Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is a satirical poem that features a theme of gender roles. Throughout the poem, Pope uses his protagonist Belinda, to poke fun at the superficial nature of aristocratic women. He focuses on the ritual of womanhood and approaches it like a trivial matter, and her reaction to the offence is hysterical. Through this portrayal, he reveals that the Baron has a childish quality in his need for revenge for Belinda’s stab at his ego. The speaker’s view does come across as misogynistic, but the woman is trying to stand her ground in a society dominated by men. Taking into consideration that a male wrote the poem, during the 18th century, when woman had a particular place in society, and men often trivialized their concerns. Pope alludes to the idea that most wars are indeed over very trivial matters. The conflicts between men and women are exposed during Pope’s exploration of this “trivial war.” The narrative of Belinda and the Baron in The Rape of the Lock reveals the main underlying theme as the power struggle between the genders.
Pope exposes through Belinda, how women use their feminine nature as weapons against men. The scene when she is getting reading for the ball, Pope describes her “toilet” or makeup ritual as if she were Achilles preparing for battle:
Th' inferior Priestess, at her altar's side,
Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride…
…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. (1.127-142)
Belinda uses her beauty and enhances it with the ritual of makeup to her advantage. In order to achieve a flirtatious look Pope writes, “Sees by degrees a purer blush arise, ‘/ And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes” (1.143-44). She has an intimidating quality in her eyes as well as Pope describes, “Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike, / And, like the sun, they shine on all alike” (2.13-14). Apart from the lure of the beauty of her eyes, the reader gets the picture that, like the sun, one cannot look directly at Belinda without turning away. The men are enticed by Belinda’s beauty and this is her weapon in the battle against men. Some women may object, but many women do just what Pope describes Belinda as doing, using her beauty to lure men in so she could conquer their hearts. Her locks are precious and Pope writes:
This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourish'd two Locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspir'd to deck
With shining ringlets the smooth iv'ry neck. (2.19-22)
Pope's description proves that her locks are her most feminine and most powerful weapon. She wears her locks knowing they will lure everyone to her beauty and she may mesmerize them and have the power.
The title of the poem points to a rape, but not the conventional rape the reader may think of, rather, it is the rape of a lock of hair as Pope writes. Often...