Optimism Vs. Pessimism In Pope's Essay On Man And Leapor's Essay On Woman

2105 words - 8 pages

Optimism vs. Pessimism in Pope's Essay on Man and Leapor's Essay on Woman 

   Both Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle 2 and Mary Leapor's Essay on Woman expound the fatalist contention that neither man nor woman can "win," as each individual exists in a world of trade-offs. Yet, by each author's singular technique of sculpting his ideas with the literary tools of contrast, argument, and syntax, the cores of the two essays turn back to back, evolving into distinct, but contrary perspectives of Man's (in respect to mankind) and Woman's existence. Pope asserts that a profusion of trade-offs establish a certain equilibrium point where Man hangs "on this isthmus of a middle state" (Magill 2629). After defining the boundaries of Man's oscillations through a procession of clever paradoxes of words, Pope conciliates Man's unpredictable balance, or fulcrum point, as the essence of Man as an individual. Although consistent with Pope's theory of life's extremes, Mary Leapor utilizes contrasting imagery within specific female case studies to decry the life of Woman as doomed to slavery by her inevitable fate. The two poets' views ultimately oppose each other. While Pope experiments with punctuation and precision, Leapor explores the effects of personalization. By subtly but convictively proposing an optimistic perspective, that Man's confused position is his claim to fame, Pope intones his poetry with an uplifting vitality readily conducted to his reader; whereas Leapor opines Woman's confused position as the doom of life's essence and transitively condemns her reader to the incurable pessimism she so vividly relates.


The essence of man, as defined by Pope, is a series of paradoxical, yet concrete sets of contrasting words that deftly define man's auspicious position between God and beast thereby setting an equilibrium of extremes. Pope chooses neither good nor bad connotations ("A being darkly wise, and rudely great") to avoid judging either of man's extremes. Instead he skillfully chooses each word to avoid judging either extreme as good or bad, right or wrong. "Darkly," on its own, connotes the unseen, the undefined and is uniquely paired with "wise," a word denoting a grasp on definition or reason. "Rudely great" again combines two impartial words that seem to stand in a paradox as a unit - "rudely" suggests low class and lack of refinement (but lacks the moral judgment of "crudely") while "great" indicates superiority, prominence and nobility (without implying self-righteous conceit, as "grand" might have done). Paired, however, each phrase ("Darkly wise" and "rudely great") carries on its own distinctive hybridized meaning. "Darkly wise," comes to depict an indefinite sensibility and "rudely great," denotes an unrefined dignity. Much simpler contrasts between black and white, dark and light, strength and weakness might have sufficed, but, efforting to capture the depth of Man's character, Pope creates contrasts that escape the...

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