Alexander Pope's mock heroic epic The Rape of the Lock appears to be a light subject addressed with a satiric tone and structure. Pope often regards the unwanted cutting of a woman's hair as a trivial thing, but the fashionable world takes it seriously. Upon closer examination Pope has, perhaps unwittingly, broached issues worthy of earnest consideration. The Rape of the Lock at first glance is a commentary on human vanity and the ritual of courtship. The poem also discusses the relationship between men and women, which is the more substantial matter in particular. Pope examines the oppressed position of women. Infringement on a woman's personal space, her person and her pride by an aggressive male (the Baron) are certainly problems not to be taken lightly. In today's society, these things translate to sexual harassment. Pope also raises the issue of conflicting love, the opposition between spiritual and secular love. The poem portrays men and women as more concerned with social status, material values, and physical beauty than the development of the spirit or of the character. Pope suggests that the former is the morally wrong path, and criticizes (through satire) his characters for their vanity and lack of morality.
The significance of a woman's outward beauty (specifically Belinda's) has direct consequence for her role in society. "The place of woman... is shaped by social [and] economic... forces. Women are routinely subordinate... in the 'public' sphere, partly because of their confinement to roles associated with being wives."1 Belinda is an unmarried upper class woman. Maintaining her position in high society will depend on marriage; though not one necessarily of her choosing. Her marriage will ...
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...n and the society they represent are obsessed with material things (such as the lock) and self-worship. Pope suggests that attention to spiritual matters, the strengthening of character, and the development or value of inner beauty are matters to which society does not properly attend. This lack of attention to the immaterial and tendency to give in to worldly temptations indicates a frivolous aristocracy, who lack virtue and morality. This is Pope's concern and criticism.
1. Held, Virginia; Rights and Goods-Justifying Social Action; The University of Chicago Press, 1984
Pope, Alexander; The Rape of the Lock; The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th Edition; W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996
Held, Virginia; Rights and Goods-Justifying Social Action; The University of Chicago Press, 1984
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