Themes in the Rape of the Lock


This post basically focused on the extract of canto III (line 128-160) in the poem The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope. Pope’s masterpiece is the Rape of the Lock, written in 1712, a brilliant satire on the fashionable life of the upper class of his time. The artificiality of the lifestyle of this class and the frivolous nature of the women are, exquisitely portrayed in this ‘epic’ which parodies the great classical epics.

Summary of Line 128 – 160

Taking up the scissors, The Baron tries three times to clip the lock from behind without Belinda seeing it. A Sylph tries desperately to protect Belinda’s lock, blowing the hair out of harm’s way and tweaking her diamond earrings to make her turn round. All in vain. Finally, Ariel gains access to her brain, but finds an earthly lover lurking in her heart and gives up. Finally, the scissors close on the curl. A Sylph tries to intervene but is cut in two. Being ethereal however he quickly becomes whole. The lock is cut and the Baron exults, while Belinda screams her heart out.


Gender Roles

In the poem, Pope constantly manipulates traditional gender roles to satiric effect. He portrays Belinda, the poem’s protagonist, alternately as an epic hero preparing for battle thus describing her in specifically male terms. By contrast, the men act with feminine delicacy; figuring Baron in mostly feminine terms. However, in the extract Pope is questioning about the role of male using the character of Baron. Baron’s trivial act of snipping Belinda’s lock satirizes the upper class values of men. The reaction of Belinda after the incident too questions about the delicate behavior of women. The poem certainly alludes to the expected behavior of each gender role: women should act with modesty while men should embody heroic and chivalric ideals. However, these characters flout the rules of traditional society.


Female Sexuality

Pope frequently focuses on female sexuality and the place of women in society throughout the corpus of his poetry and it was a popular topic in the early eighteenth century.  His poem does not feature the evil of women instead he makes a considered exploration of society’s expectations for women.  The rules of eighteenth century society dictate that a woman attracts a suitable husband while preserving her chastity and virtuous reputation. Pope renders this double-standard dramatically in his depiction of Belinda’s hair, which attracts male admires. Pope examines the loss of reputation in the poem’s allegory. The indication of the ‘rape’ of the lock to cutting off Belinda’s hair is depicted as sexual violation. After the Baron steals her curl, Belinda shirks and later exiles herself from the party, retiring to the bedchamber to mourn her loss. Though Belinda is ultimately celebrated not ostracized by her community, her narrative provides Pope with the opportunity to explore society’s views on female sexuality.


The Deterioration of Heroic Ideals

Pope’s use of the mock epic genre in the poem affords him the poetic occasion to lament the deterioration of heroic ideals in the modern era. Though he depicts conventional epic themes like love and war, his comic tone indicates that the grandeur of these matters has suffered since the days of Homer and Virgil.  By contrast to the epics, the love pope portrays is that Baron loves Belinda’s iconic hair not Belinda herself.  The epic rage like Achilles for affronting his honor with the theft of Brisels has diminished to the anger of a young beauty at the theft of her hair, which will certainly grow back. Pope thus presents a society that is merely a shadow of its heroic past.


Idleness of the Upper Classes

The idleness and ignorance of the upper classes is integral to Pope’s critique of contemporary in the poem. His satire focuses largely on the foibles of the aristocracy and gentry who he depicts as interested only in trivial matters such as flirting, gossiping and games. Baron’s act of stealing Belinda’s lock too is a depiction of the decline of values in the upper class. Snipping a woman’s lock knowing that beauty is a matter of importance is a critical remark made by Pope.


Ephemeral Nature of Beauty

In the poem Pope attempts to dissuade society from placing excessive value on external appearances especially since such things fade over time. He notes that men worship female beauty without assessing moral character. Pope demonstrates that this is essentially a house without foundation because frail beauty must decay; women must have other qualities to sustain them.


Man’s Place and Purpose of Life

Pope describes his intention to consider man in the abstract, his nature and his state, since to prove any moral duty to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection of imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in and what is the proper end and purpose of its being. Pope explores man’s nature and his place in the world throughout the poem. Pope explains that man’s place in the vast chain of being is in a middle state, below the angels but above the beasts and fowl. Because man is an integral part of God’s creation, he cannot and should not try to comprehend God’s design. Pope argues that man is governed by the principles of self-love and reason. Though Pope does not provide a universal solution to the purpose of man, he does reveal one of the defining characteristics of humanity: man will always seek to understand his purpose in the world.

You may read The Rape of Lock as a social satire here.


The source for the bulk of the post was shared by an anonymous friend over the social media, we would be grateful if someone can mention the original author of the pages shared. So the credit should go to the original author and we extracted some valuable points from your pages with the good intention of sharing knowledge relevant to canto 3 (line 128-160) We thank you on behalf of our readership.

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