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Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

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Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock is not studied and admired only because of its style and form, but also for its base content and underlying themes. Pope's ability to manipulate text into mock-heroic form, constructing a flow of satirical description is what makes this poem one of such quality.

The piece was first published in 1712 by the request of Pope's friend, John Caryll. It was to make peace between the Fermors and Petres, two prominent Roman Catholic families at the time. The feud was supposedly caused by an incident at a card game that ended with Lord Petre cutting a lock from the hair of lovely Arabella Fermor. Caryll had hoped that Pope wrote a poem that would sooth the tempers of the two families.

Popes intention was to combine satirical humor with the already existent ill feelings produced by the incident. He was, more or less, putting the minor situation into perspective, hopping all involved could laugh at them selves. To do this, he chose a mock-heroic form and to model the work after an epic poem, possibly mocking Milton's Paradise Lost. Pope's satirical take on the incident continues with his strict line rhyme and meter, which adds to seriousness of the writing style.

Through understanding where Pope is coming from in his over the top style, the reader begins to understand that the piece is a view of the follies of upper class society, relationships, and especially female vanity. The entire poem comments on the current social world, satirizing concerns of women in society.

Pope jokingly describes the main character, Belinda, as if she were a heroin in an epic tale by addressing her as, "Fairest of all Mortals, thou distinguish'd / Cave of a thousand bright ...

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... as ridiculous. At the same time, The Rape of the Lock is littered with fragments of understanding and sensitivity towards the opposite sex.

It would be unfair to the examination of this mock-epic poem, if one were to not address the author's intentions in compiling such underlying themes. From all historical accounts, Mr. Pope was not a physically attractive man. With poor health caused by tuberculosis and asthma, Pope also had a curvature of the spine resulting in his four foot, six inch stature.

Is this piece of his work not only a satire on the cutting of hair, but a description of Pope's hopes of finding such a woman who is not as shallow as the characters he writes of? Once again, speaking though Clarissa, Pope states an effective and simple truth, "Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll; / Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul." (N. 1)
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