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rape lock

Explain the first canto of Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock."


Canto 1 of "The Rape of the Lock" sets up the background for the crucial event in the poem: the raping, or cutting, of a long lock of Belinda's hair. The poem is based on a real episode, in which two prominent families broke into a bitter feud over a like event. Pope's point is to show through the poem how silly the feud is. By writing the poem as a mock epic, he is hoping the marked contrast of this petty occurrence with the heroic deeds in a real epic, such as the Iliad, will inspire the families in question to resolve their quarrel and, moreover, point out how decadent as a whole the British aristocracy has become. 

The first Canto establishes all of the above: Belinda has a dream that warns her to beware of men, which summons Ariel and a host of sylphs to guard her after she awakens—notably at noon (no warrior she). The canto also includes a long description of Belinda's dressing and preparation for her outing later in the day. This mimics Hector getting into his battle array, but while that scene in the Iliad shows the poignancy of Hector's separation from his infant son and beloved wife, as he may never come back alive, this scene underscores Belinda's vanity and sense of her own importance. Both these character traits prepare us, and add some psychological reality, to the exaggerated outrage and horror Belinda experiences at the loss of her lock. But overall, in the first canto the reader feels how ridiculous all this overblown rhetorical fuss is when applied to a young woman going out to play a game of cards. What happens to Belinda is not going to be tragedy but farce.

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