Narrative EnglishENG110Y1YOctober 2, 2002Pope’s use of Epic ConventionsThe mock-epic poem “The Rape of the Lock”, by Alexander Pope usesepic conventions to show how Belinda and other women of her position insociety have corrupt and self-centered values.
Alexander Pope shows thiswith the use of elevated language and the specific wording of the heroiccouplet. The elevated language in the text gives the reader theimpression that the tasks at hand are of critical importance, especiallythose of “the long labours of the Toilet”(3. 24). The process of the toiletis inflated into a task much like layering on chain mail for her soon tocome call “To arms!”(5. 37) with the Baron.
In this battle, Belinda’s bladesare “India’s glowing gems”(1. 33), her mace “the glitt’ring spoil”(1. 32). Her self-centered values are brought to light by language use when thenarrator speaks of woman’s “joy in gilded Chariots” (1. 55), which indicatesa preoccupation with luxury and splendor.
Another example of elevatedlanguage showing women’s melodrama is the description of the lock of haironce “in equal curls”(2. 21) with the lock kidnapped by the Baron: “Thesister lock now sits uncouth, alone, and its fellow’s fate foresees itsown”(4. 171-2). However much one may value ones hair, it is highly doubtfulthat this beloved lock has feelings, or can foresee its future. The use ofmore coded language also shows sexual undertones in the poem.
Belinda’s ownspeech confirms this suggestion; she exclaims, “Oh, hadst thou, cruel! Beencontent to seize Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!” Hairs thatwould be less in sight would be pubic hairs. Pope is pointing out thedegree towhich Belinda values outward appearance above all else; she would rathersuffer a breach to her honour than a breach to her cherished appearance. Pope uses the heroic couplet, as most writers of epicpoetry do. However, Pope arranges his lines so that each one in thecouplets is a comparison between something actually important, andsomething of a related nature that is much less significant. An example ofthis suggests Belinda places more worth on her little lapdog Shock, thanshe would on a human being: ” Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven arecast, when husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last”(3. 158).
The mostnoticeable use of this tactic exists in the second canto, when it is saidthe day has black omens, and that the care of the spirits was requiredespecially, though what the disaster would be, it was not known:”Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,Or some frail China jar receive a flaw;Or stain her honour or her new brocade;Forget her prayers of miss a masquerade;Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball;Or whether Heaven has doomed that Shock must fall. ” (2. 105-110). Here the importance of chastity versus the importance of a piece of chinais contested. Worse, the consideration that Belinda staining her honour atthe party, (the implied loss of her virginity) could be as inconsequentialas staining her new dress, though plausibly, the two events could very wellhappen simultaneously.
The sacred act of prayer is weighed alongsidemissing a party, and mentioned are the loss of Belinda’s necklace and herheart, two uncommon bedfellows, the former being of no consequence at allcompared to the first. With his dexterous employment of epic conventions, includingelevated language and the heroic couplet, Pope manages very well to conveyBelinda’s misplaced importance on her corrupt social values.