The Mock Epic And Material Desire In Not All That Glisters Gold

2009 words - 8 pages

“Not all that glisters gold,” Gray surmised in his poem, Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat. While the term is widely understood now as meaning that not everything is precious, there is evidence to suggest that there is a more cautionary tone which surrounds this saying. As Gray uses it to lament the death of Horace Walpole’s favorite cat, when the text is analyzed further, aspects of the mock epic are revealed. However this usage of the mock epic is less humorous in tone and more as a vehicle to warn readers of the tragedy that befalls them when they mindlessly pursuit certain desires. Therefore, in Thomas Gray's Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Gray uses the style of mock epic along with a non-human character in order to depict how people dangerously pursuit the material in their life, at the risk of their own demise.
In order to see how Gray’s Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat uses mirrors the style of the mock epic, we must pinpoint features and conventions of epic literature. One common feature of the epic is that there is commonly a huge amount of focus on an object of desire. In the case of a mock epic, the object in question is given a disproportionate amount of importance. In Alexander Pope’s mock epic The Rape of the Lock, the main object of desire is Belinda’s lock of hair. As the lock is an object that the Sylphs surrounding her are tasked to guard, is it treated is something sacred, and becomes a symbol of Belinda’s chastity. In the case of Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, the goldfishes are treated as the object of desire. The fishes take on “angel forms” and don hues of purple and gold – regal colors that give the fishes a disparate sense of importance and entice the cat towards the fishbowl. This flattering depiction of something usually seen as unimportant reflects how Gray uses characteristics of the mock epic to warn the reader of how carelessly pursuing the material can lead to one’s demise. Gray furthers this idea by using the overly dramatic language of the mock epic to depict the cat’s tragic outcome. The theatrical portrayal of the cat “Eight times emerging from the flood” references the loss of the cat’s nine lives as well as exaggerating the amount of water in the fishbowl as a flood. The language used in Gray’s poem can be compared to the language used in The Rape of the Lock. When Belinda’s hair is cut in Canto 3, Pope exaggerates the situation by comparing the “screams of horror” to “when husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last.” The poetic amplification of relatively unimportant objects of desire, as well as trivial events is one of the primary characteristics of the mock epic, and Gray’s Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat uses this style and language extensively throughout.
Another feature of the mock epic is the use of a main protagonist with un-heroic qualities. Since the main protagonists in epic poems are usually heroes with a strong sense of morals, intelligence and strength, the satirical aspect...

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