Melissa King

Narrative English
October 2, 2002
Pope’s use of Epic Conventions
The mock-epic poem “The Rape of the Lock”, by Alexander Pope uses
epic conventions to show how Belinda and other women of her position in
society have corrupt and self-centered values. Alexander Pope shows this
with the use of elevated language and the specific wording of the heroic

The elevated language in the text gives the reader the
impression that the tasks at hand are of critical importance, especially
those of “the long labours of the Toilet”(3.24). The process of the toilet
is inflated into a task much like layering on chain mail for her soon to
come call “To arms!”(5.37) with the Baron. In this battle, Belinda’s blades
are “India’s glowing gems”(1.33), her mace “the glitt’ring spoil”(1.32).

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Her self-centered values are brought to light by language use when the
narrator speaks of woman’s “joy in gilded Chariots” (1.55), which indicates
a preoccupation with luxury and splendor. Another example of elevated
language showing women’s melodrama is the description of the lock of hair
once “in equal curls”(2.21) with the lock kidnapped by the Baron: “The
sister lock now sits uncouth, alone, and its fellow’s fate foresees its
own”(4.171-2). However much one may value ones hair, it is highly doubtful
that this beloved lock has feelings, or can foresee its future. The use of
more coded language also shows sexual undertones in the poem. Belinda’s own
speech confirms this suggestion; she exclaims, “Oh, hadst thou, cruel! Been
content to seize Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!” Hairs that
would be less in sight would be pubic hairs. Pope is pointing out the
degree to
which Belinda values outward appearance above all else; she would rather
suffer a breach to her honour than a breach to her cherished appearance.

Pope uses the heroic couplet, as most writers of epic
poetry do. However, Pope arranges his lines so that each one in the
couplets is a comparison between something actually important, and
something of a related nature that is much less significant. An example of
this suggests Belinda places more worth on her little lapdog Shock, than
she would on a human being: ” Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are
cast, when husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last”(3.158). The most
noticeable use of this tactic exists in the second canto, when it is said
the day has black omens, and that the care of the spirits was required
especially, 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 china
is contested. Worse, the consideration that Belinda staining her honour at
the party, (the implied loss of her virginity) could be as inconsequential
as staining her new dress, though plausibly, the two events could very well
happen simultaneously. The sacred act of prayer is weighed alongside
missing a party, and mentioned are the loss of Belinda’s necklace and her
heart, two uncommon bedfellows, the former being of no consequence at all
compared to the first.

With his dexterous employment of epic conventions, including
elevated language and the heroic couplet, Pope manages very well to convey
Belinda’s misplaced importance on her corrupt social values.


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