THACKERAY- Vanity Fair
Thackeray describes in “Vanity Fair” the English society at the beginning of the 19C. His work is not a historical novel but a social one, and his main purpose is to portray English society’s morality and habits as a whole and not as a particular moment in time. Time has changed fashion design and external conditions, but the essence of the relations between people in the bourgeois society remained until nowadays the same with the ones that Thackeray described.
As a source of inspiration for the title stands Bunyan’s allegory “The Pilgrims Progress” where Christians and Evangelists must pass through a “town called Vanity” on their way to the celestial city. This town holds a “lusty fair” all year round called “Vanity Fair”. In this fair everything can be sold and bought, from hoses, lands, gold to husbands, children, wives, blood, souls and bodies and…”and what not”.
In his Thackeray reveals a world where money is the prime motive for the actions and relationships, and describes the futility and emptiness of human goals.
The action of the novel is simple and it spines around the lives of two friends: Amelia and Becky, and describes their evolution, disappointments and disillusions. Besides them, Thackeray fills his novel with people, places and travels. Almost all his characters are individualized, no matter how briefly they appear. Taken together they make up the society that Thackeray calls Vanity Fair. It is easy to see that these characters satirize the institutions they serve or represent; Lord Stuyne and his son show up Parliament, the rotten election system and also the aristocracy. Religion, the Church of England is satirized with Reverend Bute Crowley; the army leadership with General Tufto; the financial system, with Osborne senior. Taking into account the characters’ vitality and their representing major institutions it can be said that society is the real protagonist, the main character of Vanity Fair.
The author points out that the folly social climbing, hypocrisy, cruelty and selfishness, exhibited by individual characters have their origin and counterpart in society as a whole.
To show the connection between the individual’s values and behavior and society’s, the author often generalizes from a particular situation to the behavior and value of society. Using this technique of generalizing from the individual, he exposes the mercenary and impersonal bases of marriage money oriented, status conscious society. Becky knows that an advantageous marriage is the surest way to security and status and in the end she becomes an expert actress acting out the female roles expected by men of her time. Through her Thackeray has the opportunity to discuss society’s institutionalization of “husband hunting”, and he lists the approved and conventional activities by which young ladies find husbands.
The dominant class in this novel is the middle class, and this class is the mercantile, capitalist society whose most important and valuable achievement is money. The consequences of this focus are nothing less, spiritual and intellectual emptiness, a twisted morality and competed emotions, and moreover the inability to love and an incapacity for friendship.
Becky makes her way to the highest level of society using her determination, intelligence and talent. At the same time, her behavior and morality are indefensible: she constantly manipulates others, she lies, cheats, steals, and betrays Amelia and perhaps she even commits murder. Material objects dominate over people’s feelings, minds and souls and if they fail in their quest to enrich, they focus their greed over their children to fulfill their own social ambitions. As example, George is advised by his father to marry a wealthy lady.
Those who do not have fortune but want to live a fashionable life, resort to credit. Credit is such an important feature of society that Thackeray devotes 2 chapters on “How to Live Well on Nothing a Year”.
Spending other people’s money, which is really what credit means in “Vanity Fair”, causes no remorse in the “hearts” of the snobs, no matter how much misery they cause. People willingly attend Becky’s little parties, even if they gossip about how she pays for them.
Society is built upon an economy of obtaining other people’s money and for one’s own enjoyment and finally running oneself and others.
The moral corruption resulting from the constant desire for wealth, ostentation and status have spread throughout society from the aristocrats to the servants. Becky is not natural born vicious, but she is the result of the society she lives in.
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