Character Sketch Of Belinda In “The Rape of the Lock”
Belinda, the main target of satire in the poem, represents the fashionable aristocratic ladies of the time. She suffers from all the vanities, follies and lack of moral scruples of the upper class ladies of the eighteenth century. She is also, besides, a woman of superb beauty and charm. We have to consider her as an object of mockery, ridicule and even condemnation and as a woman who deserves praise and adoration.
She is also told to be a lazy woman, who continues to sleep till twelve in the day, who on waking up at that hour falls asleep again, and is roused from her sleep by the licking tongue of her pet dog. Shock. On opening her eyes she sees a love-letter which is before her and which makes her forget the vision she has been seeing during her sleep. When she is engaged in her toilet her beauty and charm are laid stress upon. She is assisted by her maid. Betty. in decorating and embellishing herself with cosmetics and with jewelry. She is compared to a warrior as she dresses herself, who gets ready for the battle. She is also getting ready ‘to kill’.
Belinda’s beauty and charm are emphasised again and again in the poem. In the opening lines of Canto II of the poem she is considered as a rival of the sun’s rays. She wears a sparkling cross on her white breast. Her looks are lively and she has an alert mind. She beams a smile at everyone, but does not show any special favour towards any one :
Bright as the Sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And like the Sun, they shine on all alike.
She comes to be transformed almost into a divinity. Her faults, if any, are hidden by her graceful ease and sweetness which is free from pride. If she has any female defects, the beauty of her face makes us overlook them. She has two locks of hair which enhance the beauty and charm of this lady. Her temper is absolutely free from care.
Although professed to be pure, Belinda is secretly in love with the Baron. It is here that the main reason of her fall lies, the sylphs warn her of the approaching scissors and the danger to her hair, but she is indifferent to their warning. Ariel is surprised to discover that in spite of all her pretense, she is in love with a gallant:
Sudden he viewed in spite of all her art;
An earthly lover lurking at her heart.
She has a sort of spiritual shallowness; which in other words, may be regarded as an incapacity for moral awareness. All spiritual exercises and emblems have been transformed by her into a coquette’s self-display and self-adoration. All is done with a frivolous heedlessness. She is not quite a hypocrite:
On her while breast a sparkling cross she wore.
Which Jews might kiss, and in fields adore,
The cross is a religious emblem but it is turned into an ornament and gains new power by this sort of translation. It may be seen that at every point in the poem grace and charm get the better of depth of feeling or heroic action.
Her life is full of personal and social tensions: Her ease on the boat is not spontaneous. Her slightest indiscretion is exploited by slander and her beauty is short-lived. She will earn notoriety if she is guilty of committing an error in exciting man’s interest. If she rejects or refuses the advances of a male, she may run the risk of going without a husband.
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Pope’s attitude to Belinda: Pope’s attitude towards Belinda is not so simple, as it appears. It does not end with his laughing away at her claims to divinity. Belinda can do wonders. The same may be said with regard to objects associated with her. The Jews and the infidels would gladly kiss the Cross which she wears. She is related to the Sun. This fact has been repeated in the poem. She has the effect of the sunshine on the world as a whole. “Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay”.
Pope also stresses on Belinda’s divinity. The insult offered to her, though slight seemingly, is a serious and real one. Though the clipping off of her lock appears to be a slight youthful folly, it symbolises the rape of a woman and the outrage of a goddess. Her power, her wishes, her furbelows and her blushes are sanctified and receive the care of heavenly spirit.
Pope does not overlook Belinda’s morality. Her goddess-ship is qualified by emphasising on her human qualities Her frailty and transient blushes emphasis upon the humanity of the goddess.
Belinda’s divinity has been established the general dedication of the sex to which she belongs, and special treatment given to her, such as the head sylph’s attendance on her the superhuman value attributed to her lock and lastly, the insistence throughout the poem that she is a kind of sun-goddess.
Belinda is superior to all her sex in divine qualities and significance. She is the “distinguished care of a thousand bright inhabitants of air”. The head-sylph, Ariel, warns her of the impend ending disaster. Her own “heavenly image in the glass” is of the goddess she worships during the sacred ceremony of her toilet. When the Baron seeks a favour from her and builds in altar to Love, who is in a sense, Belinda herself.
Belinda is not a true lady from another point of view. Had she been a true lady she would not have acted as she does over a clip of her lock or exercise her spleen to such vigorous degree. She is deficient in the knowledge of the common fate of coquettes like herself.
Belinda has a “fall”, at least in the eyes of Ariel. This fall is only a fall from the self-love and arid virginity, which the sylphs both represent and try to preserve. It is, in a sense, a fall into a more natural human condition and may be considered as a fortunate fall. Belinda falls in love and thus escapes from the meaningless virginity and honour which the sylphs represent. The hint here is further intensified that she acquiesces in the rape of her lock. Belinda is forewarned and in a sense aware of the Baron’s attempt on her, still she does not turn from it.