Critically evaluate the toilet scene of Belinda in The Rape of the Lock.

Expert Answers
literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of Canto One of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Belinda is described as getting herself ready to go out on an excursion with her friends. The text provides very specific details regarding what Belinda is doing.

The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transform'd to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,
And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling Care;
These set the Head, and those divide the Hair,
Some fold the Sleeve, while others plait the Gown;
And Betty's prais'd for Labours not her own.

Evaluating this excerpt of the text requires one to recognize a woman's vanity. Here, Belinda is doing everything she possibly can to insure that her beauty is illuminated. Her use of powder shows that her face contains flaws which she feels compelled to cover. Her use of the Bibles show that she is using prayer to pray that what she does will "work" in order to enhance her beauty.

Belinda is not alone though. She has servants around her whom help her to get ready. This shows her wealth. Normal woman of this time would not have had servants to help them get ready.

Therefore, the toilet scene is used to show the vanity associated with women. The end of the cantos functions very well in detailing the lengths one will go to in order to insure that they are beautiful.

user9885178 | Student

Belinda’s Toilet In the dressing table scene of “Rape of the Lock” at the end of Canto I, lines 121-148, the main character, Belinda, has just awoken from a peaceful slumber. She slides out of bed and positions herself in front of her dressing table and mirror (modernly called a “vanity”) to get ready for her day. Standing before the mirror, she watches herself be transformed from the pale-faced sleeping beauty to a vibrant and radiant young woman through the help of her cosmetics, her maid, and the Sylphs. Poetic technique as employed by Pope in this scene lends credibility to the very beauty ritual he is describing. Pope’s attention to the seemingly simple act of putting on makeup conveys the authority of this sacred rite. The opening two lines of this passage, “And now, unveiled, the Toilet stands displayed,/Each Silver vase in mystic Order laid” (121-122) set the initial tone of mystery and anticipation through the use of inverted syntax and words such as “unveiled” and “mystic.” The overlying tone of epic dignity causes the entire passage to read like a giant hyperbole. Pope depicts this scene as something that is happening to Belinda through “Cosmetic Powers,” (124) rather than something she is doing. Participation in this “event” is exemplified by carefully situated personification in line 137, “Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows”. This effective imagery allows the reader to see the pins scrambling for lineup, eager to be at Belinda’s disposal. Pope simply lists a few of the items on Belinda’s table in line 138, “Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.” The sophisticated reader can see that much more lies right below the surface of this powerful line. Most noticeably are the items Pope chooses to list, and their order. Pope touches on the frivolity of beautiful women by putting the Bible right next to the love letters. A little bit deeper into the line reveals Pope’s use of plosive sounds to amplify the “list” quality. The repetition of meter, the three consecutive trochees, gives the line an emphatic rhythm, emphasizing the ritualistic importance of the listed items. Finally, in the closing line, Pope illuminates the underlying principle of the beauty ritual he has just described. Pope writes, “And Betty’s praised for Labours not her own” (148). The introduction of praise at the end of the passage ties in the subtle, yet evident, parallel theme of the societal necessity of beauty. The beautiful Belinda begi

Read the study guide:
The Rape of the Lock

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question