The Rape of the Lock as a Social Satire
Table of Contents
Pope’s place as a satirist
Alexander Pope was a great moralist and satirist. ‘He stooped to truth and moralized his song.’ He used poetry as a great instrument of moral improvement and believed that satire was its most effective method which destroyed corrupt customs and exposed the wicked. He belonged to the school of Juvenal. His lofty and declamatory moral tone was in the manner of Juvenal. Satire was his element and he excelled in satirical compositions. His earlier works The Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock clearly point out the satirical vein in his mind; things which are completely satirical. The Satires including The Prologue and The Epilogue, The Moral Essay and The Dunciad are satirical through and through.
Causes which made Pope a satirist
Several causes made Pope a satirist. His physical disability was, perhaps, the greatest of them. If he had enjoyed the pleasure and blessing that health offers to a man, he would not have been a rabid castigator of the foibles and weaknesses of men as well as of the female sex. Secondly, being a Roman Catholic, Pope could not tolerate the assault on his faith by the Protestants. The inhibitions and restrictions, persecution and harassment to which the Roman Catholics were subjected in the day of Pope annoyed him. He expressed his anger through satires. Lastly, his extremely suspicious and irritable temperament made him a satirist. He was vindictive, and satirized those who tried to find fault with him.
- The Rape of the Lock as a Mock Epic
- Significance of the Game of Ombre
- Summarise the speech of Clarissa
Thus we see that Pope used satire as a weapon against those whom his success and disability infuriated. He was mostly on the defensive against his enemies but sometimes he tried to escape. He often used his only weapon in his defence, sometimes effectually hitting his opponents more shrewdly than they could hit him. He openly declared the mission of his satire in the following words:
“Satire’s my weapon, but I’m too discreet
To run a much and till at all I meet:
I only wear it in a land of Hectors,
Thieves, Supercargoes, Sharpers, and Directors,”
He directed his satire against all classes of people. He boldly satirized corruption in high places. These satires were impersonal and were inspired by a better ideal than his personal satires motivated by malice and animosity. He never spared those who indulged in corruption, vices and evils. He struck as hard at the rulers of the land as at the poverty of Gurb Street. He never feared to:
“Brand the bold front of shameless guilty men:
Dash the proud Gamester in his gilded car.
Bare the mean Heart that lurks beneath a star.”
The Rape of the Lock as a social satire
The Rape of the Lock is his finest satire on the social life of his age. Warton remarked, “I hope it will not be thought an exaggerated panegyric to say that The Rape of the Lock is the best satire extant: that it contains the trust and liveliest picture of modern life: and that the subject is of a more elegant nature as well a more artfully conducted, than that of any other herio-comic poem.” In this mock-heroic poem Pope has chiefly satirized feminine frivolity.
He came out with the most unpleasant and shocking remark, ‘Every women at heart is rake’ and showed that all women were frivolous and their chief interest was in love-making. The fashions, frivolities and gaieties of women of his time have all been satirized in the poem. He has exposed the trivialities of fashionable life and the vagaries of the feminine mind. It is no wonder that Miss Arabella Fermor, the loss of whose lock occasioned the poem, was displeased and offended by it. But the poem is not really a satire against her; it is against the weakness she shared with half the world. Through her Pope has criticized the whole of the female sex.
Addison, in one of the Spectator Papers, wrote about the general condition of fashionable women of those days, “The toilet is their great scene of business, and the right adjustment of their hair the principal employment of their lives. The sorting of a suit of ribbons is considered a very good morning’s work; and if they make an excursion to a mercer’s shop or a toy-shop, so great a fatigue makes them unfit for anything else all day after. Their more serious occupations are sewing and embroidery.”
Pope has a better understanding of the fashionable life of ladies than Addison and his The Rape of the Lock presents an impressive and real picture of the life of his age. According to Elwin, the world of fashion is displayed in The Rape of the Lock “in its most gorgeous and attractive colours, and everywhere the emptiness is visible beneath the outward splendor. The beauty of Belinda, the details of her toilet, her troops of admirers, are all set forth with unrivalled grace and fascination, and all bear the impress of vanity and vexation.”
The fashionable ladies of Pope’s age lay in their beds till late in the day. They were awakened by the ringing of hand bells and knocking of slippers. Lap-dogs were their favorites. They lay with their mistresses in their beds. After leaving their beds, the ladies did their toilet with the assistance of their maid- servants. The toilet was the most expensive process to beautify them and consisted of putting of jewels, cosmetics, powders, rows of pins, perfumery, and paints.
They visited fashionable spots in gilt coaches or in sedan chairs. The Hyde Park was a common resort of the fashionable ladies. There lay indulged themselves in dance, music and revelry. They also played Ombre with stake. Tea and coffee were their favourite drinks. They invited their lovers to their bedrooms. Love-making was their chief game and their most sacred business was to look as attractive as they could. In short, coquetry was an important part of their life. We see that Pope has satirized all this in The Rape of the Lock.
Pope, though not so harsh as in the case of women, has not spared the fashionable men of his age. Chivalry was dead then and they tried to win their object by fair or foul means. The Baron’s rude act of cutting the lock of Belinda bears evidence to this fact. The men were fops with no brains. Their chief interest was in love-making. They craved for the company of attractive ladies. They drank and gambled. They ogled at ladies from the side-boxes in theatres. Their language was also affected. The Rape of the Lock exposes these weaknesses.
Thus we see that Pope’s The Rape of the Lock presents a faithful but satirical picture of the superficial life of the lords and ladies of his age.