The supernatural elements of the poem The Rape of the Lock

The supernatural elements of the poem The Rape of the Lock

Question: Discuss the supernatural elements of the poem “The Rape of the Lock.”


The use of machinery is a traditional and distinctive feature of epic poetry. Pope explains that machinery is a term which is invented by the critics to signify the role of deities, angels, or demons in an epic poem. In “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope, Sylphs and Gnomes play this role.

Source of the machinery

Pope admits that the machinery in this poem is based on the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits in which the four elements are inhabited by sylphs, nymphs, gnomes, and salamanders. In this poem, the Pope does not put all these spirits to function but simply sylphs, and an evil spirit Umbriel are put in action.

Diversified activities

Ariel is the most important of the sylphs. He has several roles to perform in “The Rape of the Lock”. He enacts the role of the chorus, commenting on the protagonist’s thoughts and actions. Together with a host of other sylphs, he has the solemn responsibility of safeguarding Belinda’s virginity and honor. So, Ariel warns her……

“Oh, Pious Maid beware!…

Beware of all but most beware of the man.”

 Narcissism and self-adoration

An important function that Pope attributes to the sylphs is to dress up Belinda gorgeously with the best of cosmetic powders. While Belinda sits at her dressing table like the goddess of pride, they perform the secret rites of pride on her. Here the sylphs symbolically represent Belinda’s narcissism and self-adoration.

Engagement in defending battle

Pope’s supernatural elements are like the Olympian gods and goddess of Homer’s “Iliad”. The major function of the sylphs is their meeting. The head sylph Ariel calls all sylphs from different earthly regions and says that they have to do a special function on that day because the virtue of a lady is in danger. To each sylph he assigns a special job. Brillante is asked to take care of Belinda’s diamond eardrops; Zephyretta her fan; Momentila her wristwatch; Crispissa her sacred lock of hair and Ariel himself will take care of her lapdog. Through this Pope passes satire that being the head sylph he should think of protecting her virtue, but he decides to protect her lapdog.

Prophetic power

Pope also attributes a prophetic power to the sylphs. When Ariel observes the failure of the Baron and his friends at the card game of Ombre, he instinctively senses that some danger would befall Belinda. He summons all categories of sylphs to take special care of hair, the sylphs frustrate his every attempt. Unfortunately, Ariel suddenly observes that an earthly lover is lurking at her heart. Belinda’s strong attraction to the Baron places her beyond Ariel’s control, and he fails to protect her.

Human-like emotions and activities

Pope has successfully utilized supernatural machinery not simply by incorporating a good spirit but also by incorporating an evil spirit like Umbriel. In order to cause despair and melancholy to Belinda, Umbriel goes to the Cave of Spleen. From that cave, he collects sighs, sorrows, sobs, tears and then pours all on Belinda to increase her despair. The way the sylphs sit on the cards of Belinda, Umbriel and other evil spirits sit on the weapons of women so that they can use those weapons effectively.


Thus, the sylphs of “The Rape of the Lock” are Pope’s mocking recreation of the gods who watch over the heroes of epics and guide their fortune. They have been used by Pope essentially to entertain the readers by their fanciful beauty. However, they also provide greater sharpness to Pope’s satire, particularly in his presentation of the follies, flaws, and vices of women.

Click here: all notes for “The Rape of the Lock”

Biswazit Kumar
Biswazit Kumar
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