Pope describes The Rape of the Lock as a "heroi-comical" poem—heroic because he uses the Homeric epic to frame the poem and comical because he is attempting to defuse a serious argument between two wealthy families, created when Lord Petre (the Baron) snipped a lock of Arabella Fermor's (Belinda) hair without permission.
One of the most important aspects of Homeric epics—such as the Iliad and the Odyssey—is the interference of the gods in the affairs of mankind. Canto I of Pope's comic epic introduces us to the world of Belinda, a world of luxury and refinement, and, most importantly, the "gods"—primarily, the Sylphs, Nymphs, and Gnomes who watch over Belinda (and all women). While Belinda is sleeping, for example, a Sylph prolongs her sleep:
19 Belinda still her downy pillow press'd,20 Her guardian sylph prolong'd the balmy rest:22 The morning dream that hover'd o'er her head;
71 What guards the purity of melting maids,72 In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,73 Safe from the treach'rous friend, the daring spark, . . .77 'Tis but their sylph, the wise celestials know,78 Though honour is the word with men below.
109 I saw, alas! some dread event impend,110 Ere to the main this morning sun descend,111 But Heav'n reveals not what, or how, or where:
The Rape of the Lock is based on a true story of a young man who snipped a lock of hair from a young woman he was in love with. This "rape" caused a feud between the two families. Pope wrote this poem to try to create a reconciliation of the families through humor and satire. He patterned the writing style in the poem after other famous poets and wrote the entire poem in heroic couplets (rhymed iambic pentameter). By making a mountain out of such a molehill, and by doing it so stylishly and humorously, Pope penned a masterpiece of satire.
The heroine, Belinda, is in real life Arabella Fermor. Her hair is snipped while she is attending a party in Canto III. Canto I provides an elaborate description of how beautiful Belinda is while she sleeps, surrounded by angels and fairies. The narrator of the poem is Ariel (Pope). He describes how Belinda awakens, reads love letters (billets-doux), then proceeds to her dressing table to get ready for the party where she will lose the lock of hair.