Alexander Pope’s Condescending Mock-Epic Towards Women’s Vanity
Gender roles in society have always put women in vain. Whether, in literature or in actual events, sexism has always been a great topic for confrontation. Alexander Pope wrote The Rape of the Lock in response to a real event that happened to Arabella Fermor (323). Miss Fermor was regrettably assaulted by one of her suitors. This suitor cuts a lock of her hair without her permission, which results in an uproar of confrontation. Finally, Pope was contacted to write about the aggressive assault in order to justify this horrific act. In response to this incident, Pope writes a mock-epic satirizing the entire event: The Rape of the Lock. The poem showed no compassion, no remorse towards Arabella. It was merely a mockery of women and their vanity. Just like the assault itself, Pope’s poem was an insult to women. This mock-epic proved the existence of male chauvinism in the early 1700s, the objectification of women, and discrimination towards the victim herself.
Male chauvinism is greatly participated in Pope’s work, especially towards the Baron. In The Rape of the Lock, the Baron is a suitor of the lovely victim, Belinda. The Baron ravenously pursues a lock of Belinda’s hair with the eager satisfaction of claiming his prize. “The adventurous Baron the bright locks admired,/ He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired./ Resolved to win, he meditates the way,/ By force to ravish, or by fraud betray;” (Pope 330). The Baron begins to conceive a plot to obtain this tempting prize. This begins the events that will soon become a great confrontation between men and women: the gender roles in society. Dennis Brown captures the essence of the thematic role of gender in society with this quote: “I want, here, to focus on this originary motive for the poem, and to suggest ways in which it informs the poet’s larger purpose – to create a social poem which negotiates tensions within the age-old battle of the sexes” (Brown). There has always been a battle between men and women, specifically men against women. There seems to be some discomfort towards women with power that, in order to make men feel superior, men need to degrade and diminish women’s worth. In the Baron’s point of view, he has an uncontrollable desire towards beautiful women; a desire that yearns for satisfaction. He feels that he needs some sort of commemorative object to validate his self-empowerment. Therefore, he takes possessions from his former lovers to make himself feel superior. “But chiefly Love – to Love an altar built,/ Of twelve vast French romances, neatly gilt./ There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves,/ And all the trophies of he former loves” (Pope 330). Inevitably, men begin to make women feel that they are nothing; and, in response, women feel that they are.
Pope’s objectification of women is proved credible with his descriptions towards the female characters. Belinda becomes a victim of a scandalous crime. Ironically, Belinda was also deceived by a woman, Clarissa. Clarissa was blinded by the charming Baron, and she despaired to do anything for him. Therefore, it was she who provided the shears to complete the Baron’s mission, which then resulted to the Baron’s delight and Belinda’s shame. “The meeting points the sacred hair dissever/ From the fair head, forever, and forever!/ Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,/ And screams of horror rend the affrighted skies” (336). Even though Clarissa was needed for the Baron to fulfill his act, she is still condemned for being a woman.”Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;/ Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.’/ So spoke the dame, but no applause ensued;/ Belinda frowned, Thalestris called her prude” (342). Clarissa tried to resolve her misjudgement by testifying against the Baron. She argues that beauty will not solve your problems; integrity is what you should ultimately aim. However, she was brutally ignored by her peers and was humiliated for speaking up for what she believed. Alexander Pope writes women as unintelligent and obnoxious. Women are loud and should be condemned for speaking their minds, which is precisely what he infers towards Arabella in the letter at the beginning of the poem.
Pope’s misogynistic discrimination of the corrupted Arabella is completely insulting. The letter, that precedes the story, discredits the victim; in a case where she is incapable to understand the poet’s writing. “I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a lady; but ’tis so much the concern of a poet to have his works understood, and particularly by your sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms” (326). Some may argue that he was being considerate. However, was he being considerate when he belittles her sex and her capability to understand what he is trying to infer? This was simply a tactic to question the knowledge of her own attack by the use of slander. Pope judges her ability to know difficult terms. He does this to make the her feel inferior. He mocks her integrity before he explains the tragic event. Arabella did not deserve to be assaulted, and she definitely does not deserve to be judged by Alexander Pope.
Alexander Pope’s condescending mock-epic of women’s vanity proves to be one of the greatest confrontational poems between men and women. The back and forth between sexes is what society needs to bring awareness to this horrible incident. No man should ever steal any possession of a women, yet alone her hair, no matter the strength of his desire is. Men and women should be seen as equals, however, eighteenth century literature does not see it that way. Thankfully, in today’s society, there has been literature dedicated to strong, independent, female roles. Even though Pope had condescending views towards women, I would like to think that this poem was a starting point to bring awareness to the incredible theme of gender roles, and has started to no longer put women in vain.
Brown, Dennis. “The Rape Of The Lock”: Desire Between Couple(T)S—A Counselling Intervention.” Critical Survey 16.3 (2004): 1-16. Academic Search Alumni Edition. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
Pope, Alexander. “The Rape of the Lock.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature 3rd Ed. Vol. D. Ed. Martin Puchner. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 323-44. Print.
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