Pope's Poems and Prose

The Rape of the lock...what does the cutting of the lock symbolize

The Rape of the lock...what does the cutting of the lock symbolize

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Pope isn't writing about rape here, but rather the "stealing" or clipping of a lock of hair that was taken from an unwilling maiden. The Rape of the Lock is a mock epic; the cutting of the lock symbolizes a breach of chastity.

'Pope explores the role of the coquette in this first canto. He demonstrates that womanly priorities are limited to personal pleasures and social aspirations. In his description of the Sylphs during the dream sequence, Pope enumerates coquettish vanities. As humans these women valued their “beauteous mold” and enjoyed frivolous diversions, which they continue to take pleasure in as sprites (48). The “joy in gilded chariots” suggests a preference for superficial grandeur and external signifiers of wealth (55). Similarly, their “love of ombre,” a popular card game featuring elements of bridge and poker, indicates a desire for fashionable entertainment (56). Through this love of finery and these trivial pastimes, Pope depicts a society that emphasizes appearances rather than moral principles. This focus on appearance extends to attitudes towards honor and virtue. Society dictates that women remain chaste while enticing suitable husbands. Of course, if a woman seemed to compromise herself, society would censure her as though she had lost her virtue. This concern about female sexuality represents the underlying anxiety in The Rape of the Lock: the theft of the lock (a metonymic substitution for Belinda’s chastity) creates the appearance of lost virtue.'