Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements for “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Rape of the Lock' and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics for “The Rape of the Lock” below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Frivolity of High Society in Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock
The underlying motif of The Rape of the Lock lies in the treatment of the upper class issues presented. For example, Belinda is treated as an actual victim of a violent crime when an unthinking suitor cuts off her hair. Throughout “The Rape of the Lock” Pope is constantly looking for ways to make those from the upper class look as if they care nothing for the serious issues surrounding them. Search through the text and find other examples, besides the loss of Belinda’s locks, and describe how Pope is using the situations to make a political commentary on the ignorance and vanity of the upper class. What are these situations, and in what ways do they allude to every day situations that an upper class woman may face? How does Pope twist the situations as to make the upper class look like the villain?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Women in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock
Throughout Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, many outlandish situations occur. One thing that stays consistent throughout the poem is the over-the-top reaction of the woman to her circumstances. Never is the woman presented as rational, instead she is treated as if she is having a fit at all times and is full of nothing but flight and fancy. In fact, the entire poem revolves around the loss of a lock of hair, something that is completely inconsequential to the outside world, but to this woman, it means everything. Give some examples of the ways in which women are portrayed as hysterical, and what Pope may be trying to say. Consider using the “Cave of Spleen" scene to help deconstruct the stereotypes of women at this time.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Rape of the Lock and Alexander Pope’s Use of the Mock Epic Convention
Alexander Pope becomes famous for his use of the mock epic, in which he takes all of the most renowned epic conventions and uses them in stories where they are inappropriate. For example, Pope’s use of the epic convention in The Rape of the Lock turns a story of frivolity into an epic poem that, to those involved, rivals The Odyssey. With this convention, Pope is bestowing cosmic importance on trivial events—but for what effect? Using the Common Epic Conventions, explore how Pope develops each in his poem. As the Conventions develop, how do they help to move the plot along?
This list of important quotations from “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Pope's “Rape of the Lock” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“A branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand. Then thus address'd the pow'r: “Hail, wayward Queen! Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen: Parent of vapours and of female wit, Who give th' hysteric, or poetic fit, On various tempers act by various ways, Make some take physic, others scribble plays; Who cause the proud their visits to delay, And send the godly in a pet to pray." (iv. 55-63)
“He watch'd th' Ideas rising in her mind, Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her art, An earthly Lover lurking at her heart." (iii. 141-144)
“The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide, T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide. Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd, A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd; Fate urged the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain, (But Airy Substance soon unites again)" (iii.149-151)
“Fairest of Mortals, though distinguish’d Care Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air! If e’er one Vision touch’d thy infant Thought, of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught, Of airy Elves by Moonlight Shadows seen, the silver Token, and the circled Green, Or Virgins visited by Angel-Pow’rs, With Golden Crowns and Wreaths of heav’nly Flow’rs, Hear and believe!" (i.27-35)
“Then cease, bright Nymph! To mourn thy ravish'd hair, which adds new glory to the shining sphere!" (v.1400-141)
“But since, alas! frail Beauty must decay, Curl'd or uncurl'd, since Locks will turn to grey" (v. 24-25)
“Transformed to combs, the speckled, and the white. Here files of pins extend their shining rows, Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux. Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms" (ii.135-140)
“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: The pow'rs gave ear, and granted half his pray'r, The rest, the winds dispers'd in empty air." (ii. 40-46)
Source: Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.