The Rape of the Lock

by Alexander Pope

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Describe the character of Belinda in "The Rape of the Lock."

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Belinda is presented by Pope in "The Rape of the Lock" as a bundle of contradictions. This makes her not just a more interesting character, but also a reflection of the society in which she lives. First and foremost, Belinda is a ravishingly beautiful young lady, her beauty a source of wonderment and admiration to men and women alike. Her very name comes from the Latin for "lovely to behold." Pope often describes Belinda in gushing superlatives such as "the brightest fair" and "the fairest of mortals."

Belinda is acutely aware of her extraordinary beauty and the equally extraordinary effect it has on people. She is the center of attention wherever she goes, most notably during her pleasure ride down the Thames, her bright smile and eyes shining like the sun:

Bright as the sun , her eyes the gazers strike ,
And, like the sun , she shines on all alike.

Not surprisingly, with all this natural beauty and the attention it brings, Belinda is a rather vain, superficial young lady. She worships at the feet of beauty, and, as she's the very embodiment of the that beauty, she worships herself as intently as everyone else does. Though self-assured, Belinda's value system seems more than a tad confused. She ostentatiously keeps a copy of the Bible on her dressing table along with all her powders, creams, and hairbrushes. It's as if Belinda treats the Word of God as just another fashion accessory, a means of showing off to people how devout she is. But placing a Bible next to a pile of love letters indicates just how shallow this attachment to religion really is.

Belinda's childishness, vanity, and superficiality come out even more strongly when the Baron relieves her of one of her pretty locks. Belinda lives by the code of beauty; her whole life is utterly devoted to it. Without her lovely lock of hair she feels no longer beautiful. It is then, however, that Belinda undergoes a stark transformation. In her implacable wrath and thirst for vengeance, she's no longer innocent; no longer a goddess walking upon the earth, but a real human being: fallen, vulnerable, and subject to the vicissitudes of everyday life.

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Belinda is upper class, high-strung and conceited.  She is lovely and used to being told she is beautiful.  She is the type of girl one would expect to have "a favorite curl".   When she hears of the party where her curl will meet its doom, she is reluctant to go, but she can not stand not being there to be admired, so she goes anyway. 

She is used to being the center of attention.  She enjoys flirting, but until the Baron becomes one of her beaus, she never really entertains the idea of giving in to love and marriage.  Neglecting Ariel's (her fairy guardian in charge of her hair) advice to beware of all men, she plays cards flirtingly with two suitors, the Baron being one of them.  The Baron is aided by Clarissa, a jealous "friend" of Belinda's who slips him the scissors with which to steal the curl.

Belinda, usually well behaved as society girls are, flies into one of the most outrageous rages ever recorded.  She goes so far as to throw snuff in the Baron's face and to stab him with her hat pin.  Ouch! 

However much she rages, he at first will not return the lock of hair and then, having lost it, can not return it.  Belinda's usual vanity and pride return, however, when someone says she saw where the lock of hair traveled to the stars and was made into a constellation where everyone for eternity can admire its beauty.

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