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The Rape of the Lock': Close Analysis of a Book

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Alexander Pope constructs The Rape of the Lock as a social satire as he utilises satirical techniques to comment upon contemporary society. This passage displays how Pope toys with structure and form to parody the popular genre of the epic by creating a mock-heroic piece, voicing how society focuses on such trivialities, as opposed to truly important matters. In addition, the passage exaggerates the cutting of Belinda’s locks to be symbolic, to expose the male control over female sexuality, forming an underlying didactic rhetoric against the policing of female chastity.

Pope exposes the confused values of the contemporary beau monde by mocking the trivial matter of cutting Belinda’s hair, reducing classic hero discourse and forming a mock-heroic poem. Pope imitates the supernatural machinery of real epic poems but as opposed to classical mythology, Pope uses Rosicrucian supernatural figures including Sylphs which try to protect Belinda; ‘A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair; and thrice they twitch’d the diamond ear; thrice she look’d back, and thrice the foe drew near’. The repetition of ‘thrice’ conveys how the attempt of cutting hair acts as a imitation of the battle scenes of the great epics of the time as the Baron is supplied with ‘a two edg’d weapon from her shining case’ to ‘arm him for the fight’. Through this war imagery, Pope is able to suggest that the passion once invested in serious matters have been transferred to more marginal acts like courting and gambling. This is a clear example why The Rape of the Lock is such an effective social commentary as Pope deploys satirical and literary techniques so subtly through structure and language. He successfully uses the Horatian style of satire, raillery, to enable his comments to appear both covert and humorous. Is at once the most a satire, and the most inoffensive, of anything of [his]. People who would rather it were let alone laugh at it, and seem heartily merry, at the same timer that they are uneasy. ‘Tis a sort of writing very like tickling . Pope heightens the mock-heroic form through the use of personification and exaggeration; ‘then flash’d the living lightnings from her eyes, screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies’ , elevating the subject matter and conveying the seemingly supreme effects of Belinda’s panic, the act of cutting her hair appears to have divine implications. The iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets further dramatize the act as the rhythm of the poem mimics the heartbeat, making it feel as though ‘the meeting points the sacred hair dissever from the fair head, for ever, and for ever!’ is something very serious. The constant use of embellishment and exaggeration therefore allows Pope to grasp the attention of the aristocratical society, encouraging them to realise their faults in a humorous way, in hope of sparking a positive societal shift.

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Pope’s social satire also exposes the judgement against female sexuality in a society of philanderers. Belinda functions as a type of Everywoman, the poem contains the main features bourgeois sexual ideology. The rise of bourgeois culture in England meant middle class women’s rise to economic superfluity . Mythical imagery is used in the form of the supernatural sylphs, the ethereal creatures which celebrate and protect a woman’s chastity. The sylphs try to protect Belinda, but are injured by the ‘weapon’ as ‘fate urg’d the shears, and cut the sylph in twain’, perhaps acting as a metaphor for Belinda’s own chastity- it is broken. This battle mirrors the sixth book of Paradise Lost in which the archangels battle Satan in which he is stabbed, but is only wounded temporarily like the sylphs ‘but airy substance soon unites again’. Arguably, Pope may be connecting Satan to the sylphs, as promiscuous women did not deserve to be protected which is embodied by Ariel as he ‘resign’d to fate, and with a sigh retir’d’, implying that the sylphs, like Satan, were acting wrongfully. This humorous contrast of Milton’s intense battle with Pope’s trivial one further highlights the ludicrously of attempting to control a female’s sexuality. Additionally, Ariel’s failure to protect Belinda is extremely significant as he observes ‘as on the nosegay in her breast reclin’d, He watch’d th’ Ideas rising in her mind, Sudden he view’d, in spite of all her art, An earthly Lover lurking at her heart’. The sexual undertones accompanied by the adjective ‘lurking’ supports the ideology that it is wrong for a woman to possess such sexual desire. However, Ariel’s actions in themselves are poignant as Belinda is punished due to her own private thoughts. Although an unrealistic exaggeration, this assists Pope in forming a metaphor of what contemporary society was attempting to do to women- control the private aspects of their lives alongside the public ones. This metaphor creates an unsettling effect as pathos is evoked for Belinda, but Pope compels one to realise that these actions resonate with the attitudes and actions of real society.

Fundamentally, Pope’s social satire The Rape of the Lock uses satirical techniques to express his opinion on the aristocracy. Pope satirises the structure of the epic, forming a mock-heroic which humorously highlights the sheer exaggeration place upon such idle and nugatory societal matters. In addition, raillery is used within Pope’s language to delicately express the serious issues regarding the governing of female sexuality. This interpretative pluralism illustrates how powerful the symbol of ‘the Lock’ is as it functions as a symbol for both the trivialities of society and female sexual oppression.

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The Rape of the Lock’: Close Analysis of a Book. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-close-analysis-of-a-book/
“The Rape of the Lock’: Close Analysis of a Book.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-close-analysis-of-a-book/
The Rape of the Lock’: Close Analysis of a Book. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-close-analysis-of-a-book/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
The Rape of the Lock’: Close Analysis of a Book [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-rape-of-the-lock-close-analysis-of-a-book/
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