The satirical masterpiece of The Rape of the Lock was a lengthy set of poems written by the great English poet, Alexander Pope. The poem is meant to emulate the epic poems of Homer, though it does so in a mocking tone. Originally, the poem was written as a commentary on the ridiculous restrictions enforced by society and the Catholic faith. It became extremely popular as a satirical piece on societal standards and the role of women in general.
At its heart, The Rape of the Lock recounts a very simple, true tale that befell on one of Pope’s acquaintances. Lord Petre, a suitor of an English Catholic woman named Arabella Fermor, had been caught cutting a lock of hair from Arabella without her permission. The slight offense stirred into a huge breach of conduct and caused a serious division between Petre and Arabella’s families. Pope decided to take this outrageous story and record it in an epic form. His piece reflects the grandiose styling of Homer’s writings, but contrary to The Odyssey or The Iliad, highlights a rather inconsequential incident – the cutting of a piece of hair.
The Rape of the Lock, by dramatizing this simple incident, crafts an effective commentary on the women of the age. Women in the early 1700s essentially served little function other than producing children and acting as gracious, beautiful hostesses. By cutting off a lock of this woman’s hair, there is a devastating affect on the woman’s beauty. Essential, Pope is likening something as trivial as the cutting of hair to the horrific effects of rape. His poem effectively shuns society through satire by demonstrating the overreaction of emotion to trivial incidents.
Pope also employs a number of allusions in The Rape of the Lock, using god-like figures and direct allusions similar to those found in The Odyssey. He also completely follows the structure of a Homeric epic, turning the inconsequential event of losing a hair into an incontrovertible offense worthy of Greek legend. In essence, Pope meant it as a humorous and satirical piece; however, he also meant it as a direct commentary on the behavior of high society, especially women that were portrayed as insensible and impractical in everyday matters.
Pope’s satire The Rape of the Lock was a dramatic record of a rather un-dramatic event. The main purpose of this poem was to illuminate the society of the time as being rather overdramatic and superficial, especially where it regarded women. Despite offending a few high society ladies, the poem remains an English classic.