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Belinda's Duality In Pope's Rape Of The Lock

1342 words - 6 pages

According to Francois De La Rochefoucauld, “Virtue would go far if vanity did not keep it company.” In Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope uses the epic form to satirize 18th century English high society. The protagonist, Belinda, represents women within her society through her focus on both beauty and piety. Rape of the Lock provides insight into the duality of beauty and chastity, and the struggle for women to encompass both ideals. These ideals, dictated by society, allowed women to fill their roles as a proper wife and mother. In order to achieve those roles, women adhered to appropriate ideals of beauty and virginity. Belinda fills the role of a traditional woman in 18th century society ...view middle of the document...

In this way, Belinda becomes a priestess seated at her “altar,” which places great significance on female beauty. Moreover, the contrast of “sacred” and “pride” provide insight into the mindset of Belinda, and others during her time. Belinda’s pride, her beauty, shows higher meaning because it shares shares importance to a sacred rite.
Furthermore, Pope describes Belinda as a pure, almost angelic figure throughout the toilette scene. Upon looking at herself, she immediately notices her beauty, “A heav’nly Image in the Glass appears/To what she bends, to that her Eyes she rears” (I, 125). Belinda’s reflection is “a heav’nly image” rather than a woman, which simultaneously reveals her as a beautiful and religious vision, such as an angel. She also comes to the vanity “rob’d in White,” further demonstrating her as an angelic image (I, 123). An angel represents both pure beauty and virginity, both of which Belinda encompasses. This comparison furthers Belinda’s duality because an angel connects to both beauty and piety. Belinda needs to adhere to both ideals in order to gain societal acceptance. She cannot find a husband, or fill traditional roles, unless she remains beautiful and chaste.
Belinda’s display her materialism through such items as, “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” (Canto I, line 135). Readers assume Belinda belongs to English high society due to such details as tortoise hair and ivory combs, both of which show extravagance and sophistication. The combs also demonstrate how highly she regards material possessions; they function not only as combs, but also as fancy showpieces. Moreover, she displays a large amount of items because she takes pride in her possessions. She wants them visible, to both her and anyone who comes into the room, because she regards them so highly.
She also uses cosmetic items, such as powders and patches, to appear more attractive to the opposite sex. Since she must marry, she has to attract men through the one thing she values most – her appearance. She uses powder to pale her skin and patches to cover blemishes; during that time, beauty ideals included pale and unblemished skin. These beauty ideals also illustrate societal focus pure, white women. Belinda looks even more angelic due to her make up, which in turn make her appear more desirable to men. Belinda exudes not only physically attractive, but also an image of a virginal woman. Therefore, she values her beauty so much because it will allow her to fulfill her functions as a woman in 18th century high society.
Conversely, Belinda also values her religion. In addition to powders and patches, she also proudly displays her bibles. By displaying bibles, she indicates the importance of religion because the bibles coexist with her other prized possessions. Furthermore, she displays herself as a religious...

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