Alex\'s Analysis of Any Abject Abuse


The destruction of the grand style of the epic is just what Pope was
after in his mock epic, "The Rape of the Lock." Pope had no such universal goal,
or moral pronouncements to make as did Milton. His purpose was merely to expose
the life of the nobility of his time. While Milton chose blank verse to express
the immensity of the landscape of his epic, Pope chose to utilize the heroic
couplet to trivialize this grandeur. Pope\'s quick wit bounces the reader along
his detailed description of his parlor-room epic. His content is purposefully
trivial, his scope purposefully thin, his style purposefully light-hearted, and
therefore his choice of form purposefully geared toward the smooth, natural
rhythm of the heroic couplet. The caesura, the end-stopped lines, and the
perfect rhymes lend the exact amount of manners and gaiety to his work.
Writing for a society that values appearances and social frivolities, he
uses these various modes of behavior to call attention to the behavior itself.
Pope compares and contrasts. He places significant life factors (i.e., survival,
death, etc.) side by side with the trivial (although not to Belinda and her
friends: love letters, accessories). Although Pope is definitely pointing to
the "lightness" of the social life of the privileged, he also recognizes their
sincerity in attempting to be polite and well-mannered and pretend to recognize
where the true values lie.
Pope satirizes female vanity. He wrote the poem at the request of his
friend, John Caryll, in an effort to make peace between real-life lovers. The
incident of the lock of hair was factual; Pope\'s intention was to dilute with
humor the ill feelings aroused by the affair. He was, in fact, putting a minor
incident into perspective, and to this end, chose a mock-heroic form, composing
the poem as a "take-off" epic poetry, particularly the work of Milton. He is
inviting the individuals involved to laugh at themselves, to see how emotion had
inflated their response to what was really an event of no consequence. For the
reader, the incident becomes a statement about human folly, a lesson on female
vanity, and a satire of the rituals of courtship. Perhaps Pope also intended to
comment on the meaningless lives of the upper classes. The poem was published
in 1712 and again in 1714; probably the satire is more biting in the later
version than in the one presented to Miss Fermor. Pope could hardly have
hope to soothe the lady\'s wounded pride by pointing out her vanity and empty-
headedness.
In keeping with his choice of mock-heroic form, Pope employs a "high-
toned" poetic diction and the stately iambic pentameter of dignified epics like
Paradise Lost. And of course, Pope\'s mastery of the heroic couplet, and the
balanced, measured rhythms of his lines, lend an even greater air of solemnity.
To achieve this effect, he inverts the syntax of ordinary speech, as in these
lines: "Her lively looks a spritely mind disclose" (ii, 9), ""Favors to none, to
all she smiles extends" (II, 11), and "Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers
strike" (ii, 13). The effect of this inversion is to add rhetorical weight to
the end of the line; the sentence feels particularly "complete." At the same
time, the reader is always aware that the poem is a joke. Pope comes right out
and says so. For example, one epic tradition is to open with a statement of
purpose and an invocation to the Muse. Pope states his purpose as being to sing
of the "dire offense" that springs from "amorous causes" and the "mighty contest
s" that rise from "trivial things" (1-2) -- hardly the lofty and weighty
subjects of epic poetry -- and names his Muse "Caryll" (3) for his friend John
Caryll, the relative of the young lord who stole the lock of hair from Arabella
Fermor -- not the proper sort of Muse for epic poetry. By way of mythological
spirits hovering over earthly concerns, Pope gives us sylphs that are really the
spirits of young women like Belinda. Milton\'s Adam had the angel Raphael
looking out for him; Belinda has Ariel, one of the "light militia of the lower
sky" (42). He jokingly raises Belinda to the exalted stature proper to epic
heroines by addressing her as "Fairest of mortals, thou distinguished care/ Of
thousands bright inhabitants of air" (27-28) and exorts her: "thy own importance
know" (35); but because Belinda is really only a "gentle belle" (8), a pampered
and privileged young woman, capable of mere "infant thought" (29), the