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The Mock Epic And The Rape Of The Lock

1116 words - 4 pages

The Mock-Epic and The Rape Of The Lock


The argument can be made that the purpose of the Rape of the Lock is to attack the vanity of women. Pope states this directly in his dedication to Arabella – “to laugh at their sex’s little unguarded Follies,” and the author’s use of the mock-epic seems to reinforce this purpose through its comparison of the epic odyssey to trivial events. In this comparison there can also be found a description of the relationship between the sexes not as a mutual co-existence but rather as a war with both sexes constantly striving for supremacy. If this is true, then we must condemn the society in which Pope lived rather than female vanity. I will look at the effects of Pope’s use of the mock-epic in relation to the passage at the end of Canto I which describes Belinda’s making herself up, and also in relation to critical extract 2, which seems to me to be a poorly founded criticism of The Rape Of The Lock.

In the passage beginning "And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d" (line 121) there are clear uses of the mock-epic in the combative description of Belinda’s self-adornment. The imagery of Belinda as a goddess beginning the "sacred rites of Pride" clearly serves to over-emphasise the importance of make up to women, or at least in Pope’s terms to the "coquettes" described by him as "sylphs", and should certainly be seen as a satirical statement rather than as Pope genuinely viewing Belinda as a goddess, but I will return to this later on. Meanwhile, I would agree with extract 2’s statement that "Belinda is no goddess", but the criticism aimed at Pope that his use of the mock-epic serves not so much to trivialise female vanity in the 18th century but rather to compare England to the Roman Empire through the glorification of Belinda’s world and therefore implicitly support British Imperialism seems to me false.

The Author of extract 2 seems to me to have rather an idealistic view of "the great age of Rome" and similarly seems to contradict herself in her main argument. In condemning Pope’s use of the mock-epic as imperialistic in describing Belinda’s self-adornment, rather than merely satirical amplification of such trivia, extract 2 seems to ring hollow. To say that the Roman empire was more worthy than the British empire and then to claim that Pope’s use of the mock-epic allows him to "avoid the implication that imperialism produces a moral anarchy and degradation of culture", although almost certainly accurate, can undoubtedly be levelled at the Roman empire just as much as the British one. Also the statement that "Rome had no such trivial concerns" would seem to not only be an unfounded and indeed naïve view, but also seems to ignore that the Iliad itself could certainly be seen as a result of a relatively trivial action. The fleeing of Helen to Troy which provoked a war which was more about the "jilted" king’s pride than the actual desires of Helen would not suggest to me that...

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