This affords him the effective satirical devices of rhyming, exaggeration and parody, all of which lend themselves perfectly to the genre of epic or mock epic works. Parallels with Gulliver’s Travels may not be immediately apparent, but it does become clear that the satire is often directed at similar targets, namely those of misplaced importance and the often exaggerated significance attached to trivial events.
By applying disproportionate importance to matters we would not naturally consider worthy of such attention, both Pope and Swift satirise society’s tendency to, given the opportunity, do that very thing. Once this thematic technique of exaggeration has been established as an effective way to satirise society, Pope is able to make matters more entertainingly critical by including knowing references to recognisable aspects of the epic genre. Many great epics contain a feast scene at some point, and not to be outdone, Pope introduces us to a “smoking tide” of coffee “on shining alters of Japan.
” The seductively rich language activates a necessity in the mind of the reader to keep in perspective exactly what is taking place – merely that coffee is being served. This continues to reinforce an effective satire on society’s obsession with trivial detail and its own importance, as well as forcing us to re-evaluate what is taking place and leaving us with the only option being to judge for ourselves what is really important, and this message lingers on beyond any one particular demonstration of it.
Another highly effective weapon at Pope’s disposal is his use of rhyming couplets, in which the unusual and the very usual are paired up to satirical effect. Canto III begins with a description of Queen Anna’s residence as the place where she “whom three realms obey, dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes tea”. This makes the point as cleverly and concisely as anywhere else in the poem that trivial matters and moments of pleasure are held in as much importance as pressing government issues.
Gossip and glory are discussed in equal measure, and the widespread distortion of social values echo throughout every further couplet. It can therefore be seen that Pope echoes some of Swift’s satirical points about the often obsessively trivial nature of human conflict, and that the genres of the mock epic and travel writing both have different but equally valid qualities to lend to these points.
In the case of Swift, a travel account is an ideal way to justly present an outsider’s viewpoint of an apparently ridiculous society, forcing us to take a step outside our own preconceptions and re-evaluate the values of our own society now that its absurdities can be viewed more clearly. Whereas by presenting The Rape Of The Lock as a mock epic, Pope’s tone is more inherently sarcastic and satirical, and the trivialities of our ritualistic habits are satirised by presenting them with such obviously exaggerated grandiosity as to alert the audience to how silly these human foibles can appear.