18Th Century Literature Essay, Research Paper
`The Rape of Eighteenth Century Society
In Restoration and Eighteenth Century literature, the writers were more apt to express their desires and experiences on paper, rather than repress their behavior and experiences that the politeness of their society prohibited. The Restoration and Eighteenth Century have often been associated with placing high moral values on good manners, courtesy, and respect. However, this is only visible when looking at the society from the exterior. Their preoccupation with politeness was channeled into a state of mind, rather than an act. An interior examination of Restoration and Eighteenth Century society illustrates a society preoccupied with the grandeur of fashion and commodities, as well as holding an abstract view on moral principles. Material possessions were of the utmost importance, while the proper clothing and meticulous appearance became the embodiment of politeness . On the outside they fit the archetype that their society expected, while on the inside they fit the archetype that their society created.
The Rape of the Lock is a comical indictment of the vanities and redundancy of Eighteenth Century high society. Based on a real life occurrence, Pope intended for the poem to make light of the situation by encouraging laughter at the societies own pretenses. By writing The Rape of the Lock in the form of a mock epic, Pope classifies Eighteenth Century society by casting it against the greatness of an epic poem. By mocking his own society, Pope establishes Eighteenth Century society s inability to differentiate between what matters and what does not.
Pope first describes Belinda as a goddess , and treats her as something heavenly. Belinda authenticates this assessment by her elaborate morning ritual of getting ready for the day ahead. It is ironic that Pope asserts this praise of Belinda when he is mocking a society in which the external self holds more value than the moral or intellectual self. Pope continues to negate his assessments by stating that If to her share some female errors fall / Look on her face, and you ll forget em all (ll. 17-18). Though Pope may suggest that it is easy to become blind in midst of a beautiful woman, he refocuses on her ornamental conventions. The cross Belinda wears on her breast evokes attention to her material values, rather than expressing her value on religion.
The misguided moral values of Eighteenth Century Society continue to reveal themselves when the Baron cuts of a lock of Belinda s precious hair. Belinda boasts all of the typical female idiosyncrasies, which have occurred as a result of society training and educating her to act in this manner. Pope implies that the rape of Belinda s lock of hair is more devastating than an actual rape of Belinda herself. Belinda validates this assumption when she states: Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize / Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these! (ll1175-176). The declaration that Belinda would rather lose hair less in sight signifies the extent to which she values outward appearance above everything else. Belinda would rather suffer a violation of her own integrity rather than an infringement of her outward appearance.
The Rape of the Lock demonstrates that the priorities that Eighteenth Century woman boast are primarily social ones. Their obsession with appearance and social status fixations such as Ombre , suggest the decadence of high society living. There has been a drastic displacement of the importance and protection of chastity. Eighteenth Century society has taught women to take principles like honor and chastity, and turn them into another part of conventional interaction. Belinda is so overcome by distress that her lock of hair might be displayed publicly, and ruin her reputation, that the question of her chastity does not even come into play.
The vanity of Belinda and her counterparts in Eighteenth Century society are alluded to when Pope alleges that their (specifically Belinda) vanity will outlive their bodies:
Think not, when woman s transient breath is fled,
That all her vanities at once are dead:
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And though she plays no more, o erlooks the cards.
Her joy in gilded chariots, when alive,
And love of Ombre, after death survive.
Their vanity will live in others when they die because society has trained these women to act in vainglorious manners. Belinda s vain ignorance is what makes the rape of the lock possible.
Even though Pope treats Belinda as a heroine, by demonstrating Belinda s vanity and ignorance, he mocks Eighteenth Century high society. This society has taken their values and misplaced them, resulting in a negative, trained cultivation of Eighteenth Century women. Pope ridicules a society in which values have lost all their proportion, where trivial day to day tribulations are handled with the opulence normally associated with more important issues. Satirizing this society by placing it against the grandeur of an epic furthers the extent to which this society can be mocked and ridiculed, and underscores the vanity that raped this society.
Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock. The Longman Anthology of
British Literature. Vol. I. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1999. 185-241.