The Role of Objects in Pope's Rape of the Lock Essay

The role of objects play an important role in poetry. The ability to understand these objects allows one to gain perspective on the inner mental states of the characters in the poem. Pope’s Rape of the Lock uses objects in the form of feminine beauty supplies, such as cosmetics and dress. Due to the nature of Neoclassicism, Pope emphasizes that the objects have an effect on the external state of a woman’s well-being and examines how society analyzes and interacts with her appearance, while Wordsworth’s objects come from an organic state of nature due to the fact he is a romantic poet. Wordsworth has a personal approach that allows the reader to comprehend the speaker’s inner mental state by how the speaker examines the outside world.

In Pope’s Rape of the Lock, material objects play a vital role in developing Belinda as a metaphor for feminine beauty which is the central focus throughout the poem. The objects are her weapons, her armor, how she gets through each day during the 18th century. Pope compares Belinda’s toilette to the process of going to war and by doing so trivializes its importance. When Belinda gets ready for her day she is personified as an “awful Beauty put[ting] on her arms”(1-139) and she “calls forth all the wonders of her face”(1-142) like a general summoning troops to battle. The word “wonders” describes her physical beauty but it also refers back to the many consumables at her toilette, her vanity contains an arrangement of treasures from around the world. Belinda cannot enter the battlefield of love without these weapons, and so she relies on them to help her appear to be more beautiful. Female beauty is a metaphorical weapon throughout this poem. The physical appearance of a woman will hide her faults, even though she should not have any to begin with. Her face will make one forget her mishaps because she is so beautiful. The objects such as make up, jewelry, and perfume help to mask those flaws to help Belinda dodge ridicule and shame from society and male courtship. When she first prepares herself at her toilette,she puts on her face with the assurance that she can use her feminine appeal like a weapon, a face to reckon with. Women held their power during this time through their beauty. As human beings, women make mistakes, but during this time that was unacceptable. Women were viewed as objects as well, pretty things to look at. Pope realizes this but also wants to bring awareness to the idea that women are in fact intelligent beings. He makes a mockery of the use of cosmetics and dress, of the elaborate way women prepare for their day. Pope hints at the idea that women are taking trivial objects too seriously, which is why he exaggerates their objects throughout this poem. The influence of vanity is extensive and it is one of the main concerns of all women. Women’s bodies were read and analyzed by everyone and this had a psychological impact. It goes without saying for women that the opinion of others is taken into consideration when preparing for the day. Women had to out-smart and deviate their courters through the use of their make-up to not only cover their physical flaws, but also their internal flaws. The strategy of characterizing objects mocks society in its very failure to delve deeper and accept those for who they really are

The objects in The Rape of the Lock help one to imagine a world where feminine beauty is demanded, outer beauty is of importance and a woman must comply to societal standards even if it takes a toll on her psychological state. However, in Woodrow Wilson’s poem, “Tintern Abbey”, life is not so materialistic, but focuses on nature in what seems to be a simplistic way but inevitably unfolds to be truly compelling evidence about the reality of life and the journey it takes us on.

The picture in the mind revives again:/While here I stand, not only with the sense/Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/That in this moment there is life and food/For future years.And so I dare to hope/Though changed no doubt, from what I was when first/I came among these hills; when like a roe/I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides.(61-68)

He finds himself looking out at the landscape and experiencing an odd combination of his present impressions, the memory he felt before, and the thought on how this moment will lead to joyful memories in the future. His view has changed from what he remembered his view to be during his first visit as a kid; a kid with a whole lot of energy. As a child, he didn’t take in the beauty as he does as an adult, he just used this space as a playground. As an adult now, he is able to unmask the true aura of the setting. As a kid, life seemed like it would last forever, but then when he least expected it, it crept up on him and he was forced to put everything into perspective. In this poem, this is done through the setting in which it takes place. Once when he was younger was a colorful life but is now “gloomy” and the happiness fades as he is faced with harsh reality as he matures and grows older. Nature is “the anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse” (109).

Nature for the speaker is his escape from his own mind, by extracting himself from his thoughts, he is able to think clearly and accept that in fact he is changing. He allows his mind to run free and by doing so activates parts of himself that are suppressed outside of nature in the real world full of societal pressures. These societal pressures damage joyful memories because one is too consumed with the present. One can get lost swimming in deep, negative thoughts; so for the speaker, coming back to the place that once made him happy, is his saving grace. Nature is the speaker’s floatation device. By calling attention to his memory, he realizes just how oblivious he was to life as a child. Now, as an older man with a different perspective, he can realize this and help his younger sister come to realizations of her own. The speaker declares, “And in thy voice I catch/The language of my former heart”(116-117). He recognizes his younger self in his younger sister. He encourages her to remember the ever-present beauty of the day to comfort herself in future times of “solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief”(143). This day shall serve as a “healing thought” one day down the road. He instructs her to do so because this is what has served him well in his life. As he has grown older he is compelled to share his experiences with her because she is younger. He wants to act as her guide by showing her his own ways of coping with the fear of growing old. As one grows older, they grow wiser. It is then that the wisdom gained should be shared to those that are still at a developing stage in life. The speaker recognizes that his sister is capable of enduring the same profound, independent experiences that he has endured and would like to make sure she is prepared.

In an analogous way to Belinda’s toilette in Rape of the Lock, Dorothy acts as a mirror for the speaker to relive his own experiences through. Both Belinda’s mirror and Dorothy serve as objects for the characters to see themselves, as a way for them to look into their inner mental states. After applying her make up,dress, and jewels, Belinda looks into the mirror, “o heavenly image in the Glass appears”(1-125). She views herself and believes to be angelic, all flaws disappear because she has masked them accordingly. Not only is she trying to hide her flaws from others, but from herself. This line indicates the excessive value she attributes to her make-up( her objects), as she sees herself as a heavenly image free from ridicule and criticism. Dorothy acts as a mirror in the way that the speaker uses her to look at himself in the past. Dorothy reminds the speaker of the way he used to be.

A leading difference between Wordsworth and Pope is their allowance of the reader into the inner mental state of their characters. The speaker and Belinda’s objects are similar in the way each are able to cope with outside pressures through the use of them. In The Rape of the Lock, Belinda’s feelings about feminine beauty are not outwardly apparent, one then has to assume how she feels. Pope focuses more on society and how the people respond to her looks. However, the speaker in “Tintern Abbey” is forward in regards to what he is thinking and how he is feeling about his own situation. Wordsworth is focused on the surroundings around the speaker through his individual experience. While all eyes are on Belinda, the speaker’s eyes are on what is in front of him. We see that the external affects the internal in “Tintern Abbey” and the internal affects the external in The Rape of the Lock. Wordsworth is more personal then Pope is. During the neoclassical period, Alexander Pope was considered to be the most significant poet and prominent social critic. His works provide the insight into social and political relationships while the power of nature is innate to Wordsworth.

The criticism on The Rape of the Lock draws attention to the role objects play in the making of the poem. Ferguson shows the distinction between subject and object, interior and exterior is often blurred, leading to multiplicities of meaning and various perspectives. The pay off to understanding objects in poetry is to understand the deeper meaning of the poem. If there weren’t objects, we wouldn’t have insight meaning because the objects play a vital role in detailing the overall theme. Without objects, readers wouldn’t know how Belinda armed herself or what the speaker is thinking. Without objects, readers would be completely lost and they would only understand the surface leveled idea of the poet, there would be no deeper meaning. Without objects, the poem would not have guts, wouldn’t have substance, there would just be words on a page and they would sound nice with a flow but there wouldn’t be that extra something. The connection between inner mental states and external things is cautionary. Most of the time, external things affect inner mental states through stimulation. In The Rape of the Lock, Belinda’s objects affect her because they are directly on her body which then is to be criticized when she goes out into the world. Her objects are her protection but they could possibly destroy her if not applied correctly. Her objects stimulate her through their beauty, smell, and how she feels others will enjoy and perceive them. She overthinks what people are going to think about her so she needs to overindulge in her objects. The Speaker’s objects are not so much on him, but they are around him. His objects stimulate his mind. They are not as tangible as Belinda’s but still force him to think about who he was, who he is, and who he will be. Belinda’s objects may change due to how she is feeling that day; if she is more vulnerable she may need more make up or an extra jewel on her. But, the speaker’s objects stay the same, it is he who changes. It is the objects that make him aware of such change.

Pope and Wordsworth both use objects to help the reader navigate through the inner workings of their poems. Pope uses his objects to reveal how women are held to high societal standards. Wordsworth uses his objects to represent how one changes through time while a place remains the same. Both of the main characters have their own mirror, one is physically there while the other is Dorothy, the younger sister of Wordsworth’s speaker. These mirrors act as a guide to the inner mental state of these people. The reader uses these mirrors to get a better understanding of what is happening in the two worlds surrounding the main characters. In Belinda’s world she uses her objects to navigate through the societal pressures placed on her shoulders while the speaker uses his objects as a way to navigate through his mind. As a way to use his memories to help his younger sister navigate through societal pressures outside of nature. Objects are used a guiding force to the different perspectives one can take after reading said poem.

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