Vanity Fair Study Guide

Vanity Fair Study Guide

Original title:
Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is a piece of literature about the rigid social order, impossible expectations and the characters of different initial statuses who all try to live up to these expectations. Both men and women are obsessed with their social image and reputation: they are ready to do anything to achieve something more than they have now. Almost every single act shows the audience a new facet of vanity: the dream about recognition, the desire to be noble in one’s own eyes even going against one’s own interests, the simple wish to get fame and fortune or to maintain a pretty facade above all.

The world of Vanity Fair is cruel to its inhabitants. Despite the difference in their origins, both female protagonists struggle to establish themselves in the society and have to conceal or outright discard their true identities and feelings. One becomes a perfect proper lady, the other chooses the image of an alluring seductress, but neither can achieve the true happiness. The rest of the characters also choose their masks: a manly man serving in the military, a proper gentleman, who easily neglects his wife when no one is looking, a self-obsessed and snobbish nobleman or a tragic hero who awaits recognition and awe. Everyone is playing the role that may fit the social expectations, but, outside these roles, almost everyone is miserable. Family bonds are ruined immediately when the heritage is involved. Children serve only to show how maternal (and therefore good and credible) their mothers are. The engagement or marriage can be broken easily if the social status of a partner changes to worse.

The name of the novel tells us the truth. This is indeed a Vanity Fair, where all kinds of this sin are perfectly presented. Everyone in the story is equally bright and disgusting, but if we look through their disguise, we’ll feel a deep pity for so many people who were broken by the society and its rules.

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