A Crime of Fate
In Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve commit the first sin, and from this point on, all other sins are mere copies of this. Alexander Pope uses this to his benefit when he depicts the crime in The Rape of the Lock. By alluding to Milton’s work, Pope is able to comically refer to the cutting of a lock of hair as a tragic and epic event. In doing this, he paradoxically assumes that the crime is not one of personal fault, but one fated to happen by God, just as in Paradise Lost. “What dire offence from amorous causes springs, / What mighty contests rise from trivial things,” (Pope, ll. 1-2). These first lines of The Rape of the Lock immediately try to make light of the entire situation. The reader has yet to learn what the “dire offence” is, but already likens it to the Adam and Eve’s “trivial” mistake, eating from the tree of knowledge, which forced them out of Paradise. It will take a further reading of the poem to learn that the crime is simply the cutting of a lock of hair, and not a monumental fall from God’s graces.
Pope goes on to pose the questions, “Say what strange motive, Goddess! Could compel/a well-bred Lord to assault a gentle Belle? / O say what stanger cause, yet unexplored, /could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?” (Pope, ll. 7-10). This is an allusion to Adam’s rejection of Eve in Paradise Lost when he laments, “ ‘Out of my sight, thou serpent!’ ” and to Eve’s crime against God (Milton, Bk. X, l. 867). The motives of Sir Plume’s actions are now seen as similar to that of Adam and Eve’s and it sets up the crime against Clarissa as one that could not be avoided.
While Clarissa seems to be visited in her sleep by her guardian angel, it is an obvious reference to Eve’s visit from Satan in Paradise Lost, Book V. The angel, whom we can assume is evil, tells Clarissa she is the “Fairest of...
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