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"Rape Of The Lock", A Satire

2656 words - 11 pages

The epic or heroic poem, as defined by M.H. Abrams, is "a work that meets at least the following criteria: it is a long verse narrative on a serious subject, told in a formal and elevated style, and centered on a heroic or quasi-divine figure on whose actions define the fate of a tribe, a nation or the human race" (76). He also tells us that because of its elevated style, length and sheer magnificence, there are only about half a dozen of such poems of "indubitable greatness". Abrams goes on to list some of the conventions found within an epic poem: the narrator begins with his argument or epic question invoking a muse to his aid he describes heightened and illustrious characters who often ...view middle of the document...

Pope opens the poem with an epic question who's satirical tone signals his intent to ridicule his society. As in traditional epics, Pope's poem opens with the invocation of a muse. He then asks a question that states the topic that the epic will address. In The Rape of the Lock, the epic convention is inverted because the epic question is of a trivial subject matter. Pope writes;Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compelA well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?Oh, say what stranger cause, yet unexplored,Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?In tasks so bold can little men engage,And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage? (I, 7-12)Here Pope states the epic question or the primary concern of the poem: how a "well -bread lord could assault a gentle belle?" and in return how a "gentle belle" could reject a lord? Pope emphasizes how trivial his poem is by appealing to the muse through an epic question. First, the reader is made aware that this form of epic is not going to examine the details of the fate of a man, town, nation, or even humanity but rather the flirtatious trifles of a "gentle belle" and a "well-bread lord". Through this inversion of an epic convention, Pope is satirizing his society by implying that they have no great subject or plight about which to write a traditional epic. Instead, the most trivial of things, a quarrel between a belle and a lord, stands as the most important subject upon which his society focused. The satire's effect is seen because Pope is not necessarily saying that his country has not more important issues on which to write upon; rather he is stating those issues are not addressed or even considered because high society concerns are so trivial and frivolous. In fact, priorities and values have been so inverted within British high society that the theft of a lock of hair is a great affront and a pressing matter.Similar to the previous epic convention inversion, Pope also uses the diction in his epic question to emphasize the triviality of his society. In particular, he focuses on the word "assault". Pope writes, "Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel/ A well-bread lord to assault a gentle belle?" (9-10). The connotation that the word assault carries, is far different from the actual "assault" that transpires within the poem. The word "assault" primarily refers to a violent act that causes some form of bodily harm. By comparing a lock of hair that has been cut without permission to an assault, Pope is making a statement about how incredibly inverted high society's values and views have become. Hence, Pope satirizes the backwardness of his society by describing a trivial incident using a word with such a violent and serious connotation.The epic having heightened and illustrious characters is another epic convention that Pope inverts to further illustrate his satire. Abrams writes. " The hero of an epic poem is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance" (77). Predominantly, in a classical...

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