Answer: The word ‘satire’ is derived from the Latin word ‘satira’ which is a literary attack on the follies and vices of an individual or a society with a view to correcting them through laughter and ridicule written either in prose or verse. However, as Shakespeare is the poet of man, Alexander Pope is a poet of society. “The Rape of the Lock” is a social document because it mirrors contemporary society and contains a social satire, too. Pope paints about England in 18th century. The whole panorama of “The Rape of the Lock”revolves around the false standard of 18th century. Pope satirizes the young girls and boys, aristocratic women and men, their free time activities, nature of husbands and wives, the professional judges and politicians of the day.
Pope clearly depicts the absurdities and the frivolities of the fashionable circle of the 18th century England. The world of Belinda – the world of fashion is a trivial world. The whole life of Belinda is confined to sleeping, make-up, enjoyment and alluring the lords. There are no transcendental elements in her life. This life is marked by ill-nature, affectation, mischievousness, coquetry, yielding and submissive nature, fierce and unruly nature, infidelity, cheapness, meanness, trivialities and frivolities. Belinda represents all the fashion struck women, busy in such stupidities.
The gallants of the time have not been spared by Pope. Baron not only represents Peter but also typifies the aristocratic gallants of the age. Pope satirizes man’s nature that is always weak at beauty. Men sacrifice everything at the altar of beauty and even the most intelligent man behaves foolishly when he falls a victim to beauty.
“With tender Billet-doux he lights the Pyre,
And breathes three am’rous Sighs to raise the Fire,
Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent Eyes
Soon to obtain, and long possess the Prize:”
In order to make his satire sharper and all the more effective, Pope introduces the aerial machinery, which facilitates the satire. Through this weapon, the poet throws in contrast the weaknesses of the fashionable women of that age. He satirizes women who are interested in fashionable life and its pursuits and who go on exercising their evil influence even after their death. For the sake of worldly grandeur, they can bid farewell even to their chastity and honor. He satirizes women of fiery, coquettish mischievous and yielding nature and gives them different names. It also provides the poet with an opportunity to satirize the class consciousness of women.
All the women and beaus gather at the place where they exchange talks on trivial things such as visits, balls, films, motions, looks, eyes, ‘at every word’ and ‘a reputation dies’.
“A beau and witling perished in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song.”
Man’s favorite activity is to take suffered women to play with fan. There is singing, dancing, laughing, ogling and nothing else. Women are busy alluring the dukes and lords. The poet reflects the hollowness of men in the character of Sir Plume who is coward, foolish and senseless, lacking courage. Women are on the whole irresolute and they have made toyshops of their hearts. They have even illicit relations with the beaus. Women are meant only for the entertainment of men, who play toy with them.
Pope also satirizes of the husbands and wives of the day. Husbands always suspect their wives. They think that their wives have been merry-making with their lovers. On the other hand, wives are also not virtuous at all. They love their lap-dogs more than their husbands. And the death of husbands is not more shocking than the death of a lap dog or the breakage of a china vessel.
“Not louder shrieks to pitying Heave are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last;”
So through the medium of satire, Pope paints a picture of 18th century English society. His satire is didactic and impersonal. It is not inflicted against any person or individual, rather against the society and that, too, owing to some moral faults. He is dissatisfied with the society around which he wants to reform. The society he pictured is the aristocratic group of 18th century fashionable English society. But there are several allied subjects, too, on which he inflicts his satire. For example, he satirized the judges who make hasty decisions.
“The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine”
He also satirized those friends whose friendship is but lust, those politicians who do not have a deeper insight and cannot see beyond the shows and take steps just for their own interests and ends.
To sum up, the poem is a reflection of this artificial and hollow life, painted with a humorous and delicate satire. Pope’s satire is intellectual and full of wit and epigram. And it is quite true that no other poet or writer could depict the contemporary society so vastly and perfectly as Pope did and hence, he is regarded as the true representative poem of the 18th century English society.