Essay on The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

Essay on The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

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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


... middle of paper ...


Pope implies from the start that Belinda’s plight is trivial and that the deeper meaning lies in the

constructed superficiality of her nature. The poem fittingly ends with the lock that has been lost

shooting up into the heavens to become a star, like a god itself: the ultimate and final mockery on

the part of Pope. This ridiculous image is a humorous double entendre that simultaneously

supports what is no the surface, the “importance” of the lock, and subversively undermines it

upon closer inspection: the lock is not important. The two protagonists in the poem, as Pope is

comparing them to society, are rooted in nothing but stereotypical gender roles and superficial

morals. To Pope, the people who facilitate these social mores are living with false identities. If

identity is not rooted in truth, then it is not really identity at all.

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