To answer this question we must know that The Rape of the Lock is the truest and loveliest satirical picture of the days of Alexander Pope. It is a poem ridiculing the fashionable world of his time. In this mock-heroic work, Pope satirized feminine frivolity. Belinda, the principal female character of the poem is the representative of the women belonging to the upper-class society which has been the target of Pope’s satire.
Belinda represents the fashionable and aristocratic lady of the time and suffers from all the vanities, follies, and moral scruple. But she is also a woman of superb beauty and charm. Thus it is clear that Pope has adopted a mixed attitude towards Belinda. Of course, in real life, never we find any character absolutely good or bad. Man or Woman is, therefore, a mixture of good and bad qualities. Belinda too was admirable and at the same time denunciating qualities in her characters. She has been described to have Cleopatra like variety in her character.
When she is first introduced in the poem, she is said to have such brightness in her eyes as to surpass the brightness of the sun. But at the same time, she is represented as being a lazy woman who continues to sleep till twelve in the day. On waking up, she again falls asleep to the awakened ultimately by the licking tongue of her pet dog. After opening her eyes she reads a love-letter which is waiting for her and which makes her forget the vision that she has seen.
Thus the primary quality of Belinda is the lack of spiritual vision and of moral awareness from the speech of Ariel, her guardian sylph; we have come to know that Belinda is not very much cautious about the protection of her maidenly purity. Ariel is not sure of what she is going to lose in the coming meeting to him of losing her honor or her new brocade of losing her heart or a necklace. Belinda likes a masked ball like a religious prayer. She has transformed all spiritual exercises and emblems into a coquette’s self- display and self- adoration. She wears a sparkling cross to show her as devoted to religion but actually, it is nothing but ornamentation to her. For all her professed purity she nurses a secret love with the Baron. This is the weakness or “fall” in her character.
Again and again, Ariel warns her of the approaching danger to her, but sylphs try utmost to make her aware of the Baron who is nearing her to cut off the lock of hair from her head. But she seems to be indifferent; this willing indifference leads Ariel to believe that she is amorously included towards a gallant.
“Sudden he viewed, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lacking at her heart.”
The cutting of the lock makes Belinda truly furious. Her rage, resentment, and despair are forcefully described by the poet. She deplores the fact that she was so attracted by the pleasures of the court-life. The lamentation of Belinda brings out the shallowness and superficiality of her mind because she says that she would not have been so hurt if some other hair except her golden curl would have been stolen.
Besides this flirtation Belinda has other faults; she makes fun of the religious prayer. She begins her toilet with a prayer to “the cosmetic powers.” The manner of expressing joy over her victory in the game of ombre shows her childish temperament. Even her rage at the loss of her hair was unusual. It is a trifling matter but she makes it a matter more serious than the capture of a youthful king in a battle. She utters “louder shrieks” than those uttered by women at the death of their husband or their lap-dogs.
But Pope has praised her for her beauty and charm. She is referred to as a woman prizing chastity, having flawless beauty, and even divinity. She is the nymph, the maid, the fair, the virgin, the goddess who is the rival of the sun’s beams. She is attended upon by a large number of aerial beings for the protection of her chastity. Not only her lock is sacred but as the symbol of her chastity, it is called an “inestimable prize” when her hair was cut off, she flew into a rage fiercer than mitral indignation. Even the cross that she wears on her breast can work miracles. It is so glittering that even the Jews and the infidels would willingly kiss the cross. She has the effect of the sunshine on the world as a whole.
“Belinda smiles and all the world was gay.” Pope has a mixed and complicated attitude towards Belinda. She satirizes her with tenderness, admires her but does not spare her to criticize. The paradoxical nature of Pope’s attitude is intimately related to the paradox of Belinda’s situation. Although Pope has ridiculed many of Belinda’s manners, he did not leave her to be judged as a bad woman.
There is no doubt that Belinda has a number of “falls”. This fall consists of her manners of life, yet Pope presents her in an agreeable form and we are led to forget her frivolities or mortality. But the actual aspersion is laid on the very society of which she is the product. She is the medium through whom she expresses his dislike of the society which was given to mirth and merriment at any cost.