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‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Alexander Pope Versus ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift: Comparative Essay

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One of the most employed literary tools during the restoration period was satire in Britain. A club known as the Scriblerus club was formed by Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and John Gay. These literary geniuses made satire what it is today and made an impact on society, in order for change. The two very different modes of satire in my opinion best captures the spirit of the period 166-1760 because Alexander Pope mainly focused on making a parody of high-class society, addressing issues in association with morals and politics, which is shown in ‘The Rape of the Lock’ that reveals how there must be a change in how society views of such trivial matters by epic conventions in a poem. Whereas Jonathan Swift utilises a sinister technique displayed in ‘A Modest Proposal’ to express his hatred towards those he saw as corrupt, such as the upper-class and institutions during a time of economic crisis in Ireland.

Pope’s poem uses mock epic conventions to satirise the upper-class society during the restoration period. In order to maintain appropriate appearance, Belinda, as a rich woman with a strong influence in her society clearly has an obsession with her looks. Before a battle, a hero wears armour that protects them, in this instance Belinda’s beauty consists of ‘India’s glowing gems’, ‘Arabia breathes’ and hair pins made from ‘tortoises’ and ‘elephants’ as her armour that attracts men and jealousy of women. Furthermore, she is aided by her maid who looks after and dresses her which shows how infantized upper-class people are; having no responsibility over themselves and wasting money on expensive things that are not necessary. Pope accentuates the fact that the restoration society values physical beauty over intelligence when describing Belinda’s perfection ‘if belles had faults to hide; if to her share come female errors fall.’ Implying if this woman had any flaws, a simple look at her face forgives them. The author goes as far as to creating mythical creatures such as ‘Nymphs’ which are symbolic of reminding the readers the main value of the society in this time period. In epic convention, a hero would pray to God yet Belinda admires herself in her own reflection and practically worships her image. This implies the upper-class of London at that time saw religion as insignificant and beauty as more importance; this is displayed when Belinda’s maid, also a priestess performs beautifying rituals, moreover Belinda wears a ‘sparkling cross’ as a fashion statement and not an act of piousness. Thus, the poem exhibits the ludicrousness of the upper-class people due to their interests heavily focused upon materialism and beauty.

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Pope’s exaggeration in this poem is to prove how the upper-class society must change in order to forgive and forget such trivial matters. The characterisation of Belinda is basically that of a Goddess, from how divine her beauty is. The satire he provides in the poem critiques society’s questionable core values during the restoration period, yet he lightens the weight upon women and imposes responsibility towards the Catholic institution overall. It was up to the ‘Sylphs’ and other magical creatures to protect her after she forgets about a ‘dire disaster’ when she receives a ‘Billet-doux’. The convention of this mock epic poem is demonstrated when Baron desperately wants Belinda’s lock of hair for his ‘altar’ and cuts off her hair which ignites an intense argument which is Pope’s depiction of a battle that a hero would usually enter, for example in the epic poem ‘Beowulf’, the protagonist had to fight three battles. Insinuating from the title ‘The Rape of the Lock’ the heavily explicit word ‘rape’ symbolised the theft of hair. Pope addresses how upper-class society takes such trivial matters too seriously, ‘Screams of Horror’, ‘Shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast’ and his semantic field of innuendos is covered up by phrases like ‘staining of the gown’ to lighten the event and prove that things like this happen on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, this also suggest Pope’s criticism towards women’s femininity being fragile and obvious criticism to the upper-class because there are other matters that society, especially the rich, should pay more responsibility and attention to.

One of the most popular satire works of Swift’s is a political pamphlet expressing his concern that Irish people have to change in a diction of parody. He does this in a rather horrifying way, as it appears to the reader that Swift suggests eating children. Swift describes them as ‘most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food’ which displays a grotesque image but also depicts the frustration in Swift’s views, because this problem could be solved easily. To provoke the rich and ignorant in society, Swift’s satire was used in the form of irony because these people were particular suspects for not distributing any wealth to healthily circulate within the Irish economy and that the only way to save the failing economy is cannibalism. This contrasts with the title, as this solution is far from ‘modest’ displays his genius because it brings the reader to critically think about their current situation. The rich treat the poor like animals, stripping them of their individuality instead of taking responsibility and neglect thinking about how their luxurious lives negatively impact the lives of others. The decline of harvest during the 1720s meant that many people, especially the poor starved whilst the rich never experienced suffering. This shows how the consumption of babies from poor families indicate ‘the number of people will be thereby much lessened’, suggesting that eating children is not morally wrong at this stage which adds on the to the irony and makes a fair point that it would actually elevate the economy. Thus, Swift believes the rich should be held accountable for their naivety because they are meant to be educated, and accordingly uses outrageous imagery and irony as a shock tactic to galvanize them to change for the better.

Therefore, satire accomplished capturing the spirit of the restoration period through the works of Pope and Swift as it reveals the desperate need of a transformation because it brought awareness of how society treated the poor with ill manners, focused highly on beauty and materialistic things. In ‘The Rape of the Lock’ Pope’s epic conventions were utilised to reveal the satiric purpose to ridicule the aristocrat’s behaviour in hopes that more prevalent issues in society would take priority. Swift similarly attacks the upper-class but viciously, reason being to jumpstart society into thinking critically because the way politicians were thinking were as outrageous as his ideas.

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‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Alexander Pope Versus ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift: Comparative Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-by-alexander-pope-versus-a-modest-proposal-by-jonathan-swift-comparative-essay/
“‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Alexander Pope Versus ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift: Comparative Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-by-alexander-pope-versus-a-modest-proposal-by-jonathan-swift-comparative-essay/
‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Alexander Pope Versus ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift: Comparative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-by-alexander-pope-versus-a-modest-proposal-by-jonathan-swift-comparative-essay/> [Accessed 2 Dec. 2022].
‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Alexander Pope Versus ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift: Comparative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-by-alexander-pope-versus-a-modest-proposal-by-jonathan-swift-comparative-essay/
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