The Rape of The Lock gives a complete and graphic picture of the 20th century. The Rape of The Lock is concerned with the aristocratic society and presents a charming portrait of its features. This portrait is not presented in word-pictures of descriptive passages; but is richly suggested through the mock-epic adventures of Lord Petre and Belinda – the representative figures of the society. The aristocratic of the 18th century English was a newly formed class, having emerged out of the commercial prosperity of England since the exploits of the Armada victory. The aristocratic people were primarily urban people with easy flow of money from trade and commerce and in some classes from the hoardings of land. They were luxury loving people, enjoying life in idle games and fun and frolic. Being wealthy with a new-found lust for money and craze for fashion, mostly imitated from the French whose influence had come through the Restoration. They got themselves preoccupied in trivialities. Gossips, sex-intrigues, and courting ladies. The ladies of the time loved being wooed and playing coquets to the gentlemen.
Introduction: A great work of art, though universal in its appeal, is the most typical product of its time. It is rooted in the contemporary social and cultural life and reflects, implicitly or explicitly, that life is in its essence and totality. It is an indispensable prerequisite for the greatness of a work of art. If it fails to be of its own age, almost as a rule, it will also fail to be universal in its appeal. It is a great poem by all cannons of art and it does all that admirably. Its focus mainly captures the typical features of the aristocratic class of its time.
Mirror to the 18th century: The Rape of the Lock is a mirror to this kind of society. Of which Lord Petre and Belinda are the representative figures. Belinda is presented as dazzling charming like the sun, and lap-dogs were another indispensable ingredient of their lives.
Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake,
And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake:
It is significant that how Pope brackets lap-dogs and lovers as though lovers were no better than lap-dogs.
Glittering fashion, celebrations in the form of parties, dances with amorous intentions beneath, were the typical features of the people belonging to the aristocratic class. Ariel’s speech that Belinda hears in a state of dreaming portraits the sex-intrigues of the dancing balls. The ladies spent more time applying to themselves beauty aids, a large variety of cosmetics from distant lands. They were always burning to win the heart of their lover. They spent hours at the toilets, played card games, danced and considered the dressing table a place of worship. Coquetry was the only art that these ladies practiced sedulously: rolling the eye ball for furtive glances or winking in a debonair, apparently indifferent manner, blushing at the right moment to attract the admiring eyes, were the manners that they worked hard to acquire. The ladies as well as the gallant young men were fickle-minded, inconsistent, unreliable frankly trivializing valuable human relationship. Pretension, dissimulation and hypocrisy constituted their way of life. Levity was their common characteristic. The following shows their picture.
On the rich guilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show.
The fair ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease
Pope gives minute details of the ladies’ constant concern for enhancing their beauty effect with artificial means. For these ladies, the conventionally serious things of life had lost their importance. Their moods and passion were ruled by trivialities. Trifles would make them anxious or angry. These ladies, in other words, were devoid of any real moral sense, or any serious, meaningful purpose in life. To them, the death of husbands affected them only as much as that of their lap-dog or breaking of China jars. Honor, to them, was almost equal to nothing. The loss of chastity was no more serious than staining of brocades. To them Church meant nothing. Missing a church congregation was not a serious affair, but missing a ball was considered an important thing. Losing heart or indulging in sex was less important than the loss of a necklace.
All this goes to show that utter moral confusion prevailed in the aristocracy of the eighteenth century. Serious purpose had evaporated from their lives. Men were chiefly concerned with getting richer and carrying on sexual adventures with fashion-frenzy coquettish ladies. Their love letters were more sacred to them than the Bible. In the Rape of the Lock, the adventurous Baron builds an Alter of Love; it is built of twelve voluminous French romances and all the prizes gained from him former love; and significantly, the fire at the altar is raised with the heaps of love-letters that he had received. Lord Petre’s sense of victory at the cutting of Belinda’s lock is symbolic of the shallowness, triviality, in fact, the emptiness of the youths of the contemporary aristocratic class.
Shallowness of Judges, the fashion of coffee-taking.
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign
And wretches hang that the jury-men dine
“Coffee, (which makes the politician wise,)
and see through all things with half-shut eyes”
The Rape of the Lock is an epitome of the eighteenth century social life. In this poem, Pope has caught and fixed for ever the atmosphere of the age. No great English poet is at once so great and so empty, so artistic and yet so void of the ideal on which all high art rests. As Dixon asserts: Pope is the protagonist of a whole age, of an attitude of mind and manner of writing. Hence, the poem is highly arresting because of its presentation of social life of the age. It reflects and mirrors the contemporary society.
Conclusion: Pope fully bears the witticism of its age. In his conception of theme and selection of the tile, Pope displays his unsurpassable wit. This was the kind of life led by the fashionable people of the upper classes in the age of Pope, and Pope has described it in gorgeous colors on the one hand and with scathing satire on the other. While it shows the grace and fascination of Belinda’s toilet, he indicates the vanity and futility of it all. There is nothing deep or serious in the lives and activities of the fashionable people, all is vanity and emptiness and this Pope has revealed with art and brilliance. The Rape of the Lock reflects the artificial age with all its outward splendor and inward emptiness. It the mirror of a particular aspect of life in the age of Pope. It was, says, Lowell, a mirror in a drawing room, but it gave back a faithful image of society.