Vanity Fair: Themes
The desire for wealth and social standing permeates the lives of the majority of characters and rivalry and ambition underscore their relations with each other. Becky is seen to want a husband with wealth and a respected position in society and is described as scheming to attract Joseph when she first encounters him. The narrator leads the readers away from interpreting only her actions as false, though, as we are informed intermittently (and undoubtedly ironically too) that Becky is a poor orphan and the parents of other young women perform the economic match-making service for them.
Amelia is one of the few characters to want to marry for love and this turns out to be a disastrously naïve decision on her first attempt. She becomes a victim of the greed of others - including Osborne and his father - as she is not deemed to be fully acceptable once her father is made bankrupt.
As a novel without a hero, it is telling that even the most favored character, Dobbin, is given this trait. The ability to tell the truth is seen to be unnecessary and even uncalled for the higher one climbs up the social hierarchy. Hypocrisy is a form of social convention that could also be classed as politeness and it is seen to be prevalent amongst the elite of society. By highlighting Dobbin’s ability to be hypocritical, the narrator invites us to consider how all the participants at the Fair are flawed in varying degrees.
The elaborate and excessive concern for social standing, appearance and wealth are indicative of vanity and, with the use of satire, the vain are exposed for their superficial concerns. The satire relents at the end of the novel as Amelia and Dobbin unite and become friends with Lady Jane Crawley, but the majority of the narrative exposes the fraudulent lifestyle which gives value to appearance and possessions rather than love and honesty.
This is a humorous account of how pillars of society such as aristocrats, wealthy merchants and Members of Parliament are overvalued at the time of writing. There is also still a relevance to this work even now in the early twenty-first century. Parallels with Becky’s desire for entry into society may be drawn with the contemporary interest in celebrity culture.
Material wealth and appearance are exposed as being deemed of greater value in a capitalist (either early or late) society. With the use of irony and satire, Thackeray highlights how a Vanity Fair is defined by its obsession with material concerns and is ultimately meaningless.
Vanity Fair Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Vanity Fair
- Essay Questions
- Top Ten Quotations
- Chapter 1,2,3,4
- Chapter 5,6,7,8,9,10
- Chapter 11,12,13,14,15,16
- Chapter 17,18,19,20,23,24
- Chapter 25,26,27,28,29,30,31
- Chapter 32,33,34,35,36,37,38
- Chapter 39,40,41,42,43,44,45
- Chapter 46,47,48,49,50
- Chapter 51,52,53,54,55
- Chapter 56,5,75,8,59,60,61,62,63
- Chapter 64,65,66,67