The rape of the lock is a brilliant and humorous satire on the aristocratic society of England, with its social scandals, follies, trivialities and vanities in general of fashionable men and women. Dryden said, “The true end of satire is the amendment of vice by correction,” and that is what Pope set out to do in his “Rape of the Lock.” By using the burlesque, mockery, and irony, Pope ridicules the deviation of his society.
Satire in “The Rape of The Lock" can be called a social satire because it satirizes the society as a whole in ways still relevant to to-days world. Moreover it is not a satire against any individual, but against the follies and vanities of fashionable men and women in general. Through Belinda Pope satirizes the fashionable women of the time and through Baron, he satirizes the aristocratic gentlemen of the age. However, the reason for why Pope’s “The Rape of The Lock” can be called a social satire is given below:
The poem is, in fact, a satire upon feminine frivolity. And Pope introduces the readers with many “Female Errors”. At the very beginning Pope satirizes the idleness late rising of aristocratic woman by Belinda. It was the hour of twelve when Belinda opened her eyes to fall asleep again-
“Now Lap-dogs give themselves the rowzing Shake,
And sleepless Lovers, just at Twelve, awake:”
The poet goes on to make fun of the vanities of woman .The aristocratic ladies of those days were over fond of gilded chariots and of ombre; and the poet makes fun of that over fondness here .These vanities, he says, do not end even with the death of the woman:
“Think not, when Woman's transient Breath is fled,
That all her Vanities at once are dead."
The poet also expresses the weakness of these ladies for entertainment and for marked balls. The satire in the following lines is obvious:
“With varying Vanities, from ev'ry Part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart"
Woman, in short, are all frivolous beings whose genuine interest is in love making and they felt keenly interested in the love letters that they received. The poet makes fun of Belinda by saying that when at least she woke up from her prolonged sleep, “Thy eyes first opened on a Billet doux" in which the lover had spoken at charms. He satirizes by saying that love making was the greatest pastime of young ladies .They expected attention and gifts from the lovers, but they were rather inconsistent in their love.
The poet also ridicules the women’s excessive attention of self embellishment and self decoration of a famous satirical passage. Belinda is described as commencing her toilet operations with prayer to the cosmetic power, puffs, and powders lie on Belinda's dressing table.
“Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.”
Another object of satire is present in the arrangement of things on the table: the Bibles are usually placed in the midst of her beauty aids. But Bible is the holy book which should be kept separately. So, Bible is as important as other thing to Belinda. This type of attitude towards religion is satirized by Pope.
Then the poet satirizes how chastity and serious thing might be lost in the world of philanderers. Honour was merely a word with little meaning to them and reputation was more important than honour. A lady's honour is no more serious than her staining new brocade, a lady's missing a ball is as serious is her forgetting her heart. As Elwin points, "The relative importance of things, the little with them is great, and the great little. They attach as much importance to a china jar as to their honour as much to religion as to dances and masquerades, as much to their lap-dogs as to husbands."
"Not louder shirks to pitying Heaven are cast
When husbands or when lap dogs breathe their last"
In this poem, Pope also satirizes Belinda as well as whole fashionable woman's pretended purity. Because of her false purity, she was punished. Ariel discovered that Belinda was not quite keen on preserving her virtue and therefore she withdraws from the scene pope satirizes Belinda by saying that if she tried she could save his hair but she tried outwardly not from her heart. Pope also satirizes the aristocratic men of his time. They are as frivolous as the ladies. Lord peter and his fellows are the representatives of the fashionable society of the time .They are all idle, empty minded folk, and seem to have nothing else undo but making love or flirting with ladies and pope satirizes this.
One can't easily forget the satire in the portraits of sir Plume, another fashionable gentleman, with his snuff emptiness. When he is requested by his beloved Thalestris to persuade Lord Petre to surrender the precious hairs of Belinda, he utters words which are unsurpassed in their emptiness and pore ridicules this emptiness:
“With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face,
He first the snuff-box open'd, then the case,
And thus broke out — "My Lord, why, what the devil?
"Z — ds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on't!'t is past a jest — nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair" — he spoke, and rapp'd his box.” (593-598)
Nothing shows more clearly the faithfulness and unthinking folly of the smart set than this little speech of Lord Plume. Not only that the poet has also satirized the system of justice. At four in the afternoon, judges hurriedly sign the sentence so that they could have their dinner in time. This is their sense of responsibility and showings these judges Pope satirizes the system of justice of his time. He says about them:-
“Mean while, declining from the Noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;
The hungry Judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jury-men may dine;”
Even Pope has attacked the concept of friendship. Friends are hollow and fickle.
Belinda’s friend Thalestris is as shallow as the age in which she lives. As soon as the reputation of Belinda is gone, she doesn’t like to be called her friend, because it will be a disgrace to be known as her friend henceforth.
Thus the poem is a delicate humorous and witty satire on the upper class society of the eighteenth century. It exposes the follies with a light ridicule. It points the idle life of pleasure seeking young men and women. It introduces us to a world of frivolity and fashion and by showing these; he wants to correct these things.