The Scale of Values in Alexander Pope's Poem The Rape of the Lock

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The Scale of Values in Alexander Pope's Poem The Rape of the Lock

I found Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" a delightful, amusing poem. Throughout the poem, trivialities are compared with events and objects or consequence and the insignificant is treated with utmost importance. Its very title gives the reader an immediate clue; "rape" and all its connotations bring to mind a heinous crime of physical and spiritual violation. Perhaps this description could apply to the theft of a lock of hair, but only in a world where normal morals are perverted. This skewed scale of values is shown repeatedly throughout the poem, and supporting this alternate world are the sylphs. As the souls of former coquettes, the sylphs exist solely to
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Here, the word "militia" brings to mind an imposing, well-regulated army, rather than a gossamer grouping of sprites bent on protecting beauty and virginity.

It is sylph Ariel that foresees the "dread event" of the poem's title. Ariel says to Belinda: "Warned by the Sylph, O pious maid, beware! / This to disclose is all thy guardian can: / Beware of all, but most beware of man!" (1.109, 112-14). Man, of course, is the coquette's eternal adversary. A lady must be very careful; men may be allured and teased, but as prey they can be unpredictable.

Following this warning Belinda wakes and begins the transcendental toilet, one of my favorite scenes in the poem. Pope elevates Belinda's morning preparations to the level of High Mass; a mystical, spiritual experience in which miraculous transformation takes place. In this ritual, however, "cosmetic powers" rather than cosmic powers are relied upon. (1.124). With the aid of the sylphs, Belinda begins her grooming:

And now, unveiled, the toilet stands displayed,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.
First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores,
With head uncovered, the cosmetic powers.
A heavenly image in the glass appears;
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears.
The inferior priestess, at her altar's side,
Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride. (1.121-28)

Here we see an example of the utmost importance of the superficial in the absurd
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