What Use of Machinery Does Pope Make in “The Rape of the Lock?”


In a poem, critics invented the term ‘machinery’ to signify the unique role of deities, angels, demons, and even gods. In the ancient epics like the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” and down to Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” supernatural beings play a vital role in the actions of the poems showing that the human world is not independent of them.

They exert a decisive influence on human heroes and actions. Although “The Rape of the Lock” is a mock-heroic poem and uses the supernatural machinery to be classed with the epic poems, it would not be undeserving to mention that Pope’s attempt to use this machinery is quite successful in his design.

Pope Borrows Divine Machinery Concept from Rosicrucian Doctrine

Pope has made it clear that he has borrowed the supernatural elements from the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits in the dedication.

According to this doctrine, the four elements – earth, air, water, and fire are inhabited by spirits called sylphs, nymphs, gnomes, and salamanders.

These spirits are motivated differently following their functions in human activities. These four spirits, the sylphs who inhabit the air as supposed to be the best-conditioned creatures imaginable. The gnomes or demons of earth delight in mischief.

Pope also tells us of their origins, the beautiful women, often their death returns to the elements from which they are derived, they are turned into sylphs.

The women of violent temper pass into their native elements after their death and become salamanders or the spirits of the fire. Women having a gentle and pleasing nature become nymphs or water- spirits. Prudish women become gnomes or earth- spirits.

Pope Describes Functions of The Spirits in “The Rape of the Lock”

These supernatural beings have their respective function to perform. The sylph protects the chaste and fair ladies who reject the male sex. The sylph is also entrusted with guarding the maiden’s chastity when they are about to yield to their lovers. They also save the maidens from falling victims to the allotment of ‘treacherous friends’ and spirited young men whose music melts their hearts.

The gnomes make the proud maidens indulge in vain dreams of marrying lords and peers. These spirits teach young coquetted to ogle and pretend to blush at the sight of the fashionable young men who cause their hearts to flutter.

Whenever a young woman is in danger of being seduced by a young man, the sylphs contrive to divert her mind towards a more charming young man. The machinery of Pope’s poem comprises the sylphs led by Ariel.

Pope Uses The Spirits to Reveal the Society’s Lifestyle

The function of the supernatural machinery is not as important as it is in the great epics. They are ‘light’ by any heroic standards. At the time of crisis, they feel scared.

Pope has made use of them to describe the fashion and style of society. Ariel describes how the sylphs under his leadership protect the beautiful young women.

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The machinery did its duties quite satisfactorily. The machinery is presented in every crucial situation in the play. The sylphs keep watch upon Belinda when she journeys to the Hampton Court; fifty of them were engaged by Ariel to take charge of Belinda’s petticoat.

At the game of ombre and at the time of drinking coffee, they were present and alert. They withdraw themselves when they find ‘an earthly lover lurking at her heart.’

A gnome called Umbriel goes to the cave of spleen and returns with a bag full of sighs, screams, and outbursts of anger. This was a vial filled with fainting fits, gentle sorrows, soft grief, etc.

The sylphs witnessed the flights of Belinda’s lock of hair to the sky. The bag brought by Umbriel was opened to release the things upon Belinda. The machinery was thus kept in the reader’s view of the last.

Pope’s Skillful Divine Machinery Adds Gracefulness to “The Rape of the Lock”

Pope has provided the myth of the sylph with a unique idea. The spirits symbolized polite convention. They also represent his attempts to do justice to the intricacies of the feminine mind.

Although not on Homer or Milton’s level, the use of the supernatural machinery had added grace to his poem. According to Wilson Knight, the “light militia of the lower sky” increases dramatic suspense and depth to the sky.

Pope has recovered something of Homer’s vision of divine order in this connection.

Final Thoughts

“The Rape of the Lock,” at first sight, appears to be a work of art without heart. Besides, none criticized the addition of the machinery to the poem has.

Nonetheless, it may be said that the machinery has given it a meaning and charming effect. So, its inclusion into the fable is entirely justified.

Niaj A A Khan

Niaj A A Khan is a professional writer interested in different niches, including English language & literature.

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