The Vicar of Wakefield

by Oliver Goldsmith
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In what way is the novel The Vicar of Wakefield a satire?

The Vicar of Wakefield is a satire in that Oliver Goldsmith displays the corruption of the upper class and the foolishness of social climbing through the character of the corrupt Squire Thornhill and the social striving of the Primrose family.

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Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield is a satire in its treatment of social class and of people's desire to move upward in their social class. The novel reveals the corruption of people who can claim social standing yet refuse to act morally and to present a good example to others. It also shows the foolish lengths people will go to when they wish to attain a higher social standing. Let's see how these two play out throughout the book.

Dr. Primrose (whose name is satirical to begin with; think "prim") is a village priest who has an eye on moving up in the world, at least a little bit. He and his wife would like to bring about such a rise through the marriage of their children to people of a higher class. After Dr. Primrose loses most of his money to theft and actually moves down in the world, the family rents a cottage from Squire Thornhill. The squire seems like a perfect match for the Primroses' daughter Olivia, but the squire is not at all what he seems.

The squire, in fact, is not a very good person at all, and he ends up kidnapping Olivia and secretly marrying her. Then he abandons Olivia and announces that he will marry Arabella, even though he plans to secretly keep Olivia as his mistress. This upper-class fellow seems to lack any sort of moral code. He is corrupt to the extreme, and the Primroses have discovered their foolishness in wanting to associate with him. The squire heaps up more injury on the family by sending Dr. Primrose to jail for failure to pay his rent.

Part of the satire in this novel revolves around the theme of appearances versus reality. Mr. Burchell appears to be merely a wanderer, but he becomes attached to the Primrose family after saving daughter Sophia when she nearly drowns. In the end, Burchell turns out to be Sir William Thornhill, the squire's uncle. He is an example of true upper-class values and behavior, and he finally sets all situations to rights for the Primrose family, who have learned that deliberate social climbing only leads to heartache.

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