Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope as a Social Satire


Satire is a way of using humour to show someone or something foolish, weak or bad; humour that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society…etc. It is divided into Juvenalian and Horatian. Juvenalian satire is serious, harsh and bitter in tone while Horatian satire handles the situation with smiles in a light hearted way. Therefore, exaggeration, irony, sarcasm and understatement can be taken as major elements of satire.

In this post we focus on to the extract of canto three related to G.C.E.(A/L) exam. According to the features of satire, we can put the poem Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope as a Horatian satire.  

The poem was based on an actual incident between Arabella Fermor and her suitor, Lord Petre who were from aristocratic recusant Catholic families. Petre, lusting after Arabella, had cut off a lock of her hair without permission, and the consequent argument had created a breach between the two families. Pope was requested to write a poem to reunite the families, thus, he used this opportunity to satirize the upper class values to cleanse hollow values of the society.

The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic narrative poem written by Alexander Pope. The poem satirizes a minor incident by comparing it to the epic world of the gods. Pope utilized the character Belinda to represent Arabella and introduced an entire system of ‘sylps’, or guardian spirits of virgins, a parodied version of the gods and goddesses of conventional epic. Pope used the traditional classical epics style to emphasize the triviality of the incident. The abduction of Helen of Troy becomes here the theft of a lock of hair; the gods became minute sylphs.  The poet uses the epic style of invocations, lamentations, exclamations and similes as well as parody to imitate the actual speeches in Homer’s Iliad.

Pope in The Rape of Lock, satirizes the behaviour of young girls and boys, nature of husbands and wives, justice and judges, fashionable ladies, queens and friendship in the Utopian society. However, the selected extract of canto 03 mainly satirizes the nature of spoiled aristocratic young men and women as well as the hollow values of fashionable ladies and aristocratic males. 

Pope ridicules the women’s excessive attention of self-embellishment and self-decoration. Belinda, a woman of eighteenth century. The whole life of Belinda is confined to sleeping make up, enjoyment and alluring the affection, malice and submissive nature. Through Belinda, Pope represents the women of eighteenth century who are busy in all these stupidities. In the extract, after lord Petre snipped the lock of the hair, Belinda screams her lungs out. The exaggeration found her scream suggests the importance of beauty for a woman in that era. Pope comparing her scream to a dying husband or a lapdog satirizes those traditional views on beauty. As poem reveals, women in that period were essentially supposed to be decorative rather than rational, and the loss of beauty was a serious matter.

Pope further satirizes the spoiled nature of upper class women, whose nature might support themselves to be violated. In the extract, The Arial gives in when it realizes that Belinda is not as virtues as he believed. It may suggest that Arial lets the lock to be violated seeing that Belinda does not deserve to be protected. It implies that she has the characteristics to be violated.

Pope satirizes man’s nature. Pope represents the aristocratic gallants of the age. He satirizes man’s nature that is always weak at beauty. Man sacrifices everything at the altar of the beauty and even most intelligent men behave foolishly when he falls a victim of beauty.

On the other hand, as found in the extract of canto three, Poet ironically juxtaposes the act of Baron to a knight’s act. In epics the hero is assisted in wearing the armour and handed over the weapon to fight. Poet parodies that epic characteristic ironically to reveal the fallen grace of the action committed by Baron who represent the upper class. Giving an epic value to the trivial act of cutting a lock of hair satirizes the actions of men at that era. Poet wants to reveal how much a person can fall from grace when a person falls a victim of beauty. On the other hand, violating a woman’s beauty knowing the harm it can do to a woman too shows the spoiled nature of aristocratic youth in that era.

Pope satirizes husband and wives. As he says, husbands always think that their wives have been marry-making with their lovers. Wives are also not virtuous at all. Wives love their lapdogs more than their husbands and the death of husband is not more shocking than the death of lapdog.

As conclusion, the poem is a reflection of the artificial and hollow life, painted with a humorous and delicate satire. Through this poem, Pope wants to reform his society. Pope’s satire is unique, intellectual and full of with and epigram.

This post highlights the examples form the extract of canto three, however the elements of satire found in the extract are common to the rest of the poem. You may read the full poem to get the complete idea of the poem. Please, leave your findings as a comment in the comment section. Share the post if you find this useful to others.


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