless of other situations: this is the message Pope is trying to get across to the reader- AFFIRMATION OF FAITH.
Diana holds the dying Pope, and John Milton, Edmund Spenser, and Geoffrey Chaucer prepare to welcome him to heaven.
Ana Štrbac,
SKC Kragujevac,
November 2015

The absurdity of expecting perfection in the moral world which is not in the natural.

1. Men are prone to believe that the universe was created for their exclusive use. We are tempted to call things that cause us grief or fear “evil,” but only exposes our limited point of view. It’s none of our business why God creates terrible things like earthquakes or floods — we must trust that they’re part of a larger plan.

2. Verses 131-140 speak to man's conceit. In what ways is man conceited, according to Pope?

3. Does Nature err when bad things happen to man? (141-144)


1. In fact, all human unhappiness stems from wanting to be or have something humans are not meant to be or have. Happiness lies in wanting only “what his nature and his state can bear” (l. 192).

2. Man wants to be both an angel and a brute, and if it was up to him he would want to power over all creatures, but Nature has assigned to all creatures, including man, their proper place.

3. Why does man feel that nature has been unkind to him? Is it because nature hasn't made him the master of all?

4. Man should consider it a bliss that he cannot comprehend beyond mankind.


One proof of God’s existence is that there are objects in our world too large, or small, or high, or low for humans to perceive. Therefore, some other force must have created the universe for the use of a variety of creatures.


1. Pope describes the “vast chain of being” (l. 237), which is similar to (though not exactly the same as) the Renaissance scala naturae. Each link of the chain is necessary for the strength of the whole — no one is more necessary than any other.

2. "From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike." (245-246)
3. In verses 250-256 Pope suggests what might happen if the balance in nature is broken.

4. "All this dread ORDER break - for who? for thee?
Vile worm! - oh Madness! Pride! Impiety!" (258-259)


The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire.

1. Pope completes his metaphor: “All are but parts of one stupendous whole/ Whose body Nature is, and God the soul” (ll. 265-6).

2. Verses 359-269 list the absurdity of man's wish to be given a bigger role by nature.

3. Man is not an individual, but a part of a whole "Whose body Nature is, and God the soul;".


The Consequence of all, the absolute submission due to Providence

1. He concludes with an exhortation to the reader to take comfort in the knowledge that the universe is the result of a benevolent and orderly design (even though we might not see it), and that “Whatever IS, is RIGHT.”

2. In this section Pope asserts how man should be in light of his nature and his place in the universe.

3. Read and comment on the verses that start with
4. "One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT." The world as it exists is correct.

Full transcript

Alexander Pope Essay On Man Analysis

Alexander Pope is one of the few 18th century poets who's still widely read today, and An Essay on Man is one of his most popular works. It's quite likely to come up as an essay topic, and if you have to write an analysis of it your first question will probably be where to start. That really depends on what your exact task is; if you have to look at one aspect of the poem - its imagery, for example - your research will be quite different to that for a general analysis. Here are some ideas for an analysis essay on this poem.


The poem is extremely long and is broken into four epistles - letters - each of which is intended to explore a different aspect of human nature. Within each epistle the structure is simple; it is written in couplets, where every group of two lines rhyme and have the same meter. Rhyme and meter frequently change quite a lot between successive line pairs, however.


The overarching theme of the poem is human nature, but this is broken down into many smaller themes. In fact each epistle is prefaced by a summary, around 300 words log, of the themes it covers. It is quite impossible to examine each theme individually without writing a fairly long book; for an essay it's best to stick with the group of themes represented by each epistle. These are as follows:

  • Man as related to the universe
  • Man as related to himself
  • Man as related to society
  • Man as related to happiness

With each epistle running to around 400 lines and 3,000 words, these themes are obviously explored in some detail.

Basic Principles

Pope was quite religious, and the poem uses arguments from classical and Enlightenment philosophy to argue that the existence of God can be deduced from reason. To be technical he uses the teleological argument and the argument from necessary being.

The poem also uses philosophical ideas to discuss the nature of man himself. The main thrust of Pope's argument is that happiness is based on moral virtue rather than worldly gains. Likely influences are the Roman thinkers Seneca and Horace.

This really is a huge poem and it's very difficult to do much more than skim the surface in a general analysis essay. If you can it's best to focus on one aspect of the work. This will let you go into much more detail and demonstrate your knowledge of it, which generally means a better grade.

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