The Rape of the Lock Questions and Answers
by Alexander Pope

Start Your Free Trial

Why is Alexander Pope's use of grand and elevated language in "The Rape of the Lock" important?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write10,611 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" is a mock-epic, which means it is written to be funny. Humor works by using overstatement, surprise, and exaggeration: We as readers are so startled by the over-the-top outrageousness presented that we laugh.

Pope needs to use the grandest and most elevated language possible as a contrast to the petty nature of his subject, which is the fact that the Baron has caused massive outrage by cutting a lock of his beloved Belinda's hair off without her permission. We might call this situation the original "First World" problem. Just as today a writer on a sitcom might raise laughs by using exaggerated language to equate a character breaking a fingernail with a geopolitical crisis, so does Pope with the hair cutting.

Pope uses a crisis in the Ancient world as his contrast to Belinda's shorn lock: the Trojan war. Pope imitates the poet Homer's heightened language in writing about this war in his epic, the Iliad. While Homer uses emotive language to write about what really was a serious and tragic affair, Pope hijacks that language to describe a completely trivial event in which nobody really suffered. What can anyone do but laugh and think how silly it is to get so upset over a lock of hair when the exaggerated language used to describe it is that of gods, epic battles, rapes, enslavements, and truly tragic deaths, including Hector's infant son being thrown off a parapet? Pope wanted people to realize how ridiculous this hair cutting was—which, in real life, caused a feud between two wealthy Catholic families in England—and the slippage between the language he used and the event helped him to be successful.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

owls21 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write17 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and History

The language and style of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock reflect the author's intention to create a mock-epic. A mock-epic is a form of literature which draws heavily from classical, heroic literature (such as Homer's Iliad or Odyssey). As such, it features the type of elevated language, plot devices, and stylistic elements used within classical texts, but it does so in a way that is highly satirical. Within The Rape of the Lock, the theft of Belinda's lock of hair and her time at Hampton Court are spoken of in the same manner as the rape of Helen of Troy or the prolonged, heroic battles of Greek mythology. As readers, we realize that these events are not truly worthy of comparison, and so we understand that Pope is making the comparison satirically. Furthermore, just as classical literature frequently involves interference from gods or deities, so too does the mock-epic. We see this tendency for mystical or mythical figures to take charge, influence, or interfere not only in the number of guardian spirits described in Pope's mock-epic, but in their active roles within the text.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial