Erin Hamill English 221, Paper #3 Mr. Francis Minneci November 14

Erin Hamill
English 221, Paper #3
Mr. Francis Minneci
November 14, 2013
Objectification of Religion in “The Rape of the Lock”
Alexander Pope’s mock epic “The Rape of the Lock” creates a setting in which objects
and people in real life are paralleled to a character or concrete object in the poem. To satirize the
community about which he is writing about, Pope places emphasis on worldly objects rather than
the value that they represent in an ideal society. By doing this, Pope is making a comment of the
frivolousness of the world and the superficiality of the upper class. Pope places emphasis on
religion and the objects associated with it when describing Belinda and the Sylphs that protect
her. The juxtaposition of religion with material objects creates a society that is perceived as
materialistic instead of one that focuses on the sanctity of religion and the place it holds in
Throughout the poem, Pope’s writing implies an objectification of religion by placing the
idea of it among material objects, which denotes the sanctity of it and puts more focus on the
object rather than on religion itself. In Canto 2, Belinda is introduced to a crowd of people when
she arrives at the Palace. She is described as having “every eye fixed on her alone/On her white
breast a sparkling cross she wore/Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore” (Canto 2, line 6-8).
He goes on to explain the beauty of her physical appearance, while brushing over the cross
around her neck. It is unclear whether the people staring are appreciating the cross or her “white
breast”. The passage implies that although all eyes are on her, the cross she is wearing is lost
amongst her physical beauty. The cross loses significance, and ends up being only a commodity
on a beautiful woman. The men and women at the Palace, representing those who are a part of
high society, are depicted as shallow and vapid, as they only focus on Belinda’s beauty, rather
than on what really holds a society together. Pope is commenting on how people can forget
what’s really important and pass it off as insignificant when compared to a captivating material
object. When Pope described the cross as being something that “Jews might kiss, and infidels
adore” (8), he is commenting on the fact that the cross holds no real meaning or significance to
any one specific religious group, since Jews, Catholics, and infidels alike can all appreciate it.
The scene that he has depicted is one full of superficial higher-ups who place more value on the
aesthetic aspect of religion rather than the true value it holds.
In Canto 1, there is a strong sense of biblical references, not the least of which is Belinda
herself, along with her Sylphs. Ariel, her main Sylph, acts as a guardian angel of sorts, with the
intent to protect and warn Belinda of any impending event that may harm her in any way. When
Belinda awakes from her dream and looks at her reflection in the mirror, she sees “a heavenly
image in the glass” (Canto 1, line 125). She quickly forgets her dream when she has the
opportunity to look at herself in the mirror. Belinda is conscious of her use of cosmetics, which
all serve to cover up her true self and make her someone concerned with false appearances. By
comparing Belinda to a “heavenly image,” Pope is drawing connections between her and an
angel of sorts. Belinda, although compared to the beauty an angel, hardly represents an angel in
Pope also uses the Sylphs to represent angels. Many of the Sylphs, however, do not guard
Belinda’s safety or reputation, but rather guard her hair, her dog, and her dress. Their
protectiveness over her is limited to material objects rather than her wellbeing, which is a stark
contrast to how guardian angels are usually perceived. Ariel is the sole Sylph that watches over
Belinda, but he gives up protecting her when he realizes that she in fact wants to be violated by
the Baron. His desertion of her represents the ephemeralness of Heaven’s protection that Pope is
satirizing. In Canto 5, Clarissa, one of the nymphs, wonders aloud about “why are beauties
praised and honored most…Why angels called, and angel-like adored?” (Canto 5, line 9-12). The
women in Pope’s play are compared to angels, but not in character, only in looks. They are
constantly referred to as “heavenly”, but only while applying cosmetics. Angels represent,
among other things, purity. By using so many cosmetic products, Belinda is covering up her true
self and sullying her image, embodying anything but purity. By associating her with an angel,
Pope is implying that the characteristics of angels lean more toward physical beauty than pure
Pope’s comparison of religion to material objects and physical beauty serve to comment
on a society more concerned with beauty and glamour than on being moral in character and
worshipping God as one should. He uses Belinda and her Sylphs to embody the superficiality
that the upper class is often perceived as being. By objectifying religion, Pope creates an
effective satire that illustrates how religion often comes second to material objects to those who
are held high in society. By juxtaposing religion with the physical features of a beautiful woman,
comparing Belinda to a “heavenly angel” while covering her true self with cosmetics, and
describing the Sylphs as representing a certain ephemeralness of the protection of Heaven, Pope
successfully ridicules a society for expressing more concern with the materialistic aspect of
society and placing its value above that of religion.