Alexander Pope as a representative of his age because as extensive and deep study of this book proves in the very starting of the poem that Pope’s main intention is to present the realistic experiences and facts of his own age. As a society is formed by the participation and collection of the people and it is through the medium of the proper study of mankind that we can be able to judge the true picture of any society of the world. As it is rightly observed in the very outset of the poem that Pope presents a realistic picture of 18th century England and the real life of aristocratic social life of England is drawn by Pope. As it is rightly said that this poem is a comment on the social and moral standards as well as on its literary and artistic trends and tastes so that we get a very clear cut glimpse of the real life of the Pope’s age.
From the very beginning of the poem, Pope proves to be a true representative of his time. The use of phrases like “amorous causes”, “dire offence”, and “mighty contests” set the moral tone. From the above mentioned three terms, we can analyse that the love affairs were the chief shaping forces of the interrelationship of lords and ladies of the 18th century English society. Same like this, we see that the “amorous causes‘ were the root causes of the “dire offence” resulting into “mighty contests” which in other words could be termed as the war of sexes. In the illustrations of varings aspects of the fashionable life of his contemporary society lies in the Pope’s real intention of dramatizing the theme of war of sexes.
Pope points out the trivial, petty and cheap activities of lords and the pretended purity and vanity of the ladies. The implication of such lines as “A well bred lord to assult a gentle belle” is that the gentlemen of 18th century England did not have lofty pursuits, ideals and higher aims of their life. The indulgence of the lords in the petty pursuits or activities such as cutting of the lock of hair from the head of some beautiful lady, shows that the lords and the ups of Pope’s time did not have sublime and elevated aims of life and the atmosphere of aimlessness and purposelessness of was prevailing in Pope’s time.
Similarly, we can say that the lines “could make a gentle helle reject a lord” and “in sofi bossoms dwell such mighty rage” point out that rejection from the ladies against these kind of petty, cheap and worthless actions was a deliberate attempt to publicise their chastity. In other simple words, it can be described that the life of the aristocracy in Pope’s time was full of pettiness and pretensions.
In addition to it, the Pope throws light on the daily routine of the young people of his age in a very realistic way because he tells us about their daily activities, pursuits, manners, absurdities, follies, foibles, etc. The very first routine which strikes us very much is that they used to wake up roughly round about 12 O’clock. The lap dogs used to like their faces and help them to shake off their drowsiness. The young youth of Pope’s age felt it a great problem to wake up from sleep in the early morning. If any one could get up early in the morning by chance then he felt all the long day bored and exhausted. So, to wake up from sleep was thus a great problem for them because it left them with ill-temper.
The favourite hobby of the ladies of that time was the preparation for toilets which was at the height of fashion at that time. When. Belinda appeared before the mirror; the sacred ceremony of dressing up was done by her maid servant named Betty who opened many caskets, bottles and boxes of different genis, colours and perfumes in order to decorate her body. Pope describes the combs of Belinda in a very realistic and impressive way because the combs just were made by tortoise shell and ivory. Puffs and powders were placed near the Bible and love-letters on the dressing table which showed the inner disorder of the fashionable people of the 18th Century of English society. The description of the dressing table is a representative description as it informs us about the formalities observed by the ladies of 18th Century England in order to make themselves attractive.
So we see that the society of the Pope’s time was a victim of worthless and baseless trends. The passions of doubts, suspicions, vanity, hypocrisy and ill nature of the 18th century English women are also depicted through the characters of Sylphs and Gnomes. In Canto II, Pope tells his readers that Sylph who was assigned the duty of protecting Belinda’s beauty and once predicted that she would meet some misfortune but he could not know what type of mishap could turn out to be. However, the Sylph hinted at one or two possibilities which might have happened. It might be that Belinda would lose her virginity or some delicate vessel would be cracked; either her honor or her new brocade would receive a stain; either she might forget to say her prayers or attend a masked ball; there was a possibility that either she would lose her heart or her necklace or her lap dogs. There is no doubt in saying that all these whims beautifully and vividly present the psyche of 18′” century English women,
Moreover, we see that the people of aristocratic classes of the Pope’s age were in the habit of going on trips. The subject matter of the poem also originated from a trip of Belinda which she made on the river Thames. At the very first glimpse, the lords were stunned by watching the beauty of Belinda. Many of them tried their best to attract her but she did not show any sign of yielding. Though she continually smiled yet she had not favoured anyone. In other words, it can be stated that flirtation was a common feature of the behaviour of ladies of that time. If on the one hand. The Pope describes the follies. absurdities and foibles of the ladies of his own time then on the other hand, he is not ignorant from the petty and absurd activities of men of his time. Through the characters of Lord Peter and Sir Plume, Pope satirizes the masculine nature.
An ultimate determinism of Lord Peter in which he wants to get Belinda’s lock of hair by any hook and crook manner, is described by Pope in a very realistic manner of Lord Peter’s true disposition. He is too much determined in his aim that for the fulfillment of his desire, he used to get up early in the morning and entreat every supernatural power but chicle to the god of love to help him in executing his purpose of getting the lock of hair from the head of pretty Belinda. He also built – an alter by collecting twelve French romances, half a pair of gloves and the love letters and lighted a fire and finally sighed into it in order to flame it. He prayed to the god of love so that he would be awarded with the prize of Belinda’s Lock which he would keep for a long time with himself. This very character of Lord Peter becomes the mouthpiece of men of Pope’s age. Through the character of Lord Peter, Pope makes fun of silliness, childishness and pettiness of the male characters of 18th Century English society.
As the place of Hampton Court was the center of all kinds of activities of both men and women of Pope’s age, so, after the boating trip, the lords and ladies paid a visit to this very place. The statesmen of that age used to gather and chat not only about the affairs of the country but also about the fashionable ladies of England. It is through the medium of Pope’s an of writing that he describes the place in such a manner that the whole picture of the 18th century becomes alive before our eyes. Pope describes every man and woman in his and her true disposition and nature, e.g. ladies are portrayed as moving their fans, laughing and exchanging their glances while lords took snuff. Pope also throws light on the true conditions of the judiciary of his own time and presents the true picture of the inner workings and activities of the courts. The jurymen were mocked because they announced decisions without analyzing or studying the cases. He also severely presented and ridiculed the judges who went to dine ignoring their official duty.
There, these preoccupations in trivial matters and talks sufficiently show the limited mental approach of the aristocratic class. The hypocrisy of their life was further conveyed to us by the description of the game of Ombre. Belinda was very delightful when she won the game of Ombre and Pope had described her victory in a very heroic style because it became a symbol for the war of sexes. Belinda who was the victim of shallowness, her heart was puffed up with joy and excitement. While she was taking coffee; Lord Petre found a very golden chance to cut the lock from her head. Belinda’s reaction to this was quite unusual and after watching all this, she became mad with anger. She shrieked so loudly that her shrieks could even be heard all around which made the inhabitants of the air tremble with fear. She cried more loudly than the women who lamented over the death of their lap-dogs or their husbands. In this way, we can say that the Pope openly and forcefully satirizes the woman’s shallowness, hollowness and aimlessness in a very realistic manner because for whom the breaking of the China vessel, or the death of the favourite lap dog was as serious as the death of a husband.
The technique of satire in Pope’s hand is not only to satirize the follies, absurdities, foibles, shortcomings and weaknesses of the aristocratic families but to present the realistic experiences of the life of his own age. Pope satirizes the woman’s shallowness for whom the breaking of a china vessel or the death of the favourite lap-dog was as serious as the death of a husband. Pope does not stop here but he goes on making fun of pretension and affectation in 18th Century English women. He introduces the spirit of melancholy; personified as Umbrial who at once went underground to the cave of spleen. Pope also mentions the bad spirits in his poem in order to portray the real ugliness of the women’s character. Tea-pots and Homer’s tripod shaped into women, suffering from various diseases. This is the height of Pope’s satire on English women who were fully indulged in the craze for fashion. Though outwardly they pretended to be chaste and pure yet inwardly they were ugly and shallow. When the Baron was shouting · with joy, Belinda requested Sir Plume, a friend of Lord Petre to bring back her lock and in this way the lock was lost.
To conclude this above discussion, we can say openly and forcefully that the picture which we get from the realistic experiences of 18th century, bind us to say that it was a sick society where the values were so confused that the importance was given more to a woman’s honour; was not more than that of a China’s jar. Pope himself suggests the remedy for all these ailments of the society in the poem and suggests that its health depends on Clarissa’s appeal to Belinda for good sense and good humour. There is no doubt in saying that Pope has realistically given a graphic picture of the society of his time in the Rape of the Lock.
One thing is worthy to note that the picture which we gather or get from the study of this poem, reflects only a particular aspect of 18th century life. Pope has so vividly, openly and realistically drawn the ideas that it seems that the ideas emerged by the pen of Pope were so apt, authentic and powerful that they penetrate into the hearts of the readers and we are compelled to say that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. This very old saying is aptly applied to Pope’s own art of writing.