Pope's Poems and Prose

The Lapdogs of Swarthy Warriors: Gender Reversal in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock

In The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope utilizes a reversal of gender roles to sculpt a subtle societal critique of the leisurely life of belles and beaux. Through this satirical device, Pope exposes the aristocratic pretensions of this heavily ornamented and indolent lifestyle. He emasculates his male characters and applies warrior-like traits to his female characters, with the exception of Clarissa, whom is instead identified as a defender of the patriarchy. In this mock-epic poem, assumed gender positions and presupposed dominances break and blur in the flurry of futile action that ensues between and within the sexes. The roles generally reserved for men in epic poetry are usurped from them and given to the women, who prove to be convincing warriors and dominant heroines.

In this mock-epic piece, Pope walks a tightrope of maintaining his good rapport with the families mentioned and inserting his own critique into the poem. Critic Cleanth Brooks identifies Pope’s areas of critique as “…the real nature of the conventions of polite society, the heroic pretensions of that society as mirrored in the epic, the flattering clichés which society conventionally employs—all come in for a genial ragging” (Brooks 108). As a technique,...

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