Pope’s use of Epic Conventions
Narrative English


October 2, 2002

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 couplet.

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). 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.