What values are presented in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term values can be defined as any "accepted standards of right or wrong" (University of Cincinnati, UC Magazine, "What are Values?"). Values constantly change as societies and cultures change, and that which is valued is not always aligned with that which is moral, which would be appropriate conduct.

The title of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair depicts the one thing the 19th century English society in the novel values most--vanity. According to the novel, 19th century English society judged self-worth based on social status, financial status, beauty, etc., making attaining all of those things "right" and not having them "wrong." Thackeray further shows that people of this society did anything to attain these measures of self-worth, including manipulate others.

Becky Sharp is one of the most important examples of a member of society who values vanity. Though she marries Rawdon Crawley, who winds up being penniless once cut from his aunt's will, Becky lives a very extravagant life that is well beyond the worth of what little "income" Rawdon brings in through his gambling. Becky is able to create a lifestyle for them that is beyond their means because she has turned flirtation into an art and easily acquires money from her many admirers among the British aristocracy. Through her acquaintance with Lord Steyne, she is even presented at court. In addition, because Rawdon's titled brother also falls in love with her, she wins money for her family through him as well. Her flirtation with men to gain money, even as a married woman, is a clear example of manipulation.