by William Makepeace Thackeray
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Rags to Riches
Initial Wretchedness at Home and the 'Call'
Our two heroines are fresh out of school, new to the world, and both, in Booker's words, in a "lowly and unhappy state." Why? Well, Becky needs to get herself a rich husband so she can be set for life, and Amelia has been pining for her childhood sweetheart George for the better part of her life. The two aren't literally oppressed by the "dark figures" of Booker's analysis, but it was pretty scary to be a single woman at a time when women couldn't really work for a living and needed marriage for financial security.
Out into the World, Initial Success
For Booker, this phase is all about "first, limited success." In Vanity Fair, Amelia has a few happy months with George as he woos her in the only way a guy who's full of himself can – with limited attention. Becky, meanwhile, does some excellent self-ingratiating work at Queen's Crawley and endears herself to Sir Pitt, Rawdon, and Miss Crawley. All seems to point towards an "eventual glorious destiny," as Becky marries into the Crawley family and Amelia marries George.
The Central Crisis
Here, as Booker puts it, "Everything suddenly goes wrong." All of Becky's stratagems fail to get Miss Crawley's forgiveness, and she leaves her fortune to Rawdon's brother. Meanwhile, George's father cuts him off without a penny and George quickly grows bored of his wife. Oh, and then he dies on the battlefield two months into their marriage. But of the two women, only Amelia stays true to type to be "overwhelmed with despair." Becky instead seeks out another source of money – the totally grody Lord Steyne – and starts to climb the social ladder.
Independence and the Final Ordeal
This is where the novel reveals itself to be a satire at heart rather than an earnest exploration of how young people grow and prosper. In Booker's analysis, the next stage of the game shows the heroine "in a new light," discovering "a new independent strength" which is then put to the most intense test yet. In Vanity Fair there are definitely some tests for the heroines. Amelia loses her son to Mr. Osborne because of her crushing poverty, while Becky becomes a pariah of society by being caught in a compromising position with Lord Steyne. But neither woman reveals any new facets of herself. Becky is as industrious, conniving, and energetic as ever. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and goes to Europe. Amelia remains the same sad, passive moper she's always been. She just keeps going about her business accepting whatever life happens to throw her way. She is lucky to have the protection of Dobbin.
Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment
The satiric nature of Vanity Fair is in full force at the end. Booker calls for this section of the plot to demonstrate "a state of complete, loving union with the 'Prince'" and the acquisition of "a domain over which they will rule wisely." This is obviously not what happens here. Amelia gets closest to the ideal, ending up with ugly but loyal Dobbin, whom she doesn't really love but at least likes a whole bunch. And Becky? Well, Becky is in a class of her own. She finds Jos, makes herself his beneficiary, then (maybe) kills him for the life insurance money. Then she lives the good life at the resort town of Bath for the rest of her days.