Lack of Moral in The Rape of The Lock

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      Introduction. Satire must have a moral norm to make it purposeful. The Rape of the Lock has been considered by several critics to lack a moral lesson. Indeed, it was partly in response to the criticism of some contemporaries that Pope added in Canto V (in the second version of the poem) a speech delivered by Clarissa. Its sole purpose was to make his moral norm explicit in the poem, said Pope. But even leaving aside Clarissa's speech, which is certainly a repository of Pope's moral lesson, the poem does not lack any moral. It is by understanding the value of implied moral values that a critic has called the poem "a criticism of life."

      Moral Motive of The Poem. The Rape of the Lock originated in a moral motive, as the Dedication testifies. It aimed at teaching the lesson of amity and good humor to two quarreling families. Pope implies in his dedication that such quarrels arise from a want of good sense. Dr. Johnson was not blind to the moral in the poem. He sees in the poem a satire against, and therefore, an advice for the correction of, ill-humour; vanity and ill-tolerance especially in women.

      Latent Moral Lesson. The poem has plenty of moral lessons latent in it. It does not need extra intelligence or subtlety to discern the moral intent behind every satirical portrait and every ironical thrust. When Pope satirizes the late-rising and wasteful habits of the society ladies through an exaggerated description, the moral implications are not far to seek. It is obvious that one should get out of such habits, as well as habits of self-aggrandizement, vanity, flirtatiousness, and excessive prudery. Everywhere, by implication, Pope preaches the lesson of moderation. The satire against the fops and dandies, their shallowness and empty-headedness, is a clear condemnation and obvious warning to overcome such inclinations. Sir Plume, Dapperwit and the Baron-all are pictures intended to show up the vacuity of the life they led. Belinda at the toilet table and the Baron at his altar of Love God are depicted as "above their real character" - coquette as goddess and philanderer as hero. The deliberate artistic absurdity serves as a better moral lesson than any explicity-stated wordy sermon. The same is true of the description of how the lords and ladies spend their time gossiping, scandal-mongering, flirting, playing cards and drinking coffee.

      Clarissa's Speech Is The Explicit Statement of The Moral. She puts forward the norm of good sense and moderation. Without good sense, all the beauty one possesses has little value, for physical beauty is bound, to fade. She pleads for a better understanding of life.

      Conclusion. We may safely conclude that John Dennis made an incorrect assessment of The Rape of the Lock when he said that the poem has no moral. Nor is it correct to say that the moral lesson is unimportant - for, then, the satire loses its purpose. The moral is very much an integral part of the poem, criticizing the life it describes, implying in the confusion of values it depicts the correct moral norms to be aimed at.

University Questions

Do you justify the view of John Dennis that The Rape of the Lock has no moral? Justify your answer with examples from The Rape of the Lock.
What moral lesson has been noted in The Rape of the Lock? Support your answer with examples from the text.
"The Rape of the Lock is more than a mock-heroic poem, it is a criticism of life." Discuss with reference to the text.

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