Representations of Revolution, Uprising, Political Tension and Crisis Situations in Behn’s Oroonoko and Pope’s The Rape of the Lock

June 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

Aphra Behn and Alexander Pope both present various situations of crisis and uprising in their works, Oroonoko and The Rape of the Lock, respectively. Although the nature and intensity of the crisis situations are very different, both authors use them to make political statements about the culture of their time. The uprising and crisis in Oroonoko condemn a certain form of slavery, while the crisis in The Rape of the Lock mocks the undue focus on trivialities of society. These authors use revolution, political tension and crisis situations as a means by which they can comment on their own society and criticize its negative characteristics. In Behn’s Oroonoko, the main character, Oroonoko, is a strong and brave general who is often at war in his home country (190-191). War is a physical conflict with a purpose to solve a larger conflict or to put down uprisings. Warring nations must make sacrifices in order to gain something. Oroonoko is involved physically in war in his home country, which foreshadows the psychological war he will have to fight later on in his life. Behn likens him to Mars, the god of war, while comparing Imoinda to Venus (190). When Oroonoko hears the false information that Imoinda, his wife, is dead, he becomes so depressed that he will not fight anymore (201). He feels partly responsible for her death, because it their love for each other led to her punishment. This also foreshadows a later part of the story where Oroonoko really does kill Imoinda, but out of love. In Pope’s mock-epic, The Rape of the Lock, the main female character, Belinda receives a warning of “some [impending] dread event” (1.109). She has the protection of the Sylphs, but they cannot prevent what is to come. The only thing her personal guardian Sylph, Ariel, can say is “Beware of all, but most beware of men!” (1.114). This eerie warning sets the stage for the conflict to come. However, Belinda gets caught up in a love letter and forgets all about the warning, but the reader does not. “Wounds, Charms, and Ardors were no sooner read, But all the Vision vanish’d from thy head” (1.119-120). The fact that the reader still remembers the warning accentuates Belinda’s frivolousness and diminishes the situation. This is an instrument that Pope uses to lighten the real-life situation that is occurring in the novel’s context. The titular event actually took place in a small, tight-knit Roman Catholic society, and Pope recognized the toxicity of the divide amongst the people. He was asked to write this poem in an effort to reconcile the situation and diffuse the hostility and resentment. Pope took this opportunity to write the poem as a mock-epic in order to make its subjects see how trifling the matter really was in the broader sense. In Oroonoko, the main conflict is between Oroonoko and his fellow slaves and the people in charge of them. It is not a traditional anti-slave narrative, because Oroonoko had slaves back in his homeland. The first time he goes to visit Imoinda it is partly to “present her with those slaves that had been taken in the last battle, as the trophies of her father’s victories” (191). What Aphra Behn is condemning in his text is royal slavery. She describes Oroonoko, who is a royal slave, in a vastly different light than the other slaves. His description practically makes him sound European. The only differences are his religion and skin color. There are differences between Oroonoko’s personality and the other slaves’. During the battle between the slaves and their owners, Oroonoko, Imoinda and Tuscan are the only slaves that do not give up (223). Oroonoko sees himself as a noble warrior, not a slave, and this is apparent in his actions. The slaves give up when they originally planned that “If they died in the attempt it would be more brave than to live in perpetual slavery” (222). It is Oroonoko who suggests that the slaves rebel and Oroonoko who leads the rebellion. The other slaves are not able to conceive of such an idea on their own. Not only do the other slaves all give up, but they betray Oroonoko as well. “He saw every one of those slaves, that but a few days before adored him as something more than mortal, now had a whip to give him some lashes” (225). The fickleness of the slaves contrasts with Oroonoko’s faithfulness, especially to Imoinda. The multiple differences between Oroonoko and the other slaves show Aphra Behn’s position on slavery. She feels that there are certain types of people who are meant to be slaves but that Oroonoko is not one of them. He is part of the nobility and nobility are not supposed to be enslaved, no matter what nationality they are. Before the battle, Oroonoko makes a very moving anti-slavery speech which, if the rebellion had been successful, would have made this more of an anti-slavery novel. The rebellion fails, however, and in the end it is only the royal slaves who do not give up the fight. On this note, it could be understood that the anti-slavery speech was only applicable to the noble slaves. Aphra Behn’s political position may have influenced her opinion of royal slaves. In her description of Oroonoko, she says that “he had heard of the late civil wars in England, and the deplorable death of our great monarch, and would discourse of it with all the sense and abhorrence of the injustice imaginable” (189-190). This refers to the beheading of King Charles I during the Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. in England. It would have signalled Behn’s ardent support of James II, the last of the Stuart kings. The fact that she portrays Oroonoko as a hero, and then gives him her own Royalist opinion, shows the high regard she has for him. Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is a mock epic following the structure of the Iliad, satirizing the attention a society paid to meaningless events. It is a sophisticated way to criticize people’s foolishness. The main event is when the Baron cuts off a lock of Belinda’s hair for himself. Cutting her hair is something that cannot be undone. Hair is symbolic because it is a part of Belinda and connected to her sexuality. The loss of hair de-values her in a way, and is therefore extremely upsetting. A battle ensues between the sexes, each trying to get a hold of Belinda’s stolen lock of hair. Pope describes this scene is using war-like terms. The game of cards is described in terms of a battle, the cards are “particolor’d troops” (3.44), and “advent’rous Knights” (3.26) that are “Draw[ing] forth to combat on the velvet plain” (3.45). Pope describes the scene in these terms to parallel the battle scenes in the Iliad. The epic form and the comparison to the great battles of the Iliad heighten the effect of Pope’s satire. “Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!” (4.120), Belinda’s exclaims upon losing her lock. She compares the grief from the loss of her lock to death and by doing so, draws attention to the triviality of the situation. She raises the animals to the same level as men, at the same time she brings men down to the level of the animals. In reality, many people would, and probably should, be much more devastated over the death of a man than a lap dog. Here, Pope is satirizing the misplaced ethical priorities people had at the time, illuminating society’s misplaced sense of urgency. The main focus in The Rape of the Lock is the lack of importance society places on important matters versus the extreme importance they place on small, trivial matters, while in Oroonoko, Behn derides only certain kind of slavery. The main crisis events in each of these works are so different, with different results, yet their authors use them to express a political message. Oroonoko’s slave rebellion ends in failure when the other slaves giving up. This shows that the other slaves are fit to be slaves since they do not want their freedom enough to make sacrifices for it. Oroonoko, conversely, would give up anything to be free, eventually making the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure his baby is not born into slavery. He kills Imoinda out of love, securing his wish that his child is not a slave by making sure his child is not born at all. He tries to kill himself unfortunately heals and is tortured even more before he dies. The ending of The Rape of the Lock is quite different. There are no winners and losers, Belinda’s lock of hair “adds new glory to the shining sphere!” (5.142). It becomes a star. Since the battle for Belinda’s hair is mainly a battle of the sexes and includes real life people Pope lived with, it is important that the poem remain neutral in the outcome. The fact that neither sex comes out on top shows the importance of equality between men and women, which is another important point Pope makes in this poem. Although the primary crisis events of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock are immeasurably different in nature and momentousness, both authors use them to convey important political messages about their societies. Oroonoko makes the point that slaves are sometimes not all that different from their masters, and condemns keeping royal or noble slaves who were not born for that purpose. The Rape of the Lock, on the other hand.ridicules society’s obsession with the inconsequentialities of life. Although the main crisis situations of Oroonoko and The Rape of the Lock are immensely diverse, they share the same purpose in appraising society, satirizing or commenting on its adverse facets.Works Cited:Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. Comp. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York. W. W. Nortan & Company, Inc. 2007. 186-231. Print.Pope, Alexander. “The Rape of the Lock.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Comp. Joseph Black. Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press, 2007. 1402. Print.

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