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Themes

The desire to constantly rise higher in the social sphere is the only motivation for action or movement in Vanity Fair. No character exerts effort unless it's in the service of finding a better-placed patron, campaigning for a new position, or acquiring a new status symbol. Those who plateau in their journey upward or who never really have the desire to elevate themselves become stagnant, boring, domestic people whose lives are secondary to the thrilling adventures of the strivers.

Questions About Ambition

  1. What makes Becky such an appealing character and her antics so enjoyable? That she is right? That she gets away with being wrong? That she can see through others around her? Do other characters have any of the qualities that make her so fun to watch?
  2. Besides jockeying for status, what other kinds of ambitions do the characters exhibit? Are they successful? What does the novel think about other types of ambition?
  3. Do you think Becky will stay in Bath for the rest of her life? Why or why not? What else can you envision her doing after the events of the novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The world of the novel portrays all ambition (even seemingly innocuous ambition like the desire to marry or have a family) as necessarily having a sinister and selfish side. At the same time, there is no alternative offered for how to satisfied with one's position. This creates a very dark vision of humanity indeed.

The most determined character in the novel is Dobbin, who attempts to love and woo Amelia without distressing or bothering her in a way that would be ungentlemanly. His ultimate commitment to his own integrity in a sea of people who don't even know the meaning of the word is deeply optimistic and surprisingly ambitious.

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