In these notes, we are going to cover the question: Is Pope’s treatment fair or unfair to women?
The poem “The Rape and the Lock” is delicate, playful for and humorous. Basically, it is a witty satire on the upper-class society of England of the eighteenth century. In fact, Pope has satirized feminine frivolity. It is a strain of mockery against their hops and patches.
Treatment of Women
In his treatment of women, Pope unconsciously insults his heroine for her presumable ignorance of his critical jargon. His smart epigrams want but a slight change of tone to make his satire a sugar-coated pill. He is the same poet who commences his essay on women’s character, by telling a woman that her sex is a compound of and tells her frankly a very pleasant truth that every woman is at heart a rake.
Matter too soft a lasting mask to bear;
And best distinguished by black, brown, and fair
Women, according to Alexander Pope are all whose main interest in life is lovemaking. The rape of the lock for that purpose is replete with such playful scenes that are overwhelmed with superstitious thoughts which are quite evident from the following lines:
Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law
Or some frail china far receive a flaw,
or strain her honor or her new brocade;
Forget her prayers or miss a masquerade;
Or lose her heart or necklace at a ball;
or whether heaven has doomed that shock must fall
Before the mock-heroic battle which took place at the end when the action of the rape of lock turns on a trivial incident the cutting of a lock of hair from Belinda’s head, the ladies who are gifted with screaming power shout at the top of their voice:
Restore the lock, she cries, and all around
Restore the lock, the vaulted roofs rebound
The satire, in his Rape of Lock, is directed not against any individual, but against the follies and vanities of fashionable as well as pleasure-seeking men and women. When we read the poem, we find how they waste their time in flirtation and writing love letters.
The Character of Belinda
Pope relates in the most satirical way how Belinda, the representative queen of the society sleeps till noon and is awakened by her lap dog shock when he licks her feet with his tongue. Then he introduces us to how does she dress for the party which seems to be not less than a religious ceremony. A large number of cosmetics on the table and the procedure, these ladies adopt to beautify themselves with their ornaments is a great satire on the fashionable ladies of the time. Their dresses, as Pope tells us are frivolous and their heart is nothing but moving toyshops which these fashionable ladies sell them to any Tom, Dick, or Harry.
Belinda, the heroine, is then shown sailing up the river, themes in a boat, in the company of her admirers. When she moves among them, she obliges every top with her graceful and even pleasing smile. Pope paints in a very sarcastic manner, the vanity and shallowness of this life. He gives us an account of the amorous behavior of these fops. How do they run after these women and hung about their boxes in the theatres and coaches in Hyde Park? They hold parties and invite them to balls only to attract these frivolous women. Basically, they are all insincere and unfaithful.
Analyzing Pope’s Mock-Epic
If we analyze Pope’s mock-epic, we find it full of wit and epigram. It is written with an objective in the language of Dryden. “The satirist is no more an enemy to the offender than the physician to the patient when he prescribes harsh remedies to an inveterate disease.” The true objective, of a good satire, is cynical. It amends the vices follies and faults by castigations.
In the Rape of the Lock, Pope unveils the inside story of the frivolous ladies of the English Society of the eighteenth century. He is fair in painting their frivolities as he observes them so as this section of the society may amend them. He is unfair because he does not tell us about the rest of the English women what type of life do they lead. The Rape of the Lock should not be taken as mirror of the entire English society of the eighteenth Century.