Defining a hero is relatively easy. In fact, the definition was produced quite a while ago; the first attempt to explain the nature of the subject matter dates as far back as the epoch of Ancient Greece. Known as a semi-god (Gagarin 426), a hero has become rather complicated since then, acquiring a number of accessories, such as a dark and often tragic background, character traits for a reader to relate to, specific setting to grow in, etc.
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However, the concept still remains rather simple, much like the concept of a heroine; an anti-hero or an anti-heroine is, on the contrary, very complex. Not only does the author need to make an anti-heroine likeable and worth the readers’ sympathy, but he also has to give her a distinct personality.
Basically, a heroine and an anti-heroine are supposed to be nothing alike. However, Alexander Pop’s Eloise and Belinda, who can be defined as a heroine and an anti-heroine correspondingly, miraculously share a number of features in common. Both Eloise and Belinda reveal their natures by showing their weaknesses, which are glorified in Eloise and shunned in Belinda.
Indeed, when taking a closer look at Eloise, one will spot that she acts much like a woman was expected to act at the time – she mostly emotes instead of taking actions. It is not that she was supposed to turn into a classic hero – such transformation would have definitely ruined the credibility of the story.
However, such qualities as helplessness and willingness to accept the strokes of fate definitely play to her advantage, displaying such qualities of hers as tenderness and humility: “Thou preservest me from death, in order to make me die every moment” (Pope Letter IV). Eloise’s feminine features help the audience realize that she is identified as a heroine.
Belinda shares similar features of overly emphasized feminine qualities – or, to be more exact, the qualities that are stereotypically associated with women, such as the unwillingness to make a decision and take actions: “But anxious cares the pensive Nymph opprest” (The Rape of the Lock [4.1]).
It should be noted, however, that Belinda’s defining feature is not her weakness, but her vanity. After Belinda’s lock is stolen, she starts what is supposed to be a parody for the search of the Helen of Troy out of sheer vanity and fear for her beauty: “Not Cynthia when her manteau’s pinn’d awry, / E’er felt such rage, resentment and despair, / As Thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish’d hair” (The Rape of the Lock [4.10]). By putting the emphasis on Belinda’s weaknesses, Pope introduces her as an anti-heroine.
Therefore, the exaggeration of weaknesses, which are traditionally associated with women and femininity, defines both Eloise’s heroic qualities and Belinda’s anti-heroic traits of character. It could be argued, though, that the characters’ belonging to the clan of heroes or anti-heroes manifests itself in a number of other character traits and actions, for that matter.
To be more exact, Eloise’s virtues, which are usually attributed to heroines, manifest themselves in a range of situations when her passive attitude is not very obvious. For instance, Eloise’s choice to make the vow of silence describes her as a strong and driven person, since such bold actions were less than typical for women at the time: “Heaven is my witness, I had rather be Abelard’s mistress than lawful wife to the Emperor of the whole world!” (“The History of Abelard and Heloise” para. 38).
Likewise, Belinda is not always portrayed as a vain airhead; in a number of scenes, her determination to take her beauty back and restore her reputation is pretty amazing: “Which snatch’d my best, my fav’rite curl away!” (The Rape of the Lock [4.148]).
In addition, the characters are clearly different from each other in terms of their aspirations, values and goals. As the abovementioned fact of her taking a vow of silence shows, Eloise is very religious and humble. Belinda is, on the contrary, very vain and hardly spiritual: “Then see! the Nymph in beauteous Grief appears” (The Rape of the Lock [4.143]).
At first glance, they are nothing alike. However, as the story unfolds, the reader quickly finds out that the two characters are determined equally strongly; it is just that they prefer to stream their energy in opposite directions. Both characters derive their appeal from their passion, yet the latter inspires them for completely different actions, making it clear that they are polar opposites.
Despite the fact that the characters of Eloise and Belinda are traditionally interpreted as the exact opposite of each other, i.e., a heroine and an anti-heroine, they, in fact, share quite a number of similarities. Their stereotypical weaknesses and patterns of behavior are the key features that link a heroine and an anti-heroine together; however, their strengths and obsessions, no matter what the object of their obsession is, stress the qualities that set them apart.
A peculiar study in female heroes and anti-heroes, the analysis of the two characters allowed exploring the evolution of portrayals of women in literature, as well as helping see at what point the concept of an anti-heroine was created. Seemingly different, the concepts of a heroine and an anti-heroine appeared to have a lot in common.
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Gagarin, Michael. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Pope, Alexander. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Web.
—-. “The History of Abelard and Heloise.” The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Web.
—. The Rape of the Lock. Web.