What is the role of supernatural machinery in the poem The Rape of the Lock?

The supernatural machinery in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock contributes to the mockery of the mock epic through the antics of Ariel and the other supernatural beings who assist Belinda in her beauty rituals, warn her of disaster to come, try to protect her, and aid in the scuffle after the lock of hair has been cut.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The supernatural machinery in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock contributes greatly to the mockery of this mock epic. Let's reflect on how this works.

A supernatural being introduces the poem's conflict. Belinda's guardian sylph, Ariel, whispers a warning into her dreams. She is to beware, for some...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The supernatural machinery in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock contributes greatly to the mockery of this mock epic. Let's reflect on how this works.

A supernatural being introduces the poem's conflict. Belinda's guardian sylph, Ariel, whispers a warning into her dreams. She is to beware, for some horrible disaster will befall her that very day. Ariel will try his best to protect her, but she must watch out. This seems quite ominous, and in a serious epic, such a supernatural warning would be ominous indeed; but readers soon learn that the disaster is none other than the Baron cutting of a lock of Belinda's hair. The mockery has begun.

Indeed, the mockery begins even before the lock of hair is cut, for Belinda is aided in the solemn rituals of beautifying herself by a whole host of supernatural beings. They aid her in a routine that almost becomes an act of worship at the altar of beauty (notice the satire again). The Baron, too, goes through a set of prayers and sacrifices as he prepares to cut Belinda's lock of hair. The mockery is strong, for in a regular epic, these characters would be preparing for grand deeds and calling on supernatural beings to aid them in life-or-death situations. Here, they are merely enacting the trivial.

Before the Baron cuts Belinda's hair, Ariel gathers an army of sylphs to try to prevent the disaster. They station themselves to watch, even multitasking by helping Belinda during her card game. In the end, though, Ariel notices that Belinda's thoughts are not completely pure, and he therefore fails to prevent the lock from being snipped.

Later in the poem, the gnome Umbriel goes to the Cave of Spleen (encountering all kinds of obstacles along the way) and gets sighs and tears for Belinda as she mourns her lost lock of hair. Again, we have a mockery of a journey to the underworld found in most epics.

When the lock of hair gets lost after a supernaturally aided yet horribly silly scuffle, the poet tries to console Belinda by telling her that perhaps the lost lock will end up an immortal constellation in the heavens. Something trivial is once again made supernaturally central in a mocking and hilarious manner.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on