Consider “The Rape of the Lock” As A Social Satire by Alexander Pope


Among the satirists of English literature, Alexander Pope occupies a great place. He belonged to the school of a juvenile.

Pope had less of the mellow wisdom of Horace’s maturity and more of the filthy temper of his youth. Pope is famous for his satires and is rightly considered the representative of his age. 

“The Rape of the Lock” bears witness to the satirical vein in his mind.

A satire exposes human weaknesses, follies, foibles, and absurdities. “The Rape of the Lock” is a satire on the life of the aristocratic ladies of the eighteenth century.

Pope Illustrates A Lecherous Age in “The Rape of the Lock”

We find here an age that longs for physical pleasure rather than the morals of life. The elegance, emptiness, meanness, vanity, jealousies, idleness, frivolities, vanities, shallowness, hypocrisy, fake honor, toilet-interest, self-embellishment, etc., were prevalent in this particular age.

At the very outset of the poem, the poet laughs at little men engaging in tasks so bold and at gentle ladies who are capable of such ‘mighty rage.’ The lady vanities, such as their love of gilded chariots, ambition to marry their peers, dukes, or men of the higher social position, are indicated in the opening canto.

Even after death, the ladies retain their temperaments and transform into four kinds of supernatural creatures. Early in their youth, these ladies learned to roll their eyes and blush in a coquettish manner.

The weakness of these ladies for entertainment and masked balls is too ridiculed. The poet makes fun of the love letters these ladies received from their fans and lovers.

The Central Character Belinda Is A ‘Cosmetic Worrior’

The world of Belinda was a target of the poet’s attack. The satirical book is formed to delight and lash the age at once. It is an assault on a social pre-occupied with superficialities.

The poem’s central character, Belinda, is described as the ‘cosmetic powers.’ The Bible was among her cosmetics, demonstrating how the people of the age were insincere in their pursuit of religion.

Belinda is depicted in Canto I as a warrior getting ready for the battle, the battle to entrap men by her graces and charms.

Ariel, the leader of the sylphs engaged in protecting the chastity of the beautiful Belinda, is not sure of Belinda’s purity of thought. There was a hidden desire to come in touch with amorous gentlemen. He says,

“Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,

Or some frail China jar receive a flew,

Or whether Heav’n was doom’d that shock”

Ariel, The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope
The Rape of the Lock as A Social Sa...
The Rape of the Lock as A Social Satire

These lines show the moral bankruptcy of the ladies of that time; as far as this fashionable world was concerned, the loss of virtue was nothing essential but the little things like the snipping of a curl might be disastrous.

Pope Satirized The Women’s Love for Pets As for Their Husbands

During the time of Pope, the ladies kept domestic pets such as dogs and parrots. Belinda had her Shock and Poll. She set up many stores for these pets. Their domestic pets were as important as their husbands. The poet has admirably satirized them in the poem.

“Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast.

When husbands or when lap-dogs breathe their last”

The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

Frivolous Morals of Both Men And Women of The Eighteenth Century

The eighteenth-century society lacked moral values. The poet has lashed at the lack of morality in both men and women. The ladies were earnest about maintaining a good reputation.

For the sake of maintaining a good reputation, they could sacrifice everything; even chastity virtue might be last, but not a good name.

“Honour forbid! at whose unrivalled shrine

Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.”

The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

Belinda expresses the same attitude when she declares that she would not have felt so offended if the Baron had spared that particular lock and stolen any other hair from her head.

“Oh! hadst thou, cruel been content to seize,

Hairs less insight, or any hairs but these!”

Belinda, The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

These lines reveal how Belinda is aware of her physical beauty but not of her chastity. Belinda represents the aristocratic society, and through her character, we get a clear picture of eighteenth-century society.

Pope Unveils The Men of The Society in “The Rape of the Lock”

Pope does not spare the men of his society. He has brought them out to pay their dues. These are beautiful passages in which men were castigated.

In one such passage, Pope describes how the Barons worship the ladies. The Baron is described as building an altar of twelve vast French romances with three garters, half a pair of gloves, and all the trophies of his former loves. He sets fire to it with his sighs and with tender love letters.

The ladies’ conversation at the court did not spare his eyes. Such a conversation was always empty of substance. The talk generally centered around dance parties, court visits, and the scandalous behaviors of some court members.

The parses in the conversation were filled with snuff-talking, fan swinging, singing, laughing, ogling, etc. Even the judges and jurors are ridiculed for hurrying to get back home to satisfy their hunger. The poet says:

“The hungry judged soon the sentences sign,

And wretches hang that jury-men may dine.”

The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

Card parties were familiar; Ombre was the favorite game. Belinda and two knights played this game in which she longed to show her powers. Other aspects of contemporary life were also dealt with ridiculously.

EndNote

‘The poem in effect,’ says Sin Leslie Stephen, is a satire upon feminine frivolity. It continues the strain of mocking against hoops and patches and their wearers. It supplied Addison and his colleagues with the materials of so many spectators.

Pope looked at all the walks of the then life for his consideration and mocked them whenever he found an inconsistency in the society. As a result, “The Rape of the Lock” has become a faithful mirror of the eighteenth century.

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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