Major Themes in “The Rape of the Lock”

Major Themes in the Rape of the Lock

Major Themes in the Rape of the Lock are beauty, religion and morality, femininity, pride, love, pursuits, and morality of upper class.

1.    Beauty:

Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” offers an ironic glance of court life in the 18th-century, highlighting societies centralized on beauty and appearance. The poem’s center of focus is around the experience of a beautiful woman, Belinda, who lost her lock of remarkable hair to a nobleman known as the Baron. As the poem starts to go along, it steadily becomes sillier and sillier and the characters collapse into a battle over the lock. Pope’s added Clarissa’s speech into the poem, which argues that women spend much time on their looks rather than thinking to become a better person and serve society. The main thesis of Pope was that this kind of self-obsession is useless and radically nonsense. However, the poem’s conclusion seems to suggest that true beauty would be of some value, but if it becomes the subject of poetry, thus it achieves a kind of literary immortality.

Pope mocks Belinda’s obsession with her beauty by comparing it with a hero which is about to go into battle. She beautifies herself all day and appears at court as insignificant. When she lost the lock of her hair, her furious reaction allowed Pope to poke fun at her vanity.  Alexander Pope kept defending the intellectual and moral authority of his female characters through the wisdom of Clarissa’s speech, demonstrating female intellect and morality. He further questioned the wisdom of such a maternal system by outlining the Baron’s behavior as immoral. His fellow male courtiers are foolish. They allowed him to suggest that a maternal society is both unfair and unfounded.

It is important to note that the time Pope wrote the poem it was generally believed that women were both intellectual and moral inferiors of men. Pope seems to say that vanity itself is folly, but to appreciate great art, thus it can be said that one should be careful not to underestimate the role of beauty in inspiring great works like poetry. By using mock epic into the poem, he not only glam up the whole scenario by giving it huge fairy dust powder, but also entertains the question of responsibility in the poem.

2.    Religion and morality:

Pope’s poem is full of moral questions about religious culture and life in the 18th-century. The time when the poem was written, England’s last Catholic monarch had been deposed. England, once again, became a Protestant Nation. At that time, Protestant bitterly criticized Catholics, believing that Catholics had strayed from the worship of God.  Pope was from a Catholic family. Throughout the poem, it is possible to detect humorous evaluation of Protestantism. Protestants made life very difficult for Catholic families to own a land or live in London. Pope parodies the hypocritical religious rhetoric of that time and suggests that Christianity is not the best lens. It cannot be used to understand the mysteries of human behavior and self-obsession.

This has profound significance for Pope’s treatment of Christianity. At the heart of Christianity is that people are in control of their wills and actions, but God will judge people accordingly.

Pope shows his ideology that the whole Christian religion, Catholic or Protestant, follows human actions. These actions are mysterious and their motives are opaque. Because of this, it is absurd to believe that anyone could be straightforwardly judged.

3.    Immorality and Carefree nature of upper class:

Pope has presented that in a matter of times the careless and casual response of high society is dangerous. He presented the society where the upper class is busy in pursuit of their own goals through trivial and vain. He portrayed that upper class people just think about themselves and obsessions. In this poem, the society displayed is one that fails to distinguish between things that matter and things that do not. What they care about is their personal life, luxuries, pomp, vanity. A life that is matchless to the ordinary and the common. He makes fun of their stupid deeds and self-obsessed attentions. He has disguised that this society just leads to immorality and distraction between humans. Alas, in the end, all upper-class people stay empty-handed.

 It is serious that a woman’s hair is cut but she has rejected a lord and such crimes are frivolities and fun of life in ease of nobility.

4.    Female Desire and Passion:

Pope has made fun of women; they just think and are concerned about their beauty aids alone. He presents Belinda like an epic heroine. He symbolizes that this mock-heroic epic is Belinda’s maidenhood. Pope says that women do not have a fair chance because they are even more self-conscious and limited by society’s rules and regulations than men are. Clarissa’s speech is a fine example of this attitude and also deals with the situation ideally with a smile rather than do anything to change it. Women, in the poem, are illustrated as being more in control of society than men are. It is obvious to us that if you put a bunch of attractive, well-off, and bored young men and women together. They will get attracted to one another, feel desire for one another, have dreams about one another; maybe they even fell in love. Pope depicts in The Rape of the Lock the trouble with the society is absolutely threatening and no way for anyone in it to safely express or act on his or her sexuality, desire, lust, life, feelings or love.

5.    Love:

Pope thinks that love has no importance for the characters in this poem. For the Alexander Pope, the upper class believes only in victory and defeat. Love has no value in their unthinking minds. Belinda meets with a smile but yields and bow down to none. The poem has also symbolized Belinda’s character as a strong modern woman, who loves her beauty more than anything else. The Baron loved to have an affair but without feelings and pure attention, it would be considered a victory. The society portrayed in The Rape of the Lock seems constructed to deny each other’s real feelings. For them, live-in relationships were common, but love in those relationships was counted as something odd.

 6.    Pride:

We can say that the pride of a woman is natural to her, never sleeps, until modesty is gone. Beauty can be without pride and our dear Belinda handles it best of all. She takes care that no one would go without looking at her with a full glance. Baron decides to take revenge on Belinda by stripping her beloved lock of hair. Baron tried to get Belinda by force but not by marrying her, he tried to win over her but failed. As Belinda’s pride, self-respect and beauty were more important for her than anything else.  The Rape of the Lock, reveals that the central concerns of the poem is pride, at least for women like Belinda and other social ones found in that society. Pope wants us to recognize that if Belinda has shown all her typical female weakness, then that would be against her pride, partly it is because she has been educated and trained to act in this way. The society as a whole community is as much to blame as she is or the men free from this judgment.

About Authoress: The article “Major Themes in the Rape of the Lock” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (

Pope’s Use of Heroic Couplet in “The Rape of the Lock”

Pope's Use of Heroic Couplet in the Rape of the Lock


The heroic couplet is a verse unit of two rhymed iambic pentameter lines. It is “heroic measure” because of its association with the heroic and epic poetry in the seventeenth century under the French influence. The most prominent poet of this age, who used this verse form, was Dryden.

Pope inherited Dryden’s mantle but carried the development of the heroic couplet much further and brought it to near perfection. Pope molded the heroic couplet exactly to his purpose, polished it to the extreme of melodiousness and touched it to sparkle with the utmost brilliance. The heroic couplet, as Pope wrote it, attracts attention to itself as meter does. It is so brief that while reading we notice variations between couplets. We think that he regarded it like it was stanza half contained, if not quite that, as having a beginning, middle and an end. Many of Pope’s couplets may be taken out of their contexts and held up to separate admiration like an occasional lyric stanza, or figurative stanza from the Faerie Queene. It is clear that Pope believed that the couplet was capable of attaining a temporary unit in itself.

Rare Verse and Gasto:

The Rape of the Lock is one of Pope’s early poems. His mastery over the heroic couplet fully was yet to come. Nevertheless, the verse form, the heroic couplet employed in this poem anticipates many devices and strategies which Pope was to perfect later on. The verse here not only has a peculiar beauty and charm conforming to the mock-heroic material, but also a rare verse and gusto. A closer look at the construction of the heroic couplets in the poem shows how carefully Pope has planned and executed the mock-heroic material and shaped it through his heroic couplets. Here, the heroic couplets express collation of the great with the trivial. Pope’s verses show a dignity of form with the characteristics of epic poetry.

 Dignity and Grandeur:

We have in this poem, the same seriousness, dignity and elevation, which belong to epic verse. It is only the context namely that the epic generalization is meant to introduce the snipping of Belinda’s lock. It is to create a humorous effect. Pope not only creates situations, which parody the epic events, like Belinda’s arming for the conquests, or her pleasure-ride in a barge on the river Thames. But he also provides direct parodies from the epics and heroic contexts. This is how Pope describes the Baron’s resolution to win Belinda’s lock by force or fraud.

Other Devices:

Another epic device, which Pope uses, is periphrasis. It is the device of expressing some idea in a circuitous manner. The tiny pair of scissors with which the Baron cuts Belinda’s lock is as the glittering forfex, the two-edged weapon and the fatal engine. Following the example of Dryden’s Mac-Flecknoe, Pope’s couplets provide a running tension between the serious and the trivial by means of antithesis. The opening couplet of the poem underlines the contract between the heroic and the petty by means of an antithesis between the mighty contests and trivial things. Another poetic device, which Pope had mastered, is the use of Zeugma. They both are to unify and contrast two discordant elements within the same couplet. 

 Use of Satire

Pope sometimes heightens the effect of the satire by providing satirical catalogues. All but one of the items in the whole list goes together. But the one does not bring out the confusion in the values of Belinda’s world is the way how Pope describes the various treasures that decorate Belinda’s dressing table. The only incongruous object here is Bibles. Pope presents it here as a part of the trivialities on Belinda’s dressing table. It is united still more strongly with the billet-doux by means of alliteration in the same way that the first three items are united. Though Pope uses the heroic couplet throughout the whole poem, the effect is not at all monotonous. For not only does he use various devices to provide variety, but also varies the construction of couplets.

 Live Scheme:

The first line consists of one syntactic unit, while the second combines the two. In the third line, sense is allowed to over low, until the middle of the fourth line, while the second half of the fourth line is a single unit. Thus, the successful blending of various poetic devices makes The Rape of the Lock a marvelous work of art. It is this careful, conscious artistry, which led Hazlitt to describe the poem as the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever invented.

About Authoress: The article “Pope’s use of Heroic-Couplet” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (

The Rape of the Lock as a Social Satire

The Rape of the Lock as a Social Satire

Pope’s Satire in Rape of the lock:

Alexander Pope was one of the best satirists England has ever produced. The function of a satirist is didactic and his object is the reformation of humankind and their follies and foibles. The satirist has a yardstick of conduct. He has weapons like wit, mockery, humor, ridicule and irony. Pope has been accused of venom and pungency, which are attributed to his physical deformity. However, a close look at the “The Rape of the Lock” would show that Pope has a wide range and, unlike Swift, he is quite capable of sympathetic understanding, ironic humor, as well as venomous castigation. Nevertheless, most of the time, he is elegantly polished and can say bitterest thing with urbanity.

The Poet’s Purpose:

The event of the writing of The Rape of the Lock was a quarrel between two families over a trifle, the cutting of a lock of hair of a girl by a lord. The Pope was commissioned to write a poem to make the two families laugh it away. It was a difficult task because Pope had to point out the triviality of the episode without giving offence to either party. Judging by the events, Pope perhaps did not succeed because the Lord in question married another woman with greater fortune, but the result was an incomparable mock-heroic poem. The poem is incomparable in design and execution, with combination of the gay and the serious, and the sparkle of wit and humor, which it irradiates. When Pope began the poem, he meant to concentrate upon the woman in question, but he was so carried away by the subject, he slipped from particular to the general. Belinda became a representative figure of the 18th century high society and Pope’s picture of her turned out as a satirical picture of that society.

Pope’s sincerity Towards Belinda’s beauty:

It is averse that Pope’s attitude towards women was disdainful, perhaps because of a lack of sympathetic understanding on the part of women for the deformed poet. However, there are many indications in the poem to show that a sweeping statement of this kind is unfair. In the beginning of the poem, Pope pays homage to the beauty of Belinda, which has a ring of sincerity in it.

Pope’s Averse Attitude Towards Lord Petre:

Besides, his attitude towards Lord Petre is also one of contempt, when he describes the smallness of his stature, his addiction to French romances or his insincerity in taking love as a sport. If women had the “toy shops of heart”, men also had a hollow attitude towards the finest of human emotions, which is love. Moreover, Pope’s description of the pitfalls that attend women in the form of the treacherous friend, “the daring spark” has a hint of pitying sympathy. Along with the consciousness of their vanity and coquetry, their love for Ombre, their pride, their disdaining of offers and dreams of beaus and dukes. Even when he makes the Sylph give an account of the large number of sylphs, which attend upon a woman of quality, there is a dual consciousness of surface grandeur. Baron’s actions represent the competition between young kings for the attention of beautiful women, which was witnessed by the charming Belinda.  However, Belinda did not pay any attention to him, which made him frustrated and he wanted to cut the locks of her hair.

Female Vanity as a piece of Satire in Rape of the Lock:

According to Pope, women are vain, no doubt. They are a prey to their own vanity but they live in a world of treacherous men who are out to take advantage of their helplessness. Men are full with the battery of insincere expression of love. Women need protection because they are so helpless against the guile of men.

Indirectly, through the role of Belinda, Pope is portraying women in society of that time.  At the very beginning of the poem, we become aware of the laziness, pimping and manipulation of the so-called fashion-loving women, such as getting up late, keeping pets. Pope has portrayed Belinda’s character as an example of exaggeration of women on their dressing table. Women spend most of their time in the toilet. They use various ornaments and absorbents, roses, puffs and powders for their makeup. Women mostly love their beauty and feel excited standing in front of the mirror. Sometimes, it seems as if they are presenting their own image in the mirror, as the goddess whom they serve.

Then we see another trend of beautiful women of that time. They liked to be complimented by men, but never show any of the fans the symbol of attraction. They just thank them and smile at them. They often had to turn down offers, but they never hurt anyone.

The poem also refers to the latest fashions in the dress and decoration of this society, for example, millions of tables, a collection of china, a lap dog from Ireland, diamond earrings, etc. Rich drinks such as citron water, chocolate Tea and coffee.

Towards the beginning of Canto III, we get an excellent account of society’s explanation of the Hampton Court. It is the place where the inhabitants of the United Kingdom often gather to predict the removal of foreign dictators, and the beautiful women of England. In Hampton Court, Ann, who ruled in three circles, held her council and sometimes just a tea party.

Sylphs become a symbol of women’s social behavior. Principles such as honor and chastity have not become another part of traditional affairs. Pope made it clear that these women were not operating based on abstract moral principles, but through a broader social system.  Society as a whole is as guilty as women themselves. 

About Authoress: The article “The Rape of the Lock as a Social Satire” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (

The Rape of the Lock as a Mock-Heroic Epic

The Rape of the Lock as a Mock-Heroic Epic

What is mock-heroic epic?

A mock-heroic epic is a poem which uses a formal and grand style to describe a trivial or common subject for which this style is not suitable. This leads to a comic effect since the style of the mock poem is mismatched with the subject. Rape of the lock is one of the best examples of mock-heroic epics. In mock heroic poetry, the central character is not brave and adventurous unlike in heroic epic. The lofty and hyperbolic language is used in mock heroic epic to describe a trivial or a common matter in a satiric or ridiculous way.

Objects of Satire:

Pope makes it quite clear at the very outset that his poem is a mocking one, when he promises us a narrative of towering anger and conflict springing from “amorous causes”. The poem is prompted by an occasion involving actual people and invokes the Greek Muse. Thus, the poem has a social, as well as a literary context. However, whereas Homer’s or Virgil’s subjects were grand, Pope’s the Rape of the Lock is the trivial cutting off of a lock of a maiden’s hair. The object of the poem, therefore, is civilized mockery and it implies a criticism. Mockery, however, is double-edged. Pope hits two subjects simultaneously, the great epic form, the last of whose manifestation was Milton’s Paradise Lost and life itself, the characters, the well-bred Lord, the gentle belle, Sir Plume.

The laughter evoked promises to be silvery and urbane, and yet the fierceness of the verb assault belies this assertion.

Both Literary and Moral satire:

The occasion of the writing of the poem was a quarrel between two families over the cutting off a lock of hair of a girl by a Lord. It was a request to Pope to write a poem to make the two families laugh it away. Pope, when he undertook the composition of the poem, had this primary aim but literary satire and moral satire followed quite naturally. Pope’s purpose was a moral one, he held women’s freaks, humors, spleen and vanity to be responsible for much discord, and he inserted a speech by Clarissa on purpose to point the moral.

Pope’s  Vein Compared with Others:

The mockery of the mock heroic is as old as epic itself. We begin with Aristophanes and pass through Don Quixote and Bioleau’s Lutrin. Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is also in the same vein. Pope, therefore, was not attempting anything new but was improving on what had already been done. He tried to produce something better by pushing the same principles to their logical conclusion of completeness, proportion, delicacy, and homogeneity.

The Machinery Used in Mock-Heroic Epic:

The Rape of the Lock is the masterpiece of the mock heroic as it mocks at the maximum amount of the epic. The mockery takes different forms and employs different devices. Apart from the general mockery of the epic form, in its similes, and the epic matter with its machinery, its battles, its journeys on water and down to the underworld, its harangues, there is particular mockery of a detail. There is a certain speech or a comment in the person of the poet. Also, the scale of mimicry is always varying. We find Belinda flashing lightning from her eyes, screaming like the Homeric heroes but against the bulk of Hector, she is only a girl, a mere fashionable lady. We find altar at which ardent prayers are fatefully half-granted. In addition, people worship a goddess. 

However, the altar is built of French romances and the goddess is the image of the vain Belinda, in the mirror of her dressing table. We find a battle drawn forth to combat, like the Greeks on velvet plain, but it is only a game of cards on a fashionable card table. We find a supernatural being threatening his inferiors with torture but it is a sylph, not Jove. Moreover, the tortures are neither thunderbolts nor pains of Hades, but cruelties devised ingeniously fan the requisites of the toilet table.

The terms of the emulation never stay the same. However, over all they are reduced with time. Where The Rape of the Lock is a short poem, the epic is long. The time line of the epic portraits years, whereas The Rape of the Lock only cover hours. The gods of the epic are stupendous creatures. Pope’s sylphs are tiny and ineffectual.

The Use of Spiritual Machinery in Mock-Heroic Epic:

Pope thought the first version incomplete without the spiritual machinery. No doubt, he had already made the action of his poem, taking place on the knees of the gods. It was Heaven and the powers, which, granting half the Baron’s prayers, wrested from his fingers the lock they had allowed him to cut. But from the start, it must have been obvious to Pope that the epics usually allotted their heavenly creatures more room and color than his own poem did, and his literary mockery kept increasing in quality according to the supernatural machinery’s quantity. When it was time for additions in the poem, it had to be ranged from a single couplet to passages of hundred lines. Pope knew that he could not just add the character of sylphs. He would have to cleverly develop and create their role to make it work in the poem.

Mockery — both Human and Literacy:

The additions made were for improving the literary mockery; they were also helpful in the improvement of human mockery. The chief excellence of the satire, afforded by the additions, consists in the way they mock human and literary matters simultaneously. We can see how obvious it is in every way. Pope could not let the sylphs affect the central action of a poem, which was still complete if they were not involved. He, therefore, makes them to desire to affect it, to only be prevented from doing so by force within the poem itself. Belinda herself renders them powerless. Her would-be protector Ariel has warned her that trouble is ahead, but his help is important when she transgresses the very condition, which gives him power.

Didactic Purpose of Rape of the Lock as a Mock-Heroic Epic:

The Rape of the Lock is indeed a magnificent magnum opus whose design is subtly laid so that there is a condensation of meaning, and layers of underlay enhance the pleasure of discovery by the discerning reader. Pope’s aim was correction of the foibles and follies of the artificial society by making them laugh at themselves. He tried purging them of the dress so that their innate purity may shine. It is certain that Pope did not lose hope in humanity and was conscious of man’s innate goodness.

About Authoress: The article “The Rape of the Lock as a Mock-Heroic Epic” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (

Introduction to “The Rape of the Lock”

Introduction to "The Rape of the Lock”

The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

The poem “The Rape of the Lock”, written by Alexander Pope, first became available for public reading in 1712. The poem is a mock heroic and Pope is criticizing the upper class of London and their ways of that time. This poem saw many stages and got modified with each. Its length was two cantos only in the original version. With time, the story moved forward and became longer. In 1714, its modified version was published, which composed of five cantos. This version did really well in market and sold thousands of copies in first few days. In 1717, Pope published the final version, as we know it now. This includes Clarissa’s speech that aided in bringing to light the morality in the poem.

Belinda is the central character of the narration. Baron, her suitor, cuts off a lock of her hair at a social occasion. As small as the incident seems to most people, this event leaves Belinda aggrieved. Both the people concerning the occasion belong to aristocratic recusant Catholic families and that at a time where rules in England are extremely strict. Therefore, the incident of cutting a lock of hair without permission leads to a huge argument. It became a matter of dishonoring. This created such infringement between the two families that were close and friendly before. Pope narrates the incidents of this night that caused the occurring of this loss for Belinda, in the poem.

The story of “the Rape of the Lock” was in fact a true incident that happened between two people, of which Pop’s friend, John Caryll told him. Belinda was actually Arabella Fermor and Baron was Lord Petre, who was her suitor. On his friend’s request, to calm down the situation, Pope wrote this epic, including supernatural creatures and comparing the two worlds of heroism and social. Throughout the poem, he put emphasis on how trivial this one event was and how much conflict it had caused between the two families.

By the time the latest version was completed, a lot had changed of the two families. Arabella got married and Lord Petre died by falling ill to small pox. Therefore, the clash that was to settle down by this poem had already ended and was of no significance then.

In, 1714 Pope wrote “A Key to the Lock” to warn people wittily to not take the poem so genuinely.

About Authoress: The article “Introduction to The Rape of the Lock” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (