A mock-heroic epic is a poem that employs an elevated style and technique to portray an insignificant topic or issue for which this elevated style is not appropriate and fitting. This brings along laughter since the method or the manner of the mock-heroic poem is opposed to the subject.
Alexander Pope’s famous poem “The Rape of the Lock” is a mock-heroic poem for the reason that it employs the grand style and elevated form, a genre intended for intense and significant subjects like Trojan War in Iliad, and uses it to such insignificant subjects like the cutting off a lock of hair.
The Rape of the Lock as a parody of Homer’s Iliad
Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is written in the form of Greek narratives and more importantly, it is a satire of Homer’s Iliad as Pope equates the kidnapping of Helen of Troy to the theft of Belinda’s lock of hair. The almighty gods are brought down to tiny sylphs who obey humans, as opposed to gods that utilize humans for their own needs. Thereby, we can see how a mock-heroic poem undervalues and often ridicules its original. But in spite of its pettiness and insignificance, Pope also utilizes the lock of hair to make an assertion about the women of the Victorian age, when women were normally valued for physical appearance over their intellect.
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The title of The Rape of the Lock
We can see the mock-heroic characteristics in the very title of the poem. Rape is a grave crime that denotes the breach of women’s chastity by strength. But Pope has utilized the term “rape” in a comical way. The incident of Baron’s possession of Belinda’s hair is portrayed by Pope in a mock vein that turns this poem into a mock-heroic poem.
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Mock-heroic elements in the “The Rape of the Lock”
One mock-heroic feature of Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is the inclusion of inconsistent divinities in the lives of mankind. There are many such instances in the poem where Pope employed the classic conventions. For example, the obscure forewarning that is neglected and overlooked: As in the Canto 1, Belinda has a dream that something bad is about to happen to her. But when she wakes up in the morning, she ignores it. Another such classic convention is the ill-natured planning by deities to aggravate situations of mankind. This we can see when Umbriel visits the underworld to bring tears and sorrows for human beings. All of the explanations of these in the poem give rise to the world of gods who showed animosity as frequently as compassion.
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A second mock-heroic feature of Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is the illustration of games and frivolous arguments with regards to battles. Firstly the Spanish card game that Belinda plays in Canto 3, the Baron’s cutting of Belinda’s lock of hair, and lastly the brawl in Canto 5, are all delineated with high drama. Pope displays his innovativeness in the artistry with which he makes every component of the episode correlated to some identifiable epic tradition.
The Rape of the Lock and the epic form
Like an epic poem, Pope divides “The Rape of the Lock” into five cantos. Epics frequently have incidents occurring in the underworld, similarly in “The Rape of the Lock”, there is a scene where Umbriel visiting the underworld to bring tears and sorrows.
Epics frequently narrate extensively soldier’s armors and shields that are used for battles. Similarly, in “The Rape of the Lock” Pope employed this technique to illustrate Belinda getting herself ready with items such as pins, and combs. Pope states:
“Here flies of pins extend their shining rows
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, billet-doux
Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms.” (The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope).
Pope is openly ridiculing Belinda’s process of preparing herself by illustrating her pins, combs, etc. as if they were weapons she would be fighting with. Pope describes Belinda’s petticoat with such seriousness as Homer did of Achilles’s shield.
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Pope’s use of Satire in The Rape of the Lock
Pope makes use of satire in “The Rape of the Lock” to paint a picture of the aristocratic society of that time and to specify their pettiness and trivialities. The major obvious satire is certainly an analogy of Belinda’s stolen lock of hair to Helen’s abduction. Pope is satirizing the society of his time by making a great deal out of such an insignificant matter. According to Pope, the aristocratic society of his time is excessively bothered with petty things like hair, flirtation, and card playing. Through this poem, he wants to show his society a mirror. Pope wants his society to realize that their miseries and problems are not problems at all and they have to start thinking about more serious things in life because the life that they presently live has no meaning. Through the voice of Clarrisa, Pope explains in the poem (lines 25-32):
“But since alas! Frail beauty must decay,
Curled or uncurled, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted or unpainted, all shall fade…” (The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope).
Clarrisa asserts that physical beauty won’t last for long; therefore it is essential to give attention to things richer and profound than beauty.
Pope is talking about the arrogance and trivialities of the upper-class society of his time by satirizing a real-life situation. Pope implies that the society of his time has no idea of priority, in that they handle the insignificant with an equal amount of importance as the significant. So Alexander Pope’s poem “The Rape of the Lock” was penned with the ardent hopes that the society of that time would gain knowledge from their experiences and be able to distinguish that what matters and what doesn’t.
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