The Rape Of The Lock By Alexander Pope

2251 words - 9 pages

The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

It all began in the year 1712 when the infamous Lord Robert Petre cut a lock of hair un-

knowingly from the head of his beloved Arabella Fermor, setting off a chain of events that would

soon lead Alexander Pope to write one of his most famous poems, The Rape of the Lock. Pope’s

main purpose was to “laugh the two [lovers] together” and solve the social crisis that had

resulted; however Pope also accomplished a little something extra (L1C 2504). Hidden inside his

poem is a crafty criticism of the society that helped to create the crisis over the stolen lock in the

first place. Pope’s classical beliefs in God as the source of identity were sorely challenged by the

society in which he lived, where appearances were more important to a person’s sense of identity

than what was truly happening in their life. On the surface, The Rape of the Lock appears to be

simply a humorous poem making light of a real event. Pope believed that God gives people their

true identities but that society programs them to follow a superficial way of life. Pope uses the

characterization of Belinda and the Baron, through the stereo-typing of gender roles and the

prevalent use of irony, to show the inability to gain true identity in the existing social world of

his day.

By simultaneously criticizing Belinda and portraying her as the “hero”, a double meaning

is achieved. Pope successfully uses Belinda as a commentary through his use of irony about the

superficiality of her world and by pointing out the gender stereotypes inherent in it. To prove his

point, Pope must first must illustrate Belinda as the goddess she believes herself to be, the

goddess that she has been conditioned to be. Throughout the poem, Belinda is described to be

“the fairest of all mortals” and by the superficiality of her appearance is thus elevated to a high

position in her society, and in the poem (Canto 1, ll. 27). This position is achieved through the

virtue of appearance alone. In the poem, Pope constantly plays with the idea that a woman’s life

and role in society is defined by her appearance, both beauty-wise and morally. When she sits

down at her mirror, “a heavenly image in the glass appears” as she practices the sacred rites of

pride” (ll. 125, l1. 128). Belinda is portrayed as the typical flighty, superficial female, only

concerned with appearances and not actual morals, but Pope also takes it to another level. By

having her elevate herself to the level of a god, he is playing with the idea that if she was really a

god, she would have real morals. Her idea of a god is to be perfect on the outside. The ironic

contrast this points out is that Belinda may believe herself to be god-like and perfect, but she is

the exact opposite. Moreover, society has trained her to be this way. “Hear and believe! thy own

importance know,” her heavenly...

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