Pope's “The Rape of the Lock” and Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room”  both poke fun at women’s vanity and obsession with looks. What are the main similarities/differences between the...

Pope's “The Rape of the Lock” and Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room”  both poke fun at women’s vanity and obsession with looks. What are the main similarities/differences between the two poems’ respective messages?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A mock-epic that is in the Horatian satire, Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock parodies the vanity of women in his day and the importance placed upon trivialities, while Jonathan Swift's poem is written in the biting and vehement Juvenalian satire, criticizing women's vain attempts to create an image and men's hopes that the illusion can be real. Nevertheless, both poems discuss the excessive vanity of women and their society's emphasis upon appearances.

In "The Rape of the Lock," Pope writes about Belinda's toilette in the classic style with grandeur as though it were a heroic effort that calls upon muses:

And now, unveil'd, the Toilet stands display'd,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover'd, the cosmetic Pow'rs.

In contrast, Swift's male sneaks into the chambers of his mistress, after "haughty Cecila," who has taken five hours to dress, departs, and in her dressing room he discovers that things are less than dainty:

And first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the armpits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
The description becomes disgustingly graphic as the unsanitary conditions of Cecila's private chambers are revealed. The grotesque and nauseating presentation of this area changes forever the poet's perception of Cecila. After this experience, he can no longer look at women without thinking of what is behind all the face powder and wigs and gowns.
 
Pope's satire, on the other hand, points its ridicule upon the trivial structure of his society as he employs the conventions of the epic with light irony: 
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;

Later, that Belinda should become so "fierce" about the loss of the lock of her hair indicates her emphasis upon the inconsequential and ridiculous, as well. For, even if the precious lock were returned to her, she can do nothing with this hair. Equally ridiculous are her beau's valiant efforts to recapture the locks and have the hair replaced on her head.

Both Cecila--
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocades and tissues.
and Belinda
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face; 
hide their true appearances, but are haughty about the false presentation that they make in public.
Sources:

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