Character Analysis in The Rape of The Lock

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      Art of Characterization of Pope in "The Rape of the Lock." Characterization is not the strong point of a mock-heroic poem like The Rape of the Lock. It is altogether a piece of social satire and as such directed to the correction of the follies and fashions of the aristocratic society of the eighteenth century. Pope's characters in this poem are types i.e. flat characters. They are embodiments of certain qualities like vanity, fashion, prudery and frivolity. As such Pope's characters in The Rape of the Lock are more like caricatures than individual portraits.

      There are not many characters in The Rape of The Lock. The five principal characters are Belinda, Baron, Ariel, Thalestris and Clarissa. But there are one or two minor characters such as the goddess of the Cave of Spleen, the various sylphs and of course, the indomitable Sir Plume with his snuff box. But these minor characters are mostly illustrative of Pope’s filigree work. Of all these characters, Belinda is the one who is all pervasive and is the central character. The Baron comes next in importance.

      Before going on to discuss the validity or otherwise of the statement whether there is a character in The Rape of the Lock, we must be clear about what we mean by "character." Apparently, in the sense of people taking part in the story or action of the poem, there are characters in The Rape of the Lock; for, otherwise whose lock would be raped by whom? Therefore, when one speaks of there being "no such thing as a character" in Pope's poem, one is looking at "character" from the point of view of rounded, three-dimensional figures, alive with individual traits.

      The Rape of the Lock lacks "rounded" characters. There are several interesting figures - Belinda, the Baron, Clarissa, Thalestris, Sir Plume. But, except for Belinda and the Baron to a small extent, they do not show any individualistic trait. They are somewhat shadowy.

      Nature of Pope's satiric purpose precludes elaborate characterization. Pope was writing, not a personal satire, but a social satire. As such, his aim was to represent through his characters some of the dominant failings of a class of society as a whole. In such a context, a finished portrait of an individual is not to be expected. It is the type rather than any particular individual that is being satirized.

      Characterization is not, however, to be dismissed as absolutely shadowy in Pope's The Rape of the Lock. There is a delightful complexity in the portraiture of Belinda, for she is truly beautiful and not merely a superficial society flirt. The Baron is given a nice individuality in his supreme egotism and arrogance. Even Sir Plume, while typifying the vapid dandy of the day gets a distinct touch in his "amber snuff-box" and "clouded cane." Thus, while The Rape of the Lock is not as famous for portraiture, even in the satiric sense, as, for instance, Dryden's Mac Flecknoe or Absalom and Achitophel, we cannot justly say that "there is no such thing as a character" in the poem.


      Another interesting character is lound in the fourth Canto of the poem. This is Sir Plume. Of course, he has a very little role in the poem, but his portrait is highly amusing. He is Belinda's brother. He considers the entire affair slight and ridiculous. On the advice of Thalestris, he asks the Baron to give back the lock, but the Baron does not agree.


      Thalestris has no individuality. She serves more or less to act on Belinda's wrathful mind. She serves to inflame her and incite her into the loudly declared war against the haughty Baron. She is a militant girl. Like the Baron, she is also very aggressive. She is the sincere friend of Belinda. She attaches more importance to reputation. Virtue is a secondary concern to her. she believes in what people say. She has a ferocious nature.


      Clarissa is introduced to give out the moral of the poem, which is Pope's teaching to the younger minds of his age. The speech of Clarissa introduced in the concluding Canto of the poem, serves a very important purpose of Pope. It gives out the moral which Pope has offered for the frivolous fashionable ladies of all times. Pope's poem is not merely a great satire, written on the model of a perfect mock epic. It is also a grand criticism of life, and the poet lashes as well as teaches. The speech of Clarissa contains the cardinal aspect of Pope's teaching that the virtue of character is far greater and more profitable than all the exhibitions of shows-and fashions. The last portion of the speech particularly bears out the. most pointed and potent teaching of Pope.


      Spleen is the queen of bad temper. She possesses detestable qualities. She inspires these qualities in human beings. She supplies Umbriel with magic substances, which further excite Belinda at the time of cutting of her lock. After the Baron has cruelly cut off Belinda's lovely lock, the fair belle gives way to profound feelings of rage, melancholy and despair. A mischievous gnome Umbriel takes the opportunity and becomes immediately active to intensify Belinda's ill-temper. To further the cause of his malicious design, the gnome repairs to the Cave of Spleen, the goddess of ill-temper and irritation. She has two attendant-ill nature, an old spinster, and Affectation. Spleen is an elderly woman with a sickly appearance, but she tries to look young by painting her withered cheeks.


      As Belinda sleeps profoundly; Ariel appears before her in a dream in the form of an attractive beau and addresses her. Ariel informs Belinda in her dream, of the innumerable spirits that fly around her. These spirits always guard and guide her, although they remain invisible to her as to all mortal creatures. Whether she sits in the box at a theatre or drives in a fashionable coach in the Hyde Park, the sylphs are always with her. Belinda, therefore, must know of her protection by the 'thousand bright inhabitants of air.’ Ariel also her to realize her own importance and not to lose herself in ordinary worldly thoughts and ideas.


      When Ariel leaves Belinda, Umbriel is a spirit who takes over her. He is a melancholy gnome. He collects horrible noises, tears, sorrows and griefs from the queen named Spleen. He pours his magic things on Belinda's head. In this manner, her rage and sorrow are fanned.

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