Study Guide

The Rape of the Lock Speaker

By Alexander Pope


It would be so tempting to say that Pope is the poem's speaker, and just be done with it. Especially after that lovely letter he writes in the very beginning, dedicating the poem to Arabella Fermor (the historical Belinda), in his own voice. But—sorry—he didn't make it that easy on us. On purpose.

The satire of the mock-epic depends in part on a definite difference between the poet and the speaker, and on the reader noticing that difference from the get-go. Our speaker definitely appears to be as infatuated with Belinda and her glittering group of frivolous friends as they are with themselves, using all of this fancy language and classical allusions to describe them, without seeming to realize how ridiculous it all is.

That, Pope seems to be saying, is our job as readers, and in the end isn't that a more effective lesson? Don't you learn better by doing something, rather than having someone else tell it to you?

But hold on a minute. The above description of the relationship between the poet and the speaker of The Rape of the Lock only works up till the very end, when the poem turns to praise poetry itself, and this poem in particular.

What do you think Pope is up to here at the ending, when his naïve, hero-worshiping speaker turns that naïve hero-worship inward to the poem and the poet? Ahh, tricky sneaky Pope. Maybe he's also poking fun at the grandiosity of poets like himself, who think that what they write will make them immortal. Maybe he's turning his own satiric weapons onto his own writing.

Which, in the end, makes him look honest and self-critical, and that makes us want to think he actually is a really amazing poet. It's a twisted way of paying yourself a compliment. But more effective than actually praising yourself to the skies. We dare you to try this in your application essays.

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