The Rape of the Lock

by Alexander Pope

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How do the literary devices in "The Rape of the Lock" contribute to the author's purpose?

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To begin, Alexander Pope's overall purpose is to satirize the conventions of the upper social class of eighteenth-century England. Pope's focus is a trivial social misstep that escalates into a full-blown rift between aristocratic families, and in constructing his satire, he presents a mock-heroic epic, a form of high burlesque.

The poem is written in heroic (rhymed) couplets, in iambic pentameter, just as heroic epics such as The Iliad had traditionally been written. Pope chose this rhyme scheme and meter to enhance the mock-heroic idea and deepen the satire. The length of the poem, five cantos and 794 lines, allows him to comically exaggerate the scope of the offense against Belinda when her lock of hair is stolen.

Parody is a function of high burlesque; Pope mimics the style of Homer's Iliad in canto 1; his description of Belinda readying herself to appear in society at her makeup mirror with her attendant sylph, incongruously named Betty, is meant to bring to mind Achilles preparing for battle by armoring himself. The sylphs are meant to humorously parallel immortals who guard and attend to the principal characters in classical mythology.

The "Cave of Spleen" episode found in canto 4 is meant to parody the hero's inevitable trip to the underworld to endure a challenge. Belinda endures the torment of having her looks spoiled, and in effect, vents her spleen, as the saying goes. She bemoans the loss of her lock, believing she is devalued and violated, and wallows in self-pity.

The resolution of the conflict in "The Rape of the Lock" finds Belinda's lock immortalized in the night sky as a constellation, a place normally reserved for gods, goddesses, heroes, and symbols of important lessons learned.

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