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The Rape of the Lock

by Alexander Pope

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How did Belinda prepare for her journey in The Rape of the Lock?

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In Canto I of The Rape of the Lock, Belinda is not doing anything more complicated or profound than putting her makeup on and having her hair done. Pope's descriptions are deliberately contrived and exaggerated, in keeping with his mock-heroic style. The process is made to look like a mystic rite of some kind, with the assistance of the genie-like beings called Sylphs, such as Ariel, who are supposed to be "watching over" Belinda to insure no harm comes to her.

All of this suggests ridicule and parody, and it could be regarded as the height of sexism were it not for the fact that Pope presents his male lead, the Baron, in perhaps an even more ridiculous fashion. The speaker in The Rape of the Lock is an observer, an outsider ruthlessly commenting on the devices women and men use in coming together—just as Pope himself, a man who had physical disabilities, probably saw himself perpetually the Other. However, all is presented in such comical terms and inappropriately heroic language that what would be sharply satirical and acerbic is defused, and the result is that all seems to be in fun, despite the serious message Pope imparts about "what mighty contests rise from trivial things."

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